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31 October 2016, 17:13
Plans to push forward with proposals for the UK's first unit for drug addicts to inject under supervision have been approved.
The scheme aims to tackle drug-related deaths, the spread of infections among users and the amount of needles and injecting equipment left in public areas.
Already in operation in some European cities, the safer consumption facility and treatment service in Glasgow is recommended by the Glasgow City Alcohol and Drug Partnership.
It will involve NHS staff but the location of the centre and its cost are still to be established, although advocates say analysis of other units has ''demonstrated their cost effectiveness from a societal perspective''.
Described as ''fix rooms'' or ''shooting galleries'' by some, the controversial plan has been considered in other UK cities but not implemented.
However, the scale of public injecting in Glasgow city centre - around 500 people - is said in a report to ''justify the introduction of a pilot safer injecting facility''.
Members of the Glasgow City Integration Joint Board - made up of councillors, police and health providers - agreed to develop a business case for the unit at a meeting on Monday afternoon.
Full details of the business case will be brought back to a board meeting next February for approval.
A report put before the board by Susanne Millar, council chief officer of strategy, planning and commissioning, warned that failing to set up the new unit risks problems - including outbreaks of HIV and other diseases among the city's drug-injecting population - worsening.
She said: ''The potential for the HIV outbreak to continue or spread further, including among people without a history of drug use, is particularly concerning.''
Glasgow Central SNP MP Alison Thewliss welcomed the move towards a safe injecting facility, saying she sees ''no other option'', having witnessed people injecting in public near her office.
She said: ''Research has shown that safe injecting facilities save lives, move drug injecting off the street and open up a vital dialogue between services and drug users. Safe injecting facilities can rapidly reduce the rate of deaths from overdose, which must be at the forefront of our minds.
''We need to ask ourselves a very difficult question. If someone I cared about was injecting drugs, where would I want them to be? Would I want them to be on dirty waste ground, in a dark city centre lane or a back court all alone, or supervised in the safety of a consumption room with trained medical staff available and services to help move them away from drugs in the longer term?''
Glasgow Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins said: ''This concept will not sit easily with many people, particularly those who think we should be making it more difficult for addicts to source drugs, rather than facilitate it. Some will believe this is merely waving the white flag in the face of the war on drugs.
''But what's key now, if this does go ahead, is that there is irrefutable proof within a year that the scheme is saving lives, and reducing the number of people dependent on heroin in Glasgow. If not, it has to be abandoned at once.''
A similar facility is being considered by councillors in Dundee but Neil McKeganey, of the Centre for Substance Use Research, said there should be more focus on helping addicts off drugs.
He said: ''Some years ago we surveyed over 1,000 drug addicts in Scotland and asked them what they wanted to get from treatment, and less than 5% said they wanted help to inject more safely and the overall majority said they wanted help to become drug-free.
''These facilities have a role to play but there is a real danger that we're moving steadily away from a commitment for services to get addicts off drugs.''
David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum, said: ''We're hugely supportive of this proposed development. There's really a desperate need for such provision, particularly in Glasgow.
''I know it's been highlighted as controversial but when you see that these have been running in Europe for a very long time, Holland for example has 31 drug consumption rooms and Germany 24, and these are seen as part of the overall provision.''