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A Labour MSP who is campaigning for safe drug consumption rooms to be legalised in Scotland said the facilities are “fairly normal” in other parts of the world.
Speaking to Times Radio on Saturday morning, Glasgow MSP Paul Sweeney said drug consumption rooms were present in around 150 locations around the world, including New York City.
He said: “It certainly sounds like a radical idea but actually, it’s fairly normal in over 150 places around the world, including most recently in New York City, where they’ve very successfully tested the pilot.
“Effectively we accept that intravenous drug use happens in cities across Britain, particularly in Glasgow, where we have a significant activity in Glasgow City Centre there and 500 injecting drug users on a regular basis.”
Mr Sweeney said introducing the facilities would help prevent drug deaths.
He added: “By introducing controls, to hygienic spaces for people to attend, not only are we preventing drug deaths, helping to address the fact that a person dies every six hours in Scotland on average, from a preventable, drug related death, we can also affect the way in which drugs are taken so that they’re done more hygienically in a safer way, and therefore reducing a lot of the costs associated with injecting into veins.”
Mr Sweeney’s proposed Bill would also abolish the existing Scottish Drugs Death Taskforce, with Mr Sweeney insisting the organisation “longer commands the confidence of the public or those working in the sector”.
He argued that prohibition “rarely works” adding: “I think it’s about accepting that drug use happens has happened as long as humans have existed.
“The prohibition very rarely works as we’ve seen, you know, 100 years ago in America. So thereby accepting that drug possession is highly likely to take place, they’re not criminals in any real sense.”
The MSP said drug addiction should instead be treated as a public health issue. He added: “It’s actually more of an addictive illness. We should be treating it as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue, which is incredibly wasteful.
“So by actually addressing the issue on the ground as a public health issue, you’re then able to avoid that horrendous death rate that Britain has – particularly in Scotland where it’s over 1,000% higher than the EU average.
“We’re also able to tackle some of the major effects on the cost the NHS and to society, trying to stabilise people’s lives and trying to avoid drug debris scattered across streets around around the city.”
Mr Sweeney argued there had been some opposition of the consumption rooms from the Home Office and claimed the UK Government were minded against it. There has been party political consensus on the issue in Glasgow, and the city has wanted safe consumption rooms since 2016, he added.
The Labour member, who was elected in 2021 after a spell of unemployment following the 2019 general election where Mr Sweeney lost his Glasgow North East seat at Westminster, also revealed he volunteered with activist Peter Krykant’s safe consumption van which travelled around Glasgow city centre to encourage drug users to inject in a safe place.
Mr Sweeney said police officers on the ground were “supportive” of Mr Krykant’s work.
He added: “The sky didn’t fall and people weren’t busted and arrested because of it.
“Actually, the police were quite supportive on the ground. They actually recognised its efficacy. And they were indeed, you know, bringing along drug debris and fighting in the streets to dispose of hygienically.
“They were even informally directing people injecting in the street to go to the safe facility because at least they were able to consume in a more hygienic environment.”