Scotland’s public health minister has urged the UK Government to change drugs laws, after visiting a medically supervised safer drug consumption facility in Paris.
Plans to set up a similar space in Glasgow have been under discussion for a number of years, with the Scottish Government and the city council giving it the go-ahead.
Power over drugs legislation is held by Westminster, however, meaning it would be illegal for a facility to be established in Scotland at present.
Joe FitzPatrick visited Paris earlier this week to see first-hand how safer drug consumption rooms operate.
The Espace Gaia, near the Gare du Nord, was the city’s first safer consumption room when it opened in 2016, and now has 1,200 registered users.
It aims to reduce the harms caused by drug use through medical and psychiatric support, sterile equipment and hepatitis and HIV screening, while also providing access to addiction treatment.
A new public health law in France protects staff in supervised facilities such as Espace Gaia from prosecution, and tolerates the consumption of drugs inside such facilities.
Mr FitzPatrick said the visit provided an “invaluable insight” into how medically supervised safer drug consumption facilities can work.
“These sorts of centres exist around the world, including in France, Australia, Denmark and Canada,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.
“What Scotland faces in terms of drugs-related deaths is an emergency and I am convening an expert group to advise on what further changes, in practice or in law, could help save lives and reduce harm.
“The Scottish Government is supportive of a proposal by Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership to set up a facility similar to Espace Gaia, particularly in light of the growing number of HIV cases in the city.
“However, for this to happen, the UK Government needs to change the law to allow them to operate.
“If they refuse, we want them to devolve this responsibility so the Scottish Parliament can act.”
Scottish Green MSP John Finnie, the co-convener of Holyrood’s cross-party group on drug and alcohol misuse, has welcomed Mr Fitzpatrick’s support for supervised drug consumption rooms.
“All the international evidence tells us that these facilities can play a huge part in tackling the drug deaths crisis,” he said.
“Scotland has the highest number of drug deaths in Europe and the current approach demonstrably isn’t working.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “There is no legal framework for the provision of drug consumption rooms in the UK and we have no plans to introduce them.
“The UK Government’s position on drugs remains clear – we must prevent drug use in our communities and support people dependent on drugs through treatment and recovery.
“Our drug strategy sets out a balanced approach which brings 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 turn their lives around.”