UK's first drug consumption room approved, will open in Scotland

The £2.3 million ($2.8 million) facility in Glasgow will allow users to take their own drugs in a clean environment under medical supervision.
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.

LONDON: The UK's first official drug consumption room for illegal drugs will open in Scotland after receiving approval Wednesday, after years of arguments over the controversial harm-reduction policy for addicts.

The £2.3 million ($2.8 million) facility in Glasgow will allow users to take their own drugs in a clean environment under medical supervision.

The Glasgow City Integration Joint Board finally approved it on Wednesday, ending years of political legal argument between the parliaments in London and Edinburgh.

The board argued there was "overwhelming international evidence" showing such facilities helped improve the "health, wellbeing and recovery" of addicts.

It would also take the issue off the streets, where it was hurting local communities and businesses, the statement added.

Scotland's most senior law officer, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain, paved the way for its approval earlier this month after campaigners pressed for legal clarification.

It would not be "in the public interest" to prosecute people using such a facility, she said in a statement to the Scottish Parliament.

Tackling dirty needles

The idea was first mooted during an HIV outbreak in Glasgow in 2016, Scotland's biggest city.

The virus can be passed on by drug users sharing contaminated needles, and a study after the outbreak found that between 400 and 500 people were regularly injecting drugs in Glasgow city centre.

"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," said the board.

Scotland recorded its lowest drug death figures in five years in 2022, according to official figures published last month -- but the rate there is still higher than in the rest of Europe.

The devolved Scottish government in Edinburgh, which sets health policy, backs the facility, but some lawmakers are concerned about its effect on local businesses.

'Not a silver bullet'

"I welcome the news," said Scotland's drug and alcohol policy minister Elena Whitham.

"We know this is not a silver bullet. But we know from evidence from more than 100 facilities worldwide that safer drug consumption facilities work," she added.

Former addict Peter Krykant, who set up an unofficial sterile drug-consumption facility from his minivan in Glasgow, stressed the need to stop criminalising users in a 2020 interview with AFP.

"We need to pull them out of the dark, rat-infested alleyways that they are currently using drugs in, pull them into a safe, supportive environment and offer them the help and support that they need," he said.

SNP councillor Norman Macleod told the board meeting that heroin should be provided to addicts.

"We're still in a position where individuals who are addicted are obtaining their drugs from criminals and that, in my view, is profoundly to be regretted," he said.

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The New Indian Express