Scotland politics

Cross-party group urges Home Office rethink on 'fix rooms'

A hand holding drugs Image copyright Getty Images

A cross-party group of MPs and peers has urged the home secretary to sanction supervised drug consumption facilities, or "fix rooms".

Glasgow City Council first proposed the measure three years ago, but the plan has fallen foul of UK drug laws which are reserved to Westminster.

The idea is to encourage users to inject drugs in a safe and clean environment rather than on the street.

The Home Office said there were no plans to allow consumption rooms.

The appeal for a rethink comes after new figures revealed drug-related deaths in Scotland soared to 1,187 last year, a record level and the highest reported rate per head of population in the EU.

Tory Crispin Blunt, Labour's Jeff Smith and crossbench peer Baroness Meacher, along with seven Police and Crime Commissioners, have written to Home Secretary Sajid Javid urging him to allow local authorities to proceed with pilot schemes.

MPs from the SNP, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats also signed the letter.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Germany has a network of DCRs, including this one in Berlin

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Drug Policy Reform said in the letter that consumption rooms - also known as Overdose Prevention Centres (OPCs) - have been established in many countries with "good public health results" and an "absence of the feared negative consequences".

The politicians, who co-chair the group, wrote: "We and many of our colleagues have been assessing their value as part of local strategies to reduce drug-related deaths and infections (primarily HIV and hepatitis), as well as incidences of public disorder and needle litter.

"We are supportive of areas that wish to proceed with their implementation.

"We therefore call on the government to allow the relevant local authorities the discretion to proceed with locally developed, closely evaluated pilots."

The APPG said a refusal to sanction evidence-based interventions which would bring down drug-related deaths appears to be "complacent and dangerous".

Former minister Mr Blunt said: "The international evidence is clear - Overdose Prevention Centres save lives.

"We are facing a crisis of drug overdose deaths, and cannot afford to reject initiatives that will help bring the death rate down.

"Policymakers must urgently escape the simplicity of 'drugs are bad, they are banned' and engage in evidence-based policy and the complexities about how to reduce crime and save lives."

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Image caption The Skyen drug consumption room is in Copenhagen

Opposition whip Mr Smith added: "Instead of condemning and marginalising people who use drugs, we need to support and encourage them into treatment, and give them a chance to turn their lives around.

"Overdose prevention centres (DCRs) are one proven means of doing so. Nobody has ever died of an overdose in one of these centres.

"If the government thinks there is not currently the legislative framework that would allow them to go ahead, it is their job to change that legislation."

Baroness Meacher said: "This week's shocking figures from Scotland, showing a 27% increase in deaths in just one year, prove that this is a public health crisis.

"Responsible local authorities are desperate to try new approaches, but are being prevented by a Home Office putting ideology before people's lives."

The Green Party's Caroline Lucas, Liberal Democrat Tom Brake, the SNP's Ronnie Cowan and peers including Baroness Neuberger and Lord Adebowale also signed the letter.

'No legal framework'

The Scottish government and a majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament have backed the idea of consumption rooms, but the UK government remains opposed, saying they would allow a range of offences to committed.

The SNP's Ronnie Cowan said: "Safe consumption rooms are not a magic bullet, but the evidence for their use is overwhelming - with even the Scottish Tory health spokesperson this week admitting they could tackle overdoses.

"The Home Office's stubborn refusal to even consider trialling their use is a dereliction of duty and leaves the UK Government on the wrong side of history.

"If the UK government refuse to act to save lives, it's time they devolved the powers so that Scotland can take the steps necessary."

A Home Office spokesman said: "Any death related to drug misuse is a tragedy. Our drug strategy is bringing together police, health, community and global partners to tackle the illicit drug trade, protect the most vulnerable and help those with a drug dependency to recover.

"The causes of drug misuse are complex and need a range of policy responses and many of the powers to deal with drug dependency such as healthcare, housing and criminal justice are devolved in Scotland.

"The UK government has been clear that there is no legal framework for the provision of drug consumption rooms and there are no plans to introduce them."

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