After a record number of drug-related deaths, senior medical professionals have called for Scotland to introduce “safe consumption rooms”.
In 2019, Scotland had more than 1,200 deaths from drug misuse. A record number for the sixth year running. It was a death rate three times higher than that of the UK as a whole and a 6% rise on the previous year. Scotland has been battling an ongoing heroin problem for a long time. Opiates such as heroin and methadone are implied in the majority of drug-related deaths.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged an extra £250m over the next Holyrood term to tackle the “national disgrace” of drug-related deaths and accepted that her government “should have done more” to address the issue.
Professor Angela Thomas, who is acting president of The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) co-authored the report, Drug Deaths in Scotland: an increasingly medical problem.
She said: “Our report proposes some key interventions which can be taken now, including the introduction of a drugs consumption room, and a heroin-assisted treatment programme in all major centres in Scotland as we see already at the Glasgow pilot scheme.
“Decriminalising drug use should be considered in Scotland, and the college would urge the UK government and the Scottish government to work collaboratively on this key policy area.
“We believe that drug-related deaths should be fundamentally treated as a public health issue.”
Drug consumption rooms will be a sheltered space for people using heroin, supervised by medics, given clean equipment and able to access services such as housing and social work.
A number of experts including The Royal College of Physicians believe trialling drug consumption rooms would have a positive impact on the number of drug-related deaths in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Similar calls were made earlier in the year by the Scottish Branch of LEAP, who suggested Scotland should adopt a “legally regulated cannabis model” alongside drug consumption rooms, widespread distribution of the anti-overdose Naloxone, heroin-assisted treatment on prescription, and drug testing facilities at nightspots and universities
However, the UK government controls the national drug policy and does not support the idea of safe consumption rooms. While the Scottish government is open to the proposition, it says it must be established legally.