Cities across Scotland are considering setting up their own safe injecting facilities after authorities in Glasgow gave the official go-ahead to the UK’s first drug consumption room.
“All eyes are on Glasgow,” said Allan Casey, Glasgow city council’s addictions convener, after the plans were approved on Wednesday morning by a joint committee of NHS and council officials.
“We know from experience that networks of safe injecting facilities are what is needed and we would be more than happy to work with other cities. I’m already having questions from different cities around the country looking to learn from us about opening one.”
He added: “Glasgow has a huge responsibility to demonstrate the concept works here in Scotland.”
The proposal – which would allow addicts to take their own drugs in a clean and safe environment under the supervision of health professionals – had been discussed for years, but can now be piloted after Scotland’s most senior law officer confirmed users would not be prosecuted.
Casey said the pilot was “the missing jigsaw piece in the full suite of services required to really make a difference in reducing drugs deaths in the city”. But he acknowledged funding was also needed for wider services such as recovery cafes and residential rehab.
The committee also revealed it hoped to offer voluntary drug testing at the facility, where people could check the quality of their street-bought drugs before using them.
Campaigners believe such a pilot could play an essential role in efforts to tackle Scotland’s chronic and epidemic drug fatality rates, which remain almost three times higher than for the UK as a whole. Glasgow city council’s area had the highest rate of drug misuse deaths in Scotland over the past four years.
Susanne Millar, the chief officer for Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership, said after the committee meeting that the need for a safe injecting facility was first seriously considered in 2015.
“I’m delighted about where we’ve got to today,” she said, adding that global evidence for the potential positive impact of such a facility, especially in tackling drug deaths, kept growing.
The council said it hoped to have staff in place at the health centre on Hunter Street in the east end of the city by April next year after building work and further public engagement.
Saket Priyadarshi, associate medical director of Glasgow alcohol and drug recovery services, said there was convincing evidence of community benefit from consumption rooms and that many local businesses and residents were “asking why hasn’t this been progressed”.
Priyadarshi already runs Glasgow’s pioneering enhanced drug treatment facility – which provides addicts with pharmaceutical-grade heroin – out of the same health centre.
He said the council had identified a population of 400-500 people who were injecting drugs in public areas in the city centre and that the increased popularity of injecting cocaine as well as heroin was resulting in more discarded needles and syringes, as well as more frequent wound infections.
Priyadarshi said the new facility would include about eight injection booths and a relaxed aftercare area where people could engage with support workers. The Scottish government has guaranteed funding up until 2027, when the pilot will be evaluated.
On Wednesday night the home secretary, Suella Braverman, criticised the granting of approval for the drug consumption room.
Braverman told ITV: “My view is it’s the wrong policy and I don’t support the policy of drug consumption rooms. I don’t believe they deal with the root cause of addiction and drug dependency. So I would not support that policy.”