Douglas Ross has claimed he doesn't support safe drug consumption rooms but suggested the Glasgow pilot could provide vital “research”.
A facility was approved last month by the Glasgow City Integration Joint Board (IJB), following Scotland’s Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC announcing it would not be in the “public interest” to prosecute users of such a facility.
While the creation of the UK’s first safe consumption room is not Tory policy, the UK Government did not intervene over the SNP measures.
Speaking at a fringe during Tory conference in Manchester, the Scottish Conservative leader insisted while he didn’t share the SNPs optimism, he thought the proposals could provide insight into how to tackle drug use.
He said: “I changed the party position on this shortly after I became leader of the party.
"Nicola Sturgeon and I did the only joint visit of our time in our respective positions together to Bluevale in Glasgow, and ahead of that I said I don’t believe drug consumption rooms are the right answer. I didn’t believe they will save the number of lives that the SNP and others think they will.
“I also don’t want to be a barrier and stand in the way of getting research that we can compare to Scotland’s different individual programmes.
“Drug laws cannot be the issue for Scotland having the highest drug death rate not just in the UK, but across Europe.
"Given the new advice from the Lord Advocate, and the opportunity to have a pilot, I think it was “right that the Scotland Office and the UK Government didn’t stand in the way of the research they think they can get from that pilot. Crucially, it doesn’t mean that’s the only thing we do in the fight against drugs.
“The ‘right to recovery’ bill that I’m taking through the Scottish Parliament, is backed by front-line experts, people with lived experience who can see the biggest challenge around drugs.
“I really hope we get more support for the ‘right to recovery’ bill in the Scottish Parliament. There is no one answer that’s going to solve our problems, but I think that could do far more benefit to address Scotland’s shocking drug death rates than this trial, but I do think it was right for this trial to happen”.
A £2.3 million consumption room is now planned for Hunter Street in the east end of the city, however Susanne Millar, chief officer of Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership, said there are still “operational challenges” to overcome.
There were 600 suspected drug deaths over the period January to June, with the total 7 per cent higher than the same period last year.
The pilot project is housed in the same building as a current drug treatment facility. A report to the Glasgow City Integration Joint Board meeting highlighted that following a recent HIV outbreak, an assessment “found there are approximately 400 to 500 people injecting drugs in public places in Glasgow city centre on a regular basis”.
The Scottish Government backs the plans but some MSPs have raised concerns about the impact on the local area, including on businesses.