Glasgow undeterred as Home Office blocks ‘fix room’ plan but admits benefits

PLANS for a 'fix room' where addicts in Glasgow would be able to inject illegal drugs under medical supervision are to be thwarted by the Home Office, it has been confirmed.

While the UK Government's own advisors concede safe drug injecting facilities can be effective in protecting both drug users and the public, ministers insist they will not change the law to enable the setting up of drug consumption rooms (DCRs).

However ministers are happy for Glasgow to go ahead with plans for a number of addicts with persistent drug problems to be given heroin on prescription.

Last month councillors voted to send a letter to the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd, inviting her to visit Glasgow to see plans for a pilot safer drug injecting scheme for herself and asking for drug laws – which are reserved to Westminster – to be changed to allow the project to go ahead.

Now in a letter from the UK Government to the Council's Chief Executive, the UK Government's Drugs Legislation Team has confirmed ministers' opposition to this.

It says there is no legal framework for setting up DCRs and there are no plans to amend the law. "A range of offences are likely to be committed in the operation of DCRs", the letter warns.

Glasgow's plans for a pilot safer drug injecting scheme in the centre of the city are aimed at cutting the burgeoning drug death figures and helping a hard core of around 500 addicts who regularly inject drugs in public. It is expected to be located in Calton, near the city centre where public drug use is most prevalent.

However the proposal was derailed and put on hold after the Lord Advocate ruled it could not be established without a change in the law.

The new letter says the department recognises both the need to tackle drug related deaths, and the health benefits of the 'fix room'.

The Government's own report in 2014 found "there is some evidence for the effectiveness of drug consumption rooms," the letter admits. That report highlighted benefits including reducing the nuisance of drug taking in public spaces and reducing the health risks for drug users.

Meanwhile the Government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has reported that safer injecting rooms in Vancouver, Canada and Sydney, Australia have been successful in reducing the risks faced by those who inject and cutting overdose fatalities.

But the letter concludes Glasgow must abide by UK drug policy, which emphasises recovery from addiction: "The UK's approach on drugs remains clear – we must prevent drug use in our communities and support people dependent on drugs through treatment and recovery," it says.

The drugs trade and the use of illegal drugs identified in the 47 year-old Misuse of Drugs Act is so harmful that any possession must be dealt with strictly, it says. "The Government is not prepared to sanction or condone activities that support the organised trade that facilitates the availability of drugs and hurts individuals and communities."

The Home Office believes a fix room in Glasgow could raise ethical issues for medics and practical difficulties for police.

The Government's approach is "balanced" it says, including support for measures helping individuals to recover from addiction, but also backing the use of needle and syringe exchange programmes and widening the availability of Naloxone – a drug which helps block the effects of heroin and can be used to prevent overdose.

The letter says: "Whilst the Government will not change the law to allow DCRs, wee support a range of evidenced-base approaches to reduce the health-related harms associated with drug misuse."

This includes Methadone and the kind of Heroin Assisted Treatment which is also proposed for Glasgow and which is already legal under existing drug laws, it adds: "We fully support local areas that pursue this approach, including the Glasgow proposal.

Mhairi Hunter, Glasgow's Convener for Health and Social Care Integration, said the letter showed the Home Office were listening.

“Within the Home Office letter there is a far greater acknowledgement of the evidence in favour of safer consumption rooms than we have ever seen before. It shows that continuing to highlight the benefits of DCRs is having an impact on thinking in the Home Office.

“The reports highlighted by Home Office link DCRs to reductions in drug deaths, risky injecting and public nuisance as well as better engagement with vulnerable drug users who are otherwise remote from support services.

“This is exactly what we have been saying in Glasgow for the past two years. “We do understand the sticking points for the Home Office and work has already been undertaken to address those concerns."

She was not discouraged, she said. "I see a clear basis for on-going dialogue with the Home Office about the proposal for safer drug consumption facility in Glasgow. “The public health case is as compelling as ever. All the evidence shows that a SCDF in Glasgow will prevent drug deaths, stem the spread of HIV infection, reduce drug-related litter and save services millions of pounds each year."



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