Evening Telegraph (First Edition)
‘Scotland being held back on lifesaving action over drugs’
THE Scottish Government is fighting the battle for drugs consumption rooms “with one hand tied behind our backs” a Dundee MSP has claimed.
Dundee City West MSP Joe FitzPatrick, the former public health minister who lost his role back in 2020 when drug deaths soared, was responding to comments made by a director from the Scottish Drugs Forum, who suggested the SNP should “just get on” with setting up drug consumption rooms.
Kirsten Horsburgh, the forum’s director of operations, said she believes the facilities could be opened now.
Appearing before a joint meeting of the Criminal Justice Committee, the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee and the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, Ms Horsburgh said: “It’s been seven years since Glasgow made the compelling case for a safer drug consumption facility, something that we are still debating the pedantics of instead of just getting on and delivering it and dealing with any issues as they arise,
“We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel here, over 100 of these services exist all over the world, they’ve been around since the 80s, they’ve got a good evidence base and absolutely I think we should just be getting on with it.
“I think any of the questions that come out from the Crown and the police can only be addressed once you start operating a service.
“That’s what I mean (when I say) just get on with it, deliver it, there will undoubtedly be tweaks required to the service as it progresses, but in the same way as when needle exchanges were first introduced, there were issues around the first introduction of those and they developed over time to become what they are now.”
Glasgow’s health and social care partnership first drew up plans for consumption rooms in a bid to stem problem drug use and HIV transmission in the city.
The idea is to allow drug users to inject under the supervision of medical professionals, and the facilities will also provide services to help people deal with addiction.
But the proposal has been caught in a legal wrangle between the Scottish Government and Westminster over prosecution waivers to drugs legislation that would make the process explicitly legal.
Responding to Ms Horsburgh’s comments, Mr FitzPatrick told the Tele: “I recognise Kirsten’s frustration that it has not yet been possible to deliver Overdose Prevention Centres (OPCs) in Scotland.
“We know that they could have been saving lives, as they are already doing so across Europe and in North America.
“Kirsten and all of those who are working at the frontline to advocate for and support people with problem drug use are enormously committed and dedicated to doing so.
“At the crux of this issue is concern around whether OPCs would be in contravention of the UK-wide Misuse of Drugs Act (MODA), which is reserved to Westminster.
“While the Scottish Government has consistently sought to take a public health approach towards this issue and follow the evidence, which overwhelmingly indicates that OPCs can save lives and reduce harms, unfortunately the MODA means that our approach in Scotland is constrained.
“We are fighting this battle with one hand tied behind our backs.
“I welcome the efforts being made by the Scottish Government to try to identify a route to introducing OPCs that satisfies the Crown and Police
Scotland and, like the minister, I am keen to see swift progress on this.
“Notwithstanding that, the UK Government could resolve the legal uncertainty by devolving the powers needed to deliver OPCs to the Scottish Parliament, so that we can get on with delivering these lifesaving facilities.”
But Michael Marra, Labour MSP for North East Scotland, said the government and new first minister should approach the issue with urgency.
“Whether we’re talking about safe consumption rooms, in-patient services, MAT Standards or the integration of services the pace of change is too slow in every respect,” he said.
Tele columnist Ewan Gurr, founder of Dundee Foodbank and former head of The Trussell Trust, said he was yet to be convinced of the effectiveness of OCPs. “My feeling has always been the best way to address this is actually to engage with the very people who are living with addiction and in some cases those who have exited addiction,” he said.
Drugs policy minister Angela Constance also appeared before the committee yesterday, where she said the evidence of the effectiveness of consumption facilities is “irrefutable”.