UK's first drug consumption room gets go ahead to open in Glasgow

UK's first drug consumption room gets go ahead to open in Glasgow <i>(Image: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)</i>
UK's first drug consumption room gets go ahead to open in Glasgow (Image: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

The UK's first official drug consumption room is set to Glasgow open after NHS and council officials on the city's Integration Joint Board signed off on the facility.

People who use drugs will be able to take their own substances in a clean, hygienic environment, with the support of trained staff.

The facility – set to be based in the city's Hunter Street – was effectively given the legal go-ahead earlier this month when Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC said it would not be in the “public interest to prosecute drug users for simple possession offences committed within a pilot safer drugs consumption facility.”

READ MORE: Glasgow: Proposed site of first drug consumption room revealed

Dr Saket Priyadarshi, Associate Medical Director and Senior Medical Officer with Glasgow Alcohol and Drug Recovery Services told the board the service would both reduce drug-related harms for users and also provide opportunities for treatment, care and recovery.

"There's a very large international evidence base for these services. There are more than 100 such services across the world.

"And in Glasgow, we've been looking at the international evidence base and the different models and what we can learn about the implementation of such models in the city.

"The benefits for these services are really for primarily for individuals who use them in the sense that they reduce drug related harms for those individuals but also provide opportunities for treatment care and recovery for them as well.

"The evidence base shows that there are benefits for communities, residents and businesses in the vicinity of such facilities because there's a reduction in visible public injecting and a reduction in drug related litter as well.

"And for wider society, their wider benefits in terms of cost benefit of investment in these services leads to reductions in the use of acute and criminal justice systems as well."

READ MORE: Drug Consumption Room will be 'restricted in what it can do'

A drug consumption facility in Glasgow was first proposed in 2016 after an HIV outbreak in the city. At that time, it was thought there were 400 to 500 people injecting in the city centre.

However, with the Misuse of Drugs Act reserved to Westminster, the previous Lord Advocate declined to issue guidance when the proposal was put to him.

A new proposal was submitted to Ms Bain, which saw her say she was “prepared to publish a prosecution policy that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute drug users for simple possession offences committed within a pilot safer drugs consumption facility.”

Scotland’s drug death rate is around 2.7 times higher than the UK average, despite a 21% drop in fatalities over the last year.

The most recent figures released by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) showed there were 1,051 deaths due to drug misuse in 2022 – down 279.

The service is expected to cost £2.3 million with the Scottish Government committing to funding the pilot until March 2027, when the parliamentary term comes to an end.

READ MORE: 'Tide is turning' on Scotland's drug death crisis says minister

Labour councillor Audrey Dempsey said there was concern from her constituents that the facility could attract drug dealers as “they know that it's a dead sale, and they know that people are not going to be punished or anything for buying from them to go in there.”

She also asked about “attracting addicts from other cities” warning that there might be an “influx from other cities where people know they can come here, and they're not going to be punished for that.”

Susanne Miller, Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership's (HSCP) told the councillor that the international evidence showed that DCRs did not attract dealers or users from other cities, but that they were working closely with Police Scotland.

“In actual fact, the patient client group are people who don't necessarily plan their drug misuse, they are by definition  people involved in activity which has already got a range of dangers attached to it in that it's public, it's it's in car parks, it's up lanes, it's not people who will travel to use their drugs.

“So that's it that is not a cohort, who would normally plan in their journey to then consume their drugs.”

SNP councillor Chris Cunningham said he had some concerns over the limits of the Lord Advocate's statement, particularly as she made clear that it would not be in the “public interest to prosecute drug users for simple possession offences committed within" the facility.

"However, in order to possess those drugs within the confines of the facility, they have to bring them in and in bringing them in they have to do so outside the facility.

"And so therefore, they are in possession of illegal drugs, as they arrive at the facility and as they enter it, and I'm being pernickety, but it seems to me fairly obvious that someone coming to the facility could technically be regarded as committing a crime because they are in possession of illegal drugs, but quite clearly, we do not want them to be arrested. We want them to come into the facility and the safe injection to occur inside the facility."

Ms Millar said the council and the health board had instructed counsel to look at exactly how DCR could be operated given the Lord Advocate's advice.

"We have all of those operational issues within our sites and we do have our own counsel opinion as well as the Lord Advocate's letter. These are issues that we have spent some time working through," she said.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman, Dr Sandesh Gulhane said his party were "happy for a variety of potential solutions to be looked at" but had "serious reservations about how effective drug consumption rooms will be in reality."

He added: “SNP ministers – including Nicola Sturgeon – shamefully took their eye off the ball as a record number of lives were lost to drugs in Scotland in recent years. Those same ministers appear wedded to the idea that drug consumption rooms will be the silver bullet to tackle this crisis."

Scotland’s drug and alcohol policy minister Elena Whitham welcomed the board’s decision.

She said: “We know this is not a silver bullet. But we know from evidence from more than 100 facilities worldwide that safer drug consumption facilities work.

“It is time to see this approach piloted in Scotland and while the service would still be limited to some extent, due to the Misuse of Drugs Act reserved to Westminster, we are confident it would save lives.

“It’s vital this pilot has the full confidence of the general public as well as those who use the facility, and the leadership of Glasgow and Police Scotland will help ensure it is introduced as quickly as possible.”