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Scottish Government 'should be braver' on drugs 'fix room'

A charity said the Lord Advocate could effectively green-light an injecting facility in Glasgow.

Heroin: Plan for safe injecting site in Glasgow blocked by Home Office.
Heroin: Plan for safe injecting site in Glasgow blocked by Home Office. Spencer Platt/Getty

The Scottish Government should be "braver" in its support for a so-called drugs "fix room" in Glasgow - and could effectively green-light the facility, according to a leading charity.

The Scottish Drugs Forum suggested to MPs that a safe drug consumption site could still be possible in the city despite the Home Office blocking the proposal.

The charity's CEO David Liddell said the Scottish Government's top legal officer, the Lord Advocate James Wolffe, could issue a "letter of comfort" to protect prospective users and staff from prosecution.

Speaking to the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster, Mr Liddell said Scotland could move "towards a model of decriminalisation" within existing drugs legislation.

Drugs laws in the UK are reserved to Westminster, and the Home Office has warned drug consumption units would be illegal.

https://stv.tv/news/west-central/1436421-drug-consumption-room-would-save-lives-uk-government-told/ | default

As the committee continues its inquiry into problem drug use in Scotland, Mr Liddell was among the voices calling for radical measures to stem the rise of drug-related deaths.

It comes as an assistant chief constable at Police Scotland warned the number of drug deaths in 2018 could hit 1100 when the figures are released this summer - the highest on record.

Proponents of a safe injecting facility in Glasgow say it could save hundreds of lives by preventing fatal overdoses.

A total of 280 of the 934 drugs-related deaths in Scotland in 2017 were recorded in Glasgow, along with a spike of HIV infections among users, while an estimated 400 to 500 addicts are injecting on the city's streets.

'It's death, death on a large scale, an epidemic scale.'
Police Scotland ACC Steve Johnson on drug deaths

On the blocked plans for a fix room, Mr Liddell told MPs: "We certainly do have a frustration that the Misuse of Drugs Act is being used as a means for delaying responses.

"Our view, and that was the view of Glasgow when they put that forward, was that The Lord Advocate could issue a letter of comfort on this...

"I would encourage the Scottish Government to be braver in that regard."

He said that such a letter from the Lord Advocate was previously used in 2011 to allow vulnerable people to access the opioid overdose antidote Naloxone from local services.

Mr Liddell continued: "Similarly with things like drug checking, which has taken place in other parts of the UK, for example at festivals... it is again an area where Scotland has not progressed and could do within the existing legislation, similarly with extending recorded police warnings.

"I think we could do all of that within the existing framework, so that is basically moving towards a model of decriminalisation.

"We should be brave enough to do that because it would help."

He added: "We've got a crisis in Scotland... we shouldn't wait for the home secretary in Westminster."

However, while the Lord Advocate can make decisions on whether or not a criminal offence will be prosecuted, he cannot make unlawful activity lawful.

A Crown Office spokesman said: "The Lord Advocate is committed to reducing the harm caused by the misuse of illegal drugs but the proposal to establish Supervised Drug Consumption Facilities (SDCF) raises complex issues. 

"In jurisdictions where such facilities have been established these issues have been addressed by legislation which provides a comprehensive legal framework."

https://stv.tv/news/politics/1437423-drug-fix-rooms-should-be-introduced-in-scotland/ | default

Recorded police warnings were introduced in Scotland in 2016 as a way to deal with drug crimes such as low-level cannabis possession without referring them to prosecutors.

Speaking later to the same committee, Police Scotland assistant chief constable Steve Johnson said drug deaths in Scotland are reaching an "epidemic scale".

He told MPs: "In 2018 - and this is an unofficial statistic, I keep a tally of drug-related deaths every day - we're going to hit around about 1067, and maybe break the 1100 mark once we get past suspected drug deaths.

"Since 2015 the figures have doubled in Scotland and for me those are not just statistics.

"I get reported every day the names, the ages and the locations across Scotland, and of the 13 divisions across Scotland there isn't a division that hasn't seen an increase.

"From 2017 to 2018, very nearly, we've seen a 20% increase in drug-related deaths."

Mr Johnson added: "It's death, death on a large scale, an epidemic scale."

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