SNP attacks 'arrogant' UK Government over drug consumption rooms refusal

The row over how to tackle Scotland's drugs death crisis has intensified after an SNP MSP accused the UK Government of “high-handed arrogance" over its continued refusal to discuss the possibility of opening a supervised consumption room for addicts.

A vigil for relatives and friends of those who have died drug-related deaths was held in Glasgow's George Square last week. Picture: John Devlin
A vigil for relatives and friends of those who have died drug-related deaths was held in Glasgow's George Square last week. Picture: John Devlin

Almost 1,200 people suffered a drugs-related death north of the Border last year, the highest annual figure ever recorded and an increase of 27 per cent year-on-year.

The Scottish Government, backed by experts on drug addiction, has repeatedly called for a pilot drug consumption room to be opened in Glasgow - which has one of the highest concentrations of problem users - as part of a range of policies aimed at bringing down the death-toll.

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Holyrood public health minister Joe FitzPatrick yesterday told MSPs he had invited representatives of the UK Government to attend a planned summit on the issue.

But Kit Malthouse, Boris Johnson's minister for crime and policing, said he could not commit to attending such an event - but insisted Westminster officials would continue working with their counterparts at Holyrood on how to tackle the issue.

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Ruling out any compromise on the drug consumption room issue, Mr Malthouse said in a letter to Mr FitzPatrick yesterday: "I believe that it is important for me to be clear from the outset that the UK Government has no plans to change the law to allow the establishment of such facilities in the UK."

He added: "There are, however, many areas where we can work productively together. Recovery is a vital element of the UK Government’s Drug Strategy, as it is in your own strategy published last year."

But Mr FitzPatrick hit out at the response. “The high-handed arrogance with which the Tories have dismissed all of our requests out of hand speaks volumes about their whole approach to government," he said.

"The very fact that they deliberately delayed issuing this response until just minutes after MSPs had discussed this matter in Holyrood adds insult to injury.

“How can the Tories seriously say they want to continue to engage on this issue when they won’t even come to meetings?

“What Scotland faces in terms of drug deaths is an emergency – addressing that will need new approaches even if at first they may be challenging. Everyone should be working together on this important issue, and if the best the Tories have to offer is half-hearted good wishes then they really are beneath contempt.”

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Meanwhile, Labour councillors in Glasgow will next week call for the Scottish Government to declare the country’s drugs crisis a public health emergency.

The motion, moved by Bailie Marie Garrity, will also call on the the city council to pay tribute to those who have lost loved ones through the drugs crisis.

The motion comes after figures revealed a 45% increase in drug related deaths in Glasgow last year and just days after International Overdose Awareness Day saw campaigners, families and friends of those affected gather in George Square.