It’s time for Scotland to provide safe places to take drugs.
I was heartened to read the Scottish Parliament has backed a drug site in Glasgow. It has various names: a “fix room” or a safe injection site. Here in Canada, they’re called supervised drug-use sites, because the word “safe” isn’t accurate when it comes to illegal drugs.
There’s one near where I work, and I wouldn’t know about it if not for local media coverage. The authorities provide a clean environment with healthcare professionals, and drug users can access a range of services, drug-related and otherwise. There has been debate and controversy, but there is significant public support for the idea.
These sites save lives. At our local one, two people were revived from overdoses in one weekend. They were taking fentanyl, the powerful opioid, and were saved by medical staff. In 2016, in the United States alone, 20,000 people died of fentanyl overdoses.
Meanwhile, in Glasgow, 90 heroin addicts have been infected with HIV in the last two years. Health authorities there estimate the city has 13,600 “problem drug users” with all the attendant problems of anti-social behaviour, crime and simple, pathetic death.
Only the most privileged Scot cannot identify drug users by the way they walk, and most of us have seen needles in the street. It’s an appalling epidemic, and North America’s experience with opioids suggests there is worse to come.
So, well done to Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership for this planned site, and to MSPs for their support.
Except it can go no further. The Home Office says UK law would mean anyone staffing the site would be committing criminal offences by allowing drug-taking, and the police should enforce the law.
Instead, people will continue to overdose in back alleys, derelict buildings and worse, while the UK Government focuses on benefits, bombing and Brexit. This is stupid.
The complicated problem of drug abuse won’t be solved with a combination of punishment and ignorance. And 70 cities around the world show that supervised drug-use sites make a difference.