Scottish Government schedules drugs conference for day before UK summit amid ‘squabbles’ over drugs policy
The Scottish Government has scheduled its own conference on drugs for the day before the UK Drug Summit in Glasgow, amid tensions between the Scottish and UK governments over drugs policy.
The Scottish event, which is being hosted jointly by the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council, will held on Wednesday 26 February at the SEC in Glasgow, while the UK-wide one will be on Thursday 27 February at the same venue.
Sessions at the Scottish conference will include contributions from Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick and Glasgow City Council leader Councillor Susan Aitken.
It will look at the recommendations of recent reports on drugs policy including those of the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee enquiry into drug use, the Dundee Drugs Commission and the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee.
There will also be training in the use of Naloxone, which reverses the effect of an opioid overdose and a demonstration model of a safer drug consumption facility.
The Scottish Government said that the Scottish conference would help inform the Scottish input to the UK Drugs Summit and would centre on people with lived experience of drug use.
But the Scottish Liberal Democrats have criticised the “petty point scoring” in holding two separate conferences on the same issue a day apart.
Joe FitzPatrick said he was “very surprised” last month when the UK Government announced the UK summit in Glasgow without any discussion with the Scottish Government or Glasgow City Council.
The Scottish Government has also been at odds with the UK Government over plans to open a safe drug consumption room in Glasgow.
Speaking about the Scottish conference, FitzPatrick said: “What Scotland faces in terms of drug deaths is nothing short of a public health emergency.
“The UK event, while welcome, simply does not have the voices of people with lived experience in Scotland at its heart.
“We’ve pressed the UK Government to extend their event to accommodate this, but this has not yet been forthcoming.
“We’ve been clear that the views and insights of people with lived experience must help shape how we tackle the high number of drug deaths in Scotland.
“As a result, we are working with Glasgow City Council to host a Scottish summit on the eve of the UK event to try and better highlight the problem in Scotland.”
He added: “It’s clear the Misuse of Drugs Act is no longer fit for purpose.
“To enable innovations, such as a safer drug consumption facility, the law needs to change.
“We hope the UK Government will listen to the call from Scotland to make the necessary changes in the law to allow this to happen.”
Aitken said: “The public health emergency facing the city is such, that no option to tackle the rise in drug deaths should be off the table.
“Where we have the power to innovate, such as Scotland’s first heroin assisted-treatment programme, we do.
“Glasgow is ready to pilot a safer drug consumption facility.
“We know that it is an intervention which will help protect the public and help save lives.
“We want to work constructively with both governments to find a solution, so we can put one in place.
“We hope that a workable plan is an outcome of the summits taking place in the city.”
But Scottish Liberal Democrat public health spokesperson Rosemary Bruce called for the two governments to put their “squabbles” aside and work together.
She said: “The Scottish and UK governments ought to be working together to solve this crisis, not engaging in petty point scoring by holding separate conferences on the same issue in the same city only a day apart.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats have set out a clear, practical plan for how to turn this around, including protecting drug and alcohol partnership budgets, sending people to treatment instead of prison, and establishing proposals for a Scotland-wide network for the provision of heroin-assisted treatment.
“Unfortunately, the SNP have done little to act while drug deaths soar.
“Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson need to put their squabbles aside and work together to save lives.”