A move towards safe’ drug consumption rooms for heroin addicts is being supported by the Highland branch of the Scottish Green Party.
“We can’t change the law overnight,” says Green Party member and drug reform campaigner Alex Armitage.
“But these are policies that have all been tried and tested in different parts of the UK and if implemented could transform the life chances of drug users in the Highlands.”
The party’s newly-elected Green MSP Ariane Burgess claims the UK government’s criminalisation of drug addicts has failed.
And with a health being a devolved matter, she says the Scottish Government must “shoulder some of the responsibility”.
More than 1,200 people died of drug misuse in Scotland in 2019.
The record figure forced the First Minister to admit her government failed on drugs policy and increase funding for drug services.
Several months into her new role, the new drugs policy minister Andrew Constance is looking to introduce ‘safe’ consumption to reduce deaths.
She says “legal barriers” are in the way but efforts are ongoing to break them down
A touch of Green
Responding to a raft of heroin drug hauls and deaths in the north and north east, and last month’s £135,000 drugs bust in Lerwick, the party’s local branch in the Highlands says it would support a number of initiatives, including:
• A police “diversion” scheme where vulnerable users would be re-routed to health and social care services instead of prison
• Heroin on prescription
• A safe injecting facility in the Highlands
• More availability of the life-saving heroin antidote naloxone- commonly used to counter decreased breathing in opioid overdose
• A drug safety testing laboratory where drug users can anonymously check the purity and strength of drugs.
Highlands & Islands Green MSP Ariane Burgess said: “This is a public health emergency and it’s absolutely clear that the UK Government’s dogmatic approach, which criminalises rather than treats, is doing nothing to help solve the problem.”
She added: “That having been said, while there is a lot of fantastic harm reduction work taking place across the country, health is a devolved matter so the Scottish Government has to shoulder some of the responsibility.
“The evidence shows our approach doesn’t work, meanwhile countries that treat addiction as a serious health issue have massively reduced deaths. It is long past time to change approach.”
Speaking the same language, Richard Lochhead, SNP constituency MSP for Moray, said: “This is a national emergency and in order to stop these preventable deaths we must listen to those working on the frontline delivering services and support to those using drugs.”
“That means we need to have an open mind on safe drug consumption rooms – the focus must be on efforts to prevent misuse and tackling addiction and not on criminalising those who need support.”
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead.Rhoda Grant, Labour MSP for Highlands & Islands, supports safe consumption facilities to prevent overdoses and save lives, but believes far more is needed, including investment in residential rehab and policies that address poverty, deprivation and the country’s wider health inequalities.
She added: “The scale of drugs deaths in Scotland is the highest in the UK, and so as well as preventing deaths, there is a need to deliver improvements in treatment options and the availability of same-day treatment for those who seek help with substance misuse.”
Conservative MSP for the constituency Edward Mountain said: “Earlier this month the Scottish Conservatives published proposals to introduce a right to rehabilitation for those struggling with drug addiction.
“If the Right to Recovery (Scotland) Bill is passed, I firmly believe this would reduce the number of people addicted to drugs, and help cut crime as a result. As a knock on effect, there would be a reduced burden on the police, prison service and criminal justice system across the Highlands and the whole of Scotland”.
• PODCAST SPECIAL: Listen to the story of the History of Drugs in Aberdeen from 1980 to 2000