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UK approves first consumption room for illegal drugs

A study found there were approximately 400 to 500 people injecting drugs in public places in Glasgow. (AFP pic)

LONDON: The UK’s first drug consumption room for users to take illegal drugs will open in Scotland after receiving approval today.

The £2.3 million facility will be located in Glasgow and allow users to take their own drugs in a clean environment under medical supervision.

The Glasgow City Integration Joint Board approved the pilot facility today, bringing an end to years of political to-and-fro over its legality between the devolved Scottish and central UK governments.

“There is overwhelming international evidence which demonstrates that safer drug consumption facilities can improve the health, wellbeing and recovery of people who use the facility and reduce the negative impact that public injecting has on local communities and businesses,” said the board, which advises on community health and social care services.

Scotland’s most senior law officer, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain, paved the way for its approval earlier this month when she said it would not be “in the public interest” to prosecute people using such a facility.

The idea was first mooted in 2006 during an HIV outbreak in Glasgow, which is Scotland’s biggest city.

A study after the outbreak found there were approximately 400 to 500 people injecting drugs in public places in Glasgow city centre on a regular basis.

“Injecting in public spaces increases the risk of infection and other drug-related harms, and also causes a risk to the public from discarded injecting equipment and needles,” said the board.

Scotland recorded its lowest drug death figures in five years in 2022, according to official figures published last month, but the rate still remains higher than in the rest of Europe.

The devolved Scottish government in Edinburgh, which sets health policy, is in favour of the facility, but some lawmakers are concerned about its effect on local businesses.

“I welcome the news,” said Scotland’s drug and alcohol policy minister Elena Whitham.

“We know this is not a silver bullet. But we know from evidence from more than 100 facilities worldwide that safer drug consumption facilities work,” she added.