Addicts overdosing on NHS property is “preferable” to doing so on the streets, a doctor has claimed as Scotland prepares to launch a “safe” service for drug users.
Controversial plans to open the UK’s first state-backed “fix room”, where addicts will be able to inject drugs in a Glasgow health centre without fear of arrest, are set to move forward on Wednesday when they will be approved by local health authorities.
Under the plan, a consumption room will open in the east end of Scotland’s largest city, in a trial that it is hoped will help address Scotland’s drug death scandal.
Should the pilot scheme prove a success, similar facilities could open across Scotland.
It is planned that the first consumption room will open in Hunter Street Health Centre, in the east end of the city, where a scheme is already running in which addicts can be prescribed synthetic heroin to take on the premises.
However, under the new plans, users would be able to turn up with their own illegally purchased drugs and inject them under the supervision of NHS staff.
Saket Priyadarshi, a doctor who will help run the facility, denied that he would feel “nervous” at the prospect of patients overdosing in front of him, claiming it would be the best place for them.
“That’s what happens every day and our drug death crisis is linked to that,” Dr Priyadarshi said. “So from our perspective, it’s much more preferable than if that’s going to happen, that happens in the vicinity of trained staff who can respond.”
Highest drug death rate in Europe
Speaking from the proposed site of the consumption room, he added: “This area is very close to where we have probably 400 to 500 people who use drugs in public places, maybe five to 10 minutes away from here.
“A safer drug consumption facility is very much predicated on people bringing their own drugs that they’ve bought themselves into the environment. But hopefully through that process and that engagement, coming into formal treatment and care as well.”
Scotland has by far the highest drug death rate in Europe.
SNP politicians have called for a radical liberalisation of UK drug laws, but have struggled to explain why the problem in Scotland is so much worse than in the rest of the UK, where the same legislation is in place.
Nicola Sturgeon admitted that her government had taken its “eye off the ball” on drug deaths before she quit as first minister.
The latest figures show 1,051 people died in Scotland from drug deaths in 2022. The rate of fatalities is around 3.5 times higher than the rest of the UK.
‘No safe way to take drugs’
While the classification of drugs is reserved for Westminster, Dorothy Bain, Scotland’s Lord Advocate, said recently that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute drug users for possession while using an NHS-designated facility.
The move effectively acts as an instruction to police not to intervene when drug users visit the site and has removed a major legal hurdle to the pilot being launched.
The UK Government has said that while it does not support the idea of safe consumption rooms, it will not attempt to block the pilot from going ahead.
Chris Philip, a Home Office minister, told the BBC: “There is, of course, no safe way to take drugs. That’s why they’re illegal.
“The UK Government doesn’t support drug consumption rooms in England and Wales because we think they condone and even encourage illegal drug taking.
“We respect the independence of the Lord Advocate, as Scotland’s prosecutor. She had said a blanket amnesty would not be lawful. But if what is being proposed is a lawful application of prosecution policy… it’s not something we would stand in the way of.”