‘Safe injection’ rooms for addicts plan to be refused by Home Office

Last month Glasgow City councillors voted to send a letter to the then home secretary Amber Rudd, inviting her to see for herself plans for a pilot safer drug injecting scheme. Picture: Getty
Last month Glasgow City councillors voted to send a letter to the then home secretary Amber Rudd, inviting her to see for herself plans for a pilot safer drug injecting scheme. Picture: Getty
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Plans for a “fix room” where addicts in Glasgow would be able to inject illegal drugs under medical supervision are to be refused by the Home Office.

Controversial plans for a “safer consumption facility” where addicts could bring their own drugs to inject under strict medical supervision are being pursued.

Last month Glasgow City councillors voted to send a letter to the then home secretary Amber Rudd, inviting her to see for herself plans for a pilot safer drug injecting scheme.

Now, in a letter from the UK Government to the council’s chief executive, the UK Government’s Drugs Legislation Team has confirmed ministers’ opposition to the plans.

The Home Office drugs and alcohol unit has accepted safe drug injecting facilities can be effective in protecting both drug users and the public.

But in response to Glasgow City Council ministers insisted they will not change the law to enable the setting up of drug consumption rooms (DCRs).

They are however happy for Glasgow to go ahead with plans for a number of addicts with persistent drug problems to be given heroin on prescription.

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The letter says there is no legal framework for setting up DCRs and there are no plans to amend the law.

It warns: “A range of offences are likely to be committed in the operation of DCRs.”

Glasgow’s plans for a pilot safer drug injecting scheme in city centre are aimed at cutting drug death figures and helping a hard core of around 500 addicts who regularly inject drugs in public.

It had been expected to be located in Calton, near the city centre, where public drug use is most prevalent.

But the proposal was derailed and put on hold after the Lord Advocate ruled it could not be given the go-ahead without a change in the law.

The letter says the department recognises both the need to tackle drug-related deaths, and the health benefits of the fix room.

The Government’s own report in 2014 found “there is some evidence for the effectiveness of drug consumption rooms”, the letter admits.

That report highlighted benefits including reducing the nuisance of drug taking in public spaces and reducing the health risks for drug users.

Meanwhile, the Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has reported that safe injecting rooms in Vancouver, Canada, and Sydney, Australia, have been successful in cutting overdose fatalities.

But the letter concludes Glasgow must abide by UK drug policy, which emphasises recovery from addiction.

It says: “The UK’s approach on drugs remains clear - we must prevent drug use in our communities and support people dependent on drugs through treatment and recovery.”

The Home Office believes a fix room in Glasgow could raise ethical issues for medics and practical difficulties for police.

The Government’s approach is “balanced” it says, including support for measures helping individuals to recover from addiction.

But it also backs the use of needle and syringe exchange programmes and widening the availability of Naloxone - a drug, which helps block the effects of heroin and can be used to prevent overdose.

The letter says: “Whilst the Government will not change the law to allow DCRs, we support a range of evidenced-base approaches to reduce the health-related harms associated with drug misuse.”

Mhairi Hunter, Glasgow’s convener for health and social care integration, said the letter showed the Home Office were listening.

She said: “Within the Home Office letter there is a far greater acknowledgement of the evidence in favour of safer consumption rooms than we have ever seen before.

“It shows that continuing to highlight the benefits of DCRs is having an impact on thinking in the Home Office.”