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by Andrew Learmonth
11 November 2021
Scottish Government 'actively pursuing' new plans for drug consumption room

Scottish Government 'actively pursuing' new plans for drug consumption room

The Scottish Government is “actively pursuing” plans to open the country’s first drugs consumption room, the deputy first minister has said. 

John Swinney told MSPs that ministers were “taking forward active discussions to establish what could be an acceptable route to enable the appropriate use of drug consumption rooms as part of a public health strategy to tackle the drugs problems that we face in Scottish society.” 

His remarks come after the Lord Advocate told a committee of MSPs that she was willing to take another look at any proposals for safer consumption facilities. Her predecessor - who stood down earlier this year - had previously ruled them out.

Last week, Dorothy Bain QC told Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee “the question of what is in the public interest” could be re-examined. 

She said: “If indeed there is a proposal that is made for a drug consumption facility that is precise, detailed, specific and underpinned by evidence, and supported by those that would be responsible for policing such a facility and Police Scotland, and there is careful consideration of how these consumption rooms would impact on communities.

“If that sort of planned use of drug consumption rooms is brought to the Lord Advocate as a very well set-out proposal, then in terms of the undoubted crisis we face in terms of the number of drugs deaths we face in Scotland, if it is in the public interest that there should be no prosecutions for those using drugs consumption facilities with all these safeguards that require to be in place, that would require fresh consideration by me as Lord Advocate.”

Labour MSP Claire Baker asked Swinney for his response to the Lord Advocate’s comments, and what that meant “for new proposals regarding the use of drug consumption rooms and whether non-prosecution is in the public interest.”

He told MSPs: “We've been clear on the benefits that safer drug consumption facilities would bring to reducing drug-related deaths in Scotland and we are actively exploring how we can overcome the existing legal barriers that will allow us to progress the use of these facilities.

“There is clear evidence that these facilities mitigate the chances of a fatal overdose, provide additional support including that around reducing harm related injection practices and allow for connection with wider treatment services.

“We see problem substance use as a public health issue and there is a growing recognition of the harms that punitive drug policies cause. Providing individuals with options for treatment rather than a route into the criminal justice system is our priority.“

Baker urged the government to come forward with “robust” proposals. She also asked for an “indication of when we can have some conclusions and when a proposal can be brought forward.”

Swinney said he could give "the assurance that the government is taking forward active discussions to establish what could be an acceptable route to enable the appropriate use of drug consumption rooms as part of a public health strategy to tackle the drugs problems that we face in Scottish society.” 

He added: “That involves a great deal of dialogue with a range of different organisations - Police Scotland, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, the Crown, and various other organisations - to be sure that we can establish and propose an appropriate and sustainable route. That work is underway.

“As for a timescale, if Claire Baker will forgive me, I can't give a definitive timescale today, but I do assure her that it is being actively pursued as a consequence of the remarks by the Lord Advocate.”

Bain’s predecessor, James Wolffe QC declined to issue guidance on the legality of a drug consumption room in 2017.

The Glasgow facility, which would have been the first of its kind in the UK, would have allowed drug users a safe space to take substances, reducing the risks of spreading disease through dirty needles and preventing overdose deaths.

They would also have let high-risk drug users connect with addiction treatment and other health and social services.

Wolffe said it was up to the NHS to decide if it is in the public interest, which, in effect, killed the proposal, because anyone taking their own drugs into the facility would be committing a criminal offence.

Even if police informally agreed to look the other way, if there was a complaint or if a drug user who had been at the consumption room died, then they would have a responsibility to investigate.

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - SNP minister's 'disappointment and loss' over Derek Mackay texting scandal

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