Scotland drug deaths: Safe consumption room pilot set for Glasgow city centre amid 100 deaths a month
Following the advice of the Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain KC, that drug users will not be prosecuted for attending safe consumption rooms, opposition politicians have asked why the initiative was not implemented sooner.
Giving a statement to the Holyrood chamber on Tuesday, drugs minister Elena Whitham said details of the consumption room pilot would be revealed at a coming meeting of the Glasgow City Integration Joint Board (GCIJB) on September 27.
The proposals are expected to be approved by the IJB – a partnership of the city council and local health officials – given the Scottish Government’s support for the implementation of consumption rooms and the pro stance of Glasgow’s third sector drug and alcohol organisations.
Ms Whitham said there would be a consultation with the local communities which will host safe consumption rooms, claiming this would be “vital, because we need to make sure there’s no stigma associated with this”.
“We know there are around 400 to 500 people injecting within Glasgow city centre, so we are anticipating a city centre location [for the location],” Ms Whitham told MSPs.
The minister delivered the statement as it was confirmed suspected drug deaths had risen in the first six months of this year.
Statistics published by the Scottish Government showed there were 600 such fatalities over the period January to June, with the total 7 per cent higher than the same period in 2022.
It comes after separate statistics, published last month by National Records of Scotland, showed a fall in deaths from drugs misuse, dropping to 1,051 in 2022 – down by 279 on the 2021 figure.
That was the largest ever fall recorded, but Tuesday’s figures showed 38 more suspected drugs deaths in the first six months of this year, compared to January to June last year.
A total of 302 suspected drugs deaths were recorded in April to June – four more than the first three months of the year.
The latest quarterly total was, however, 9 per cent higher than it had been in the period April to June 2022.
Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of those who died between January and June were men, up from 69 per cent in 2022.
And just over two thirds (67 per cent) of fatalities involved people aged between 35 and 54, with this said to be broadly in line with previous statistics.
There were 26 suspected drugs deaths among the under-25 age group, down by 16 per cent from the first six months of 2022.
The data, based on operational information from Police Scotland, showed the force’s divisions with the largest number of suspected drugs deaths were Greater Glasgow, where there were 143 deaths between January and June, followed by Lanarkshire with 76 and Edinburgh City, where there were 73.
Ms Whitham said the figures showed there was “no room for complacency” as she stressed death rates “remain far too high”.
“While the official statistics from National Records of Scotland for 2022 showed a decline in the number of deaths in 2022 – a reduction of 279 from the previous year – the numbers we are seeing remain far too high and the suspected drug death figures for the first half of this year show there is absolutely no room for complacency as we continue to deliver our national mission to tackle this crisis,” the drugs minister said.
“This includes implementation of the key harm reduction approaches such as safer drug consumption facilities, following the announcement by the Lord Advocate that it would not be in the public interest for people using a pilot safer drug consumption room to face prosecution for possession within the facility.
“It’s vital this pilot has the full confidence of the general public as well as those who use the facility, and the leadership of Glasgow and Police Scotland will help ensure it is introduced as quickly as possible.
“Through our £250 million national mission, we are doing everything within our powers to tackle drug deaths in Scotland. With the number of deaths at the levels we are seeing, we are determined to use every means at our disposal as we face future challenges, including the increasing threat from synthetic opioids.”
Both Labour and the Scottish Conservatives demanded more be done to tackle what Tory health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane described as “Scotland’s national shame”.
“It is utterly scandalous that we are seeing the number of lives lost to drugs heading in the wrong direction once again,” he said. “Nicola Sturgeon, by her own admission, took her eye off the ball and deaths soared as a result. Humza Yousaf is in danger of doing the same.
“Scotland has by far the worst drug deaths rate in the whole of Europe, but we are still seeing far too little in the way of action from SNP ministers to tackle this crisis.”
Criticising the Scottish Government, Dr Gulhane added: “One of their main plans looks to be picking a fight with the UK Government and pushing for the decriminalisation of drugs.”
Meanwhile, Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie 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.
“We know that more must be done to prevent any more fatalities and keep people safe, but we also need more and wider support for people struggling with addiction.
“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.”
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