Why Scotland needs safe drug consumption rooms – Scotsman comment

Allowing the use of illegal drugs in ‘safe consumption rooms’ would be a humane response to the appalling number of deaths in Scotland

When the Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain, announced she would not prosecute users of drug consumption rooms, she seemed aware critics would point to the contradictions, stressing it would not “amount to an exclusion zone whereby a range of criminality is tolerated”.

However, few moral decisions are clear-cut. Given the shocking number of drug deaths – 1,051 people died in 2022, according to the National Records of Scotland (NRS), a figure 3.7 times higher than in 2000 – the current situation should be treated as an emergency in which some rules can be suspended, some contradictions ignored.

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Eighty-nine per cent of these deaths were classed as “accidental poisonings”, so a facility in which trained staff were on hand to stop overdoses would prevent some of them. The Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce last year backed supervised drug-consumption rooms, saying the evidence showed they “can save lives when used in conjunction with other harm-reduction and treatment measures”. Portugal’s decision to treat drugs as primarily a health issue, rather than a criminal one, also led to a dramatic reduction in the number of deaths.

So what may initially seem like a complicated decision actually becomes one of the easier moral conundrums to solve. It’s not about condoning drug use, but accepting that it happens and people need help.

Some may be cynical about the SNP’s support for consumption rooms, given the number of drug deaths soared on their watch, and blatant attempts to use the issue to further the cause of independence. But such political considerations should not stand in the way of saving the lives of our fellow citizens and safe consumption rooms are one way to do that.

However, as the NRS pointed out, people living in the most deprived areas are nearly 16 times more likely to die from drug misuse compared to those in the least deprived. That fact alone is a damning indictment of Scottish society and its leaders. Tackling poverty, and the hopelessness and despair that comes with it, is necessary if serious, sustained progress in defeating the evils of heroin and other opiates, which cause most of the deaths, is to be made.



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