What can be done to halt Glasgow's HIV epidemic?

HIV test
Image caption The HIV test used by the street team gives a rapid result

Researchers have described a "perfect storm" that has allowed the HIV virus to spread so quickly in Glasgow. Homelessness is the key factor. Combined with a significant rise in the numbers of people injecting cocaine as well as heroin.

People who are sleeping rough can often be seen injecting drugs in public places in the city centre - sometimes sharing needles and other drug-injecting paraphernalia.

We've also heard about users so desperate that they will pick up a used needle off the street and inject themselves. Despite knowing the risks of infection.

So what can be done to try to halt the spread of HIV?

Image caption Chaotic lifestyles can mean treatment is patchy for some of those with the virus

Chemists and charity workers hand out free, sterile injecting equipment to try to stop people sharing apparatus. More than one million clean needles are distributed each year.

Many of the drugs workers and medical staff who try to treat the HIV positive population in Glasgow favour the idea of a drug consumption room - or safe injecting facility.

Glasgow City Council wants to open an indoor location where drug users can consume drugs they have bought on the streets in a safe and clean environment. They have the support of the Scottish government.

But drug laws do not come under the remit of the Scottish parliament. The Scottish government's top legal adviser says the facility would be illegal unless the UK government changes the law.

Image caption Fix rooms, where people can inject themselves with drugs in a safe and clean environment, are used in other countries, including Denmark

The Home Office have so far refused to offer an exemption to allow a drug consumption room in Glasgow.

It says a range of offences would be committed in such a facility, including possession and supply of controlled drugs and knowingly permitting the supply of a controlled drug on a premises. And it said it would expect local police forces to "enforce the law in such circumstances".

There is growing political argument between the Scottish and UK governments over drug consumption rooms.

Meanwhile, Scotland is caught in the grip of a drugs crisis and Glasgow is seeing the HIV epidemic getting worse.

A safe-injecting facility might go some way to addressing the spread of infection and the risk of overdose but it is not nearly enough to address the whole problem.

The Scottish government has set up an expert task force to look at ways to tackle to rising numbers of drug deaths in Scotland.

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