UK's first drug consumption room gets go-ahead

Drug users will be able to take illegal substances under medical supervision and without fear of criminal action at the pilot facility in Glasgow.

The UK’s first drug consumption room has been given the go-ahead in Glasgow on Wednesday.

The £2.3m facility in the city’s east end will allow drug users to take illegal substances under medical supervision without the risk of criminal action.

The project, based at Hunter Street, will be hosted in the same building as a treatment centre.

Glasgow City Council approved the plans, which campaigners say could be “life changing” in the country’s battle against the crisis of drug deaths.

Scotland’s drug death rate remains the highest in Europe. More than 1,000 people died as a result of drug-related poisonings in the last year.

The UK Government does not support the plans, saying there is no safe way to take illegal drugs, but said it would not seek to block the pilot.

The location for the facility is Hunter Street in the city’s east end, where a heroin assisted treatment service has been operating since 2019.

It will open 365 days a year between 9am and 9pm and the report states that, if approved, alcohol and drug recovery services will recruit, train and manage the workforce required.

Site of the drugs consumption room on Hunter Street.STV News

A report that went before the integration joint board on Wednesday read: “There is overwhelming international evidence which demonstrates that safer drug consumption facilities can improve the health, wellbeing and recovery of people who use the facility and reduce the negative impact that public injecting has on local communities and businesses.”

It highlighted, following the HIV outbreak, “there are approximately 400 to 500 people injecting drugs in public places in Glasgow city centre on a regular basis”.

It adds: “Injecting in public spaces increases the risk of infection and other drug related harms, and also causes a risk to the public from discarded injecting equipment and needles.”

Draft design of the Glasgow City SDCFGCC

The Scottish Government committed £2.3m from April 2024 for its first year of operating while Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) will pay building costs and for the necessary redesign of Hunter Street.

After first being proposed in 2016, plans for the facility could not progress without change to the Crown Office prosecution policy.

Earlier this month, 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”.

There are now more than 100 similar facilities worldwide, including in Europe, Canada, and Australia

In September, Glasgow City Council became the first local authority in the UK to formally support the decriminalisation of drug consumption.

However, Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said the party had “serious reservations” about the efficacy of consumption rooms on reducing the number of deaths.

“SNP ministers – including Nicola Sturgeon – shamefully took their eye off the ball as a record number of lives were lost to drugs in Scotland in recent years. Those same ministers appear wedded to the idea that drug consumption rooms will be the silver bullet to tackle this crisis,” he said.

“But the SNP-Green government should also finally give their backing the Right to Recovery Bill which has been backed by frontline experts.

“That would enshrine in law a right to access treatment for those who are struggling most with drug addiction and has the potential to be a game-changer in reducing the number of drug deaths in Scotland.”

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