Drug consumption room could be approved in weeks

Work to set up the space in Glasgow could start before the end of the month.

A pilot drug consumption room in Glasgow could be approved within weeks, after the Scotland’s chief lawyer said users wouldn’t be prosecuted.

The rooms, also known as overdose prevention units, have been hailed by campaigners as “life-saving” and could be a key component to tackling Scotland’s drug deaths crisis.

On Monday, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC said she would not prosecute those found in possession of controlled substances within the pilot facility.

In a statement she said she believed it would “not be in the public interest to prosecute drug users for simple possession offences committed within a pilot safer drugs consumption facility”.

She added that it was of “the utmost importance” that Police Scotland “retain the ability to effectively police the facility and ensure that the wider community, those operating the site and those using the facility can be kept safe.” 

A plan to establish a room in Glasgow will now be taken to the city council’s Integration Joint Board (IJB) – a partnership between the council and NHS, which directs the Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) –  for approval.

The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 27.

It comes after Glasgow City Council became the first local authority in the UK to formally support the decriminalisation of drug consumption last week.

Campaigners have called for a trial of a drug consumption room in Scotland’s biggest city for years, despite continuous opposition from the UK Government.

HSCP chief officer Susanne Millar welcomed the move by KC Bain as “a large body of evidence already exists from around the world which demonstrates” the facilities “can save lives”.

They can also reduce “the spread of blood-borne viruses” and cut “levels of publicly discarded injecting equipment”, she said.

SNP councillor Allan Casey, city convener for addiction services, said the council would “now move at pace to open this life-saving facility”.

He added: “We know there are no single solutions to addiction and problematic drug use.

“But a safer drug consumption facility has a critical role to play, most importantly in terms of saving lives.

“This is about compassion, pragmatism and solutions to a public health emergency, not stigmatisation and criminalisation. Glasgow has a broad consensus that a consumption facility is part of the way forward.

“We have the democratic mandate, the public support and now the legal, expert and clinical capacity to deliver it.”

Following Monday’s announcement, the Scottish Government’s drugs and alcohol policy minister Elena Whitham said: “Glasgow authorities may now progress their proposal to set up a facility which can operate within the existing legal framework.

“While the service would still be limited to some extent, due to the reserved Misuse of Drugs Act, we are confident it would save lives.

“This is not a silver bullet. But we know from evidence from more than 100 facilities worldwide that Safer Drug Consumption Facilities work. It is now time to see this approach piloted in Scotland.

“It’s vital this pilot has the full confidence of the general public as well as those who use the facility, and the leadership of Glasgow and Police Scotland will help ensure it is introduced as quickly as possible.

“Through our £250m National Mission, we are doing everything within our powers to tackle drug deaths in Scotland. However, the number of deaths is still too high and we must use every means at our disposal as we face future challenges, including the increasing threat from synthetic opioids.”

Assistant chief constable Gary Ritchie added: “Police Scotland is committed to working in partnership to reduce the harm associated with problematic substance use and addiction.

“Our approach to any initiative aimed at tackling these harms will be to establish how best policing can support it within the confines of the law.

“It is important to note that existing legislation will not be changing and, while we may take an overall supportive policing approach, police officers will still be bound by their legal duty to uphold the law and will not be able to simply ignore acts of criminality which they see occurring.”

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