Westminster committee backs Glasgow pilot of safe drug consumption rooms
The SNP has welcomed a Westminster committee’s recommendation that safe drug consumption rooms be trialled in Glasgow, calling it “important recognition” that action needs to be taken to prevent drug-related deaths.
The Commons Home Affairs Committee has recommended that safe consumption rooms, which the SNP government has long said should be used as a means of curbing Scotland’s persistently high drug-death figures, should be piloted with a view to informaing legislative changes.
Scotland has the highest drug-death rate in Europe, with recent figures showing that 1,051 people died due to drug misuse last year, but drugs policy is reserved to Westminster.
The Conservative government has consistently blocked SNP plans to introduce safe consumption rooms, which allow people to take drugs in a clean environment under supervision, saying they would be at odds with the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.
“Safe consumption facilities, where people who use drugs may do so in safe, secure surroundings, may also reduce harm and deaths, but the status of such facilities is uncertain because of the restrictive regime in place under the 1971 act,” the committee said in its report.
“We recommend that the government support a pilot facility in Glasgow and create a legislative pathway to enable more.”
SNP MP Alison Thewliss, who is a member of the Conservative-majority committee and has campaigned for safe consumption facilities, said the report shows that “the Tories can no longer ignore the need for urgent reform of the UK’s drug laws”.
“They must accept the recommendations of the cross-party Home Affairs Committee report and the demands the SNP has made for years for safe consumption rooms,” she said.
“Safe consumption rooms are not a silver bullet when it comes to drug deaths in Scotland, but they do have a part to play in a joined-up approach from every level of government to combat drug related deaths, and – as this committee has agreed – could save lives.”
She added that as the Misuse of Drugs Act is over 50 years old it “must now be reviewed as a matter of urgency” because “criminalising drug users has done nothing but entrench a problem that sees far too many people die each year”.
Liberal Democrat Scottish affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine agreed, saying that "no one can seriously look at UK drug laws and the spike in drugs deaths that we have seen in recent years and conclude that the present system is serving anybody well”.
She added that, if a pilot goes ahead, the UK and Scottish governments must work constructively on that and any resulting legislative changes.
“For too long SNP and Conservative governments have preferred the politics of blame to taking action to drive down drugs deaths,” she said.
"This report must act as a catalyst for a new and more humane approach to drugs policy in the UK."
Meanwhile, Justina Murray, chief executive of support organisation Scottish Families Affected by Drugs, welcomed the committee’s recognition that addiction and drug use should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal one, but said swift action needs to be taken in order to prevent further deaths.
“Drugs policy already sits within a public health, not criminal justice, framework in Scotland, showing this can be done without diminishing the focus on tackling drugs supply by organised crime groups and criminal gangs,” she said.
“We have heroin assisted treatment available in Glasgow as well as elsewhere in the UK – again with a strong evidence base that this works well with this patient group, saving lives, improving lives and reducing crime.
“Police arrest referral and diversion schemes are in operation across the UK, although as the committee notes, there is unfortunately a postcode lottery, meaning some people are being unnecessarily criminalised and not able to access the support they need, just because of where they live.
“None of this needs to be tested, piloted or demonstrated as safe or effective, as this has already been done. We just need to see it happen. Surely now the UK Government will listen and take action to save lives?”