Glasgow & West Scotland

Scotland's first heroin treatment clinic for addicts to open

Treatment area Image copyright Glasgow City Council
Image caption Patients will inject the diamorphine in the mirrored treatment area under the strict observation of nursing staff

Scotland's first scheme for giving drug addicts pharmaceutical grade heroin is to open in Glasgow city centre.

The £1.2m Enhanced Drug Treatment Service (EDTS) is the first in Scotland and the second in the UK.

The pilot scheme aims to treat 20 patients with the most severe, long-standing and complex addictions in its first year, and 40 in the second year.

It is hoped the facility will help reduce street drug use, overdose deaths and the spread of HIV in the city.

The first patients are expected to start the treatment with diamorphine, the clinical name for pharmaceutical grade heroin, at the end of the year.

They will have to attend the clinic, which has been licensed by the Home Office, twice a day, every day.

Image copyright Glasgow City Council

A prescription for a diamorphine injection will be given for patients to administer themselves under the strict supervision of clinical staff.

The patients will also receive healthcare such as psychological support and treatment for infections or abscesses, and will be helped to access social care services.

A spokesman for Glasgow's Health and Social Care Partnership's (GCHSCP) said EDTS would focus on people whose addictions most severely affected their own health, and had the worst impact on their communities, public services and the city centre.

Those selected for treatment will already be involved with Glasgow's Homeless Addiction Team and have received conventional treatments, which can include methadone, community addictions services and residential rehabilitation.

Record death rate

Last year it was estimated that Glasgow had 13,600 problem drug users, costing NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde more than £29m.

Drug-related deaths in Scotland soared to 1,187 in 2018, a record level and the highest reported rate per head of population in the EU.

A heroin-assisted treatment facility in Middlesbrough, on Teesside, opened last month as the first of its kind in the UK.

Similar schemes in Vancouver and Zurich have shown that patients can gradually progress from diamorphine injections to oral treatments, allowing more patients to be treated at the clinic.

Dr Saket Priyadarshi, associate medical director at Glasgow Alcohol and Drug Recovery Services, said it was a much-needed addition to the treatment and care services already in Glasgow.

"We have known for a number of years that there are people who continue to experience harm despite receiving conventional treatment.

"It is only appropriate that, as in other branches of medicine, we can offer addictions patients the next line in treatment.

"Heroin-assisted treatment is a highly evidence-based intervention and it will be delivered with intensive psycho-social support to address the wide range of harm and social care needs that this population experiences."

'Chaotic lifestyles'

Unlike "fix-rooms", which are a safe, clean space for drug addicts to use their own drugs, the EDTS provides diamorphine for the patients to take under the supervision of nursing staff.

The city council in Glasgow, which is trying to tackle the UK's worst outbreak of HIV in 30 years, first proposed establishing a fix room, or Safer Drug Consumption Facility, three years ago, but has so far been refused permission by the Home Office as UK drug laws are reserved to Westminster.

Image caption Susanne Millar, interim chief officer of GCHSCP, said the partnership hoped to reduce the impact of addictions on families

A report by the Scottish Affairs Committee recently concluded that there was "a strong evidence base for a safe consumption facility in Glasgow which would be a practical step to reducing the number of drug-related deaths in Scotland".

Susanne Millar, chairwoman of Glasgow's Alcohol and Drug Partnership and interim chief officer of GCHSCP, said an increase in drug-related deaths and non-fatal overdoses in the city demanded "innovative treatments".

"It is aimed at people with the most chaotic lifestyles and severe addictions who have not responded to existing treatments," she said.

"People might question why health services are spending money providing heroin for people with addictions - the answer is we can't afford not to.

"Not only are we are striving to save the lives of individuals themselves, we also aim to reduce the spread of HIV and to reduce the impact of addictions on Glasgow families and communities."

Treating addiction reduced pressure on frontline health and criminal justice services, and cut anti-social behaviour and drug-related crime, Ms Millar added.

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