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by Kirsteen Paterson
12 September 2023
Scottish drugs minister welcomes green light for safer consumption rooms

Elena Whitham MSP

Scottish drugs minister welcomes green light for safer consumption rooms

Scotland's Lord Advocate has given the green light to safer drug consumption rooms in a bid to tackle drugs misuse.

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain said she "would be prepared" to write a new policy saying "it would not be in the public interest to prosecute" users for possession of controlled drugs in such a facility.

Elena Whitham, Scotland's Drugs and Alcohol Policy Minister, said authorities in Glasgow "may now progress their proposal" to set up a centre.

She said: "This is not a silver bullet. But we know from evidence from more than 100 facilities worldwide that Safer Drugs Consumption Facilites work. It is now time to see this approach piloted in Scotland."

Local authorities in Glasgow have been seeking permissions from Westminster in order to set up a safer drugs consumption room for several years.

The council and health board there believe this could be part of the solution to some problems associated with drugs misuse, and could reduce the number of fatalities linked to narcotics.

The policy has widespread support from the Scottish Government and MPs and MSPs from across the political spectrum.

Bain said: "I have not been asked to sign-off or approve any facility and it would not be appropriate for me to do so. However, prosecution policy is for me alone to set and this policy, and the consequences which flow from it, have been considered deeply and thoroughly.

"The requested statement will not extend to any criminal offences other than possession of controlled substances, contrary to section 5(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It does not amount to an exclusion zone whereby a range of criminality is tolerated.

"Police Scotland have operational independence and it has been of the utmost importance to me to ensure that Police Scotland retain the ability to effectively police the facility and ensure that the wider community, those operating the site and those using the facility can be kept safe."

Recent figures show Scotland has the highest rate of drug deaths in Europe.

Whitham said: "While the service would still be limited to some extent, due to the Misuse of Drugs Act, we are confident it would save lives."

She went on: "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 £250m National Mission, we are doing everything within our powers to tackle drug deaths in Scotland. However, the number of deaths is still too high and we must use every means at our disposal as we face future challenges, including the increasing threat from synthetic opioids."

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie commented: "This is a welcome intervention from the Lord Advocate that will help lay the groundwork for the establishment of a safe consumption room in Glasgow.

"Scotland's drug deaths crisis is a matter of national shame and Scottish Labour believes that drug consumption rooms will help to tackle the number of facilities and keep people safe.

"It is welcome to see life-saving progress in this vital area being made without another pointless constitutional battle between Scotland's two failing governments.

"But this is only one part of the fight against drug deaths. We need to see the reversal of years of cuts to drug and alcohol beds to ensure those in need get the help they deserve."

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