Yousaf seeks ‘genuine discussion’ on drug consumption rooms as MPs support pilot

Scotland’s First Minister has urged the UK Government to look at the evidence for drug consumption rooms and allow a facility to open in Glasgow.

The Home Office has repeatedly rejected calls to allow sites where users can take drugs under the supervision of medical professionals, who would also offer access to addiction treatment.

A report by Westminster’s Home Affairs Committee has now recommended a pilot consumption room is set up in Glasgow – where such a service has been mooted for years – to test its efficacy.

The Home Office, however, has again knocked down the calls, leading to the First Minister intervening.

He told the PA news agency: “I would urge the UK Government to look at the evidence that the committee has brought forward in its report.

Humza Yousaf
Humza Yousaf said the UK Government should devolve drug legislation if consumption rooms are not approved (PA)

“It aligns very much with our own position that safe consumption rooms can play a role, just another tool for us to have in the armoury, in our fight against drug deaths, which are far too high here in Scotland.

“I would say to the UK Government, don’t have a dogmatic or ideological opposition, look at the evidence that the committee has brought forward and others have brought forward and let’s have a genuine discussion.”

He added that if the UK Government does not allow a consumption room to open, the powers to do so should be devolved to Scotland.

Action that has been taken in Scotland, and the rest of the UK, in recent years “hasn’t been working”, the First Minister continued, adding: “We have to look at more radical approaches.”

The Scottish Government recently published a paper proposing the decriminalisation of drugs and the beginning of a conversation which could lead to the creation of a regulated market for substances – plans which were also rejected by the UK Government.

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has accused the UK Government of “playing politics” over the issue of drug consumption rooms.

He said: “I think there is a way forward here that allows us to pilot safe consumption rooms in Glasgow and other parts of the country that does not require the devolution of our drug laws.

“It requires – as the Lord Advocate has already highlighted – a change in terms of how you would have a presumption against prosecution.

“I think that is a much more co-operative way forward if we are serious about tackling the issue.

“One drug death is one drug death too many.

“To have the highest drug deaths anywhere in Western Europe anywhere in the UK is utterly unacceptable.

“I’m sick and tired of politicians wanting to play politics with these people’s lives rather than help save these people’s lives.”

Responding to the report, a spokesperson for the Home Office said: “There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we have no plans to consider this.

Drug equipment
There were 1,051 deaths due to drug misuse in Scotland in 2022 (PA)

“Our 10-year Drugs Strategy set out ambitious plans, backed with a record £3 billion funding over three years, to tackle the supply of illicit drugs through relentless policing action and building a world-class system of treatment and recovery to turn people’s lives around and prevent crime.”

Under the committee’s recommendations, Glasgow would operate a pilot of the facilities that could then be expanded across the UK, funded by government north and south of the border.

The report comes after figures published last week revealed Scotland’s largest ever fall in drug deaths, with data from National Records of Scotland (NRS) showing there were 1,051 deaths due to drug misuse in 2022 – a drop of 279 on the previous year.

But while the number of deaths linked to drugs misuse is now at the lowest it has been since 2017, the NRS report made clear the rate of deaths is still “much higher” than it was when recording the data began in 1996.

Additionally, the MPs said on-site drug checking services at temporary events like music festivals and within the night-time economy should be rolled out, recommending the Home Office “establish a dedicated licensing scheme for drug checking at such events before the start of the summer 2024 festival season”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we have no plans to consider this.

“We continue to share learning from Project ADDER with the Scottish Government and exchange insights from initiatives aimed at addressing drug use and harms at ministerial and official level. We welcome these ongoing discussions.”