With drug misuse fatality rates nearly triple the UK average, Glasgow authorities are set to establish safe consumption rooms in the not-too-distant future. Scotland’s most senior law officer, the Lord Advocate, has paved the way for police to classify possession of Class A drugs with a caution instead of arrest and subsequent prosecution. Against 100 monthly drug misuse deaths, the Scottish government wants to decriminalise drugs and establish health-based support systems instead.
The Lord Advocate’s move provides Glasgow authorities with a way to proceed with the drug consumption room pilot project despite Westminster’s opposition. Her guidance allows authorities to bypass the Misuse of Drugs Act. The pilot project is an initiative between Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership alongside Police Scotland. They jointly proposed the establishment of a drug consumption room in Glasgow and forwarded it for review to the Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain KC. While bound by the Misuse of Drugs Act, she can dictate Scottish prosecution policy. After examining the proposal, the Lord Advocate paved the way for the pilot project by insisting that it would “not be in the public interest” to prosecute users of such a facility.
Despite remaining concerns among legal experts and police, Drugs Minister Elaine Whithan welcomed the Lord Advocate’s decision. During the first six months of this year, 600 were due to suspected drug misuse, up 7% from last year.
The plans for the drug consumption rooms will likely come before the Glasgow City Integration Joint Board, made up of council and health officials, on 27 September.
Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, Whitham said:
“I think we need to be clear that somebody going to and from such a facility is still going to be subjected to all of the laws that everybody else is subjected to.
“What this does do is allow us to help and support those individuals who are at the most risk of drug deaths in Scotland – people who are injecting in dirty alleyways at risk of transmitting HIV and other bloodborne viruses.”
Glasgow City Council’s addiction services convenor, Cllr Casey, told reporters of his confidence that chiefs will approve the pilot scheme blueprint:
“It would be wrong to pre-empt things too much, but I am hopeful that we will have facilities up and running in a period of months.”
Despite Westminster’s objections going back five years, Casey doesn’t expect the UK government to block the programme:
“The current Lord Advocate took a different view, and that framework has been provided. We have been given the parameters to operate within the law, and I would absolutely urge the UK government not to stand in our way.”
But, the government remains opposed to the drug consumption rooms. In the House of Commons, MP Alistair Jack said:
“I think I’ve been quite clear that the UK government’s policy is not to proceed with drug consumption rooms, and we believe drugs devastate families and destroy communities.
“But I’m also very clear that the Lord Advocate and the Scottish government appear to have achieved a workaround that allows them to have a pilot drug consumption room, probably in Glasgow, and the United Kingdom government will not intervene in that.”
Jackie Baillie, the Labour health spokesperson, said:
“Scotland’s drugs death crisis is a national tragedy, and these damning figures show that it is far from over.
“Any changes that help tackle this crisis are a welcome intervention, but they cannot reverse these tragic figures alone.
“While the latest news on drug consumption rooms is welcome, it must be coupled with proper funding for drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation and a commitment to tackle the root causes of addiction.”