Calls for safe consumption rooms to combat an “unprecedented spike” in drug deaths in Glasgow were heard at the Scottish conference.
Around 350 delegates attended the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council event on Wednesday, which local authority leader Susan Aitken described as both a “landmark event” and a “challenging day”.
During the conference, held ahead of Thursday’s UK Government drug summit, the safe drug consumption model was demonstrated.
The Home Office previously refused to allow the facility, used in countries such as Canada and Switzerland, in Glasgow – the city’s health board area accounting for a third of Scotland’s 1187 deaths in 2018.
At the conference, Councillor Aitken said the situation needed an “emergency response” and claimed “nothing can be off the table”.
She said: “A cohort of ageing long-term intravenous heroin users and the emergence of new cheap poly drugs is fuelling an unprecedented spike in drug-related deaths here.
“We can lead the way for the rest of the UK while ensuring this crisis is first addressed where it most acute.
“The underlying causes to this crisis are complex and varied, such is the scale and persistence of the problem that no single intervention will have a transformative impact by itself.”
She added: “Previous efforts to address the issues around injecting drug use have floundered.
“New approaches are now necessary to target those most at risk. Glasgow again has to be bold and innovative.
“International evidence tells us (a safe consumption room) is the most impactful intervention to reduce harm and improve health.
“Glasgow is ready and willing to work constructively with both governments to find solutions that save lives and build better futures.
“We won’t stay quiet if we believe solutions are not being properly resourced or if the door is closed in our faces. Nothing can be off the table.”
A demonstration of the consumption rooms was held before the conference began, which include various syringes and swabs and Naloxone injections, which are used to help revive people who have had a drugs overdose.
Despite this an Enhanced Drug Treatment Service – Scotland’s first addictions service – was licensed and at the end of last year started treating patients with pharmaceutical-grade heroin in Glasgow city centre.
The conference also heard about the recent HIV outbreak that began in 2015.
Councillor Aitken also suggested there are “around 500 people regularly injecting in lanes, car parks, closes and public toilets around Glasgow City Centre”.
With a “clear link to public injecting and the recent HIV outbreak”, she again backed the cause for consumption rooms.
Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said he remains “hopeful” that the UK Government will approve a safe consumption facility pilot in Glasgow.
He told STV News: “The safe consumption facility – or overdose prevention facility – doesn’t require decriminalisation in order for that to go forward, but it would require the support of the UK Government in some sort of a licensing regime.
“So, I’m still hopeful the UK Government will look at the evidence.
“International evidence is that these facilities will save lives from all across the world. The UK is now probably an outlier by not having these life-saving facilities, so I remain hopeful the UK Government will approve a pilot in Glasgow.”
He added: “The problem we’re all here to discuss is as brutal as it is simple.
“The solutions may be complex but they must be found otherwise this senseless carnage will continue.
“We must address the impact of drug use in a way that is public health-led rather than just as a justice issue.
“This is not a view that is universally held but it is one that has shown real benefits around the world.”
He added: “What matters is saving lives and I will work with anyone to achieve that.
“Tomorrow the UK Government will be hosting a summit in this same building – I want to be able to bring Scotland’s experience directly to that meeting.”