The Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, has refused to support the Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP)’s proposal of creating a “fix room” in Glasgow’s city centre. The fix room would be the first legal drug consumption room in the UK.
The HSCP’s controversial proposal seeks to create a safe and supervised environment where drug users will be able to inject heroin, as well as access heroin-assisted treatment. Drug users would be permitted to bring and use street-bought heroin within the facility.
Current drug laws prohibit the possession of class A drugs, such as heroin, and are retained by Westminster. The fix room plan needs a legal exemption, granted by the Lord Advocate, before it can be set up. This legal exemption would permit the possession of street-bought heroin within and around the facility, and ensure that individuals possessing it would not be prosecuted.
At the beginning of November, the Lord Advocate informed the HSCP that he refused to change prosecution policy, hereby putting the development of the fix room on hold.
A spokesman for the Crown Office stated: “The Lord Advocate has considered the proposals and is of the view that the public interest objective is a health rather than justice one. Scottish Government health officials will offer to meet with the HSCP to discuss the proposal, its objectives, and how these might best be met.”
The Lord Advocate suggested the HSCP should focus on providing support within the already existing legal framework.
A spokesperson for the HSCP responded saying: “We have received a response from the Lord Advocate and we will be taking some time to study and consider his opinion.”
They added: “We will continue to work with partners with the objective of opening a safe drug consumption facility in Glasgow.”
The fix room is backed by multiple agencies, such as the Alcohol & Drug Partnership (ADP) and the City Integration Joint Board (IJB) which consists of health board officials, civic leaders and police commanders. The plan to create a fix room in Glasgow’s city centre is a response to the 35% increase in HIV infections amongst drug users in 2015.
Legal drug consumption rooms exist in Germany, the Netherlands and many other European countries. There is evidence that legal drug consumption rooms reduce the amount of discarded needles in the streets and make services such as addiction treatments, recovery support and health check-ups more accessible. They also reduce the number of overdoses and cut costs for public health services.
Around 13,600 people in Glasgow are considered problematic drug users; this is 3.2% of Glasgow’s population. Drug related deaths remain high, with 157 people dying from a drug overdose in 2015. Andrew Home, the director of Addaction, one of the biggest providers of drug and alcohol prevention services in Scotland, has estimated that there are 400-500 drug users injecting in Glasgow’s city centre and stated that it was hard to reach out to them. The fix room, which would be situated between Saltmarket, Trongate and the Clyde River, could potentially help local services reach out.
Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss stated: “I am disappointed that the Lord Advocate has not been able to provide the permission required for this project to go ahead. With rising drug deaths in Scotland, the status quo is failing to tackle the many problems associated with drug addiction.”
She added: “I understand that the Scottish government will continue to work with the Health & Social Care Partnership, and I am hopeful a solution can be found. Doing nothing will continue to leave vulnerable people injecting on our streets, and the local communities I represent without a solution to this public health issue.”