Medical supervision facilities needed to halt drug deaths, says Sturgeon
By Bill Heaney
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says there is “a compelling case” that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 needs to be substantially amended so that action can be taken to help halt the drugs deaths emergency.
She told the Holyrood parliament: “If the United Kingdom Government continues to refuse to allow Scotland to take innovative approaches to tackling drug deaths, such as establishing medically supervised drug consumption facilities, we call on it to devolve the powers to this Parliament so that we can do what is necessary.
“This week, the Scottish Affairs Committee began its inquiry into problem drug use to examine the issue. The evidence that has been submitted to the committee so far overwhelmingly supports the need for Scotland to be given additional powers in this area.”
She agreed with Greenock MSP Stuart McMillan, who said: “Every party in this Parliament except the Tories voted to call on the UK Government to change the law to allow the provision of safe consumption facilities, or to empower the Scottish Parliament to do that.
“Does the First Minister agree that further UK Government delay will mean further harm to and the further deaths of some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland?”
The FM replied: “We need to look at different ways of tackling the drugs challenge and, in particular, reducing the number of people who lose their lives to drugs.
“As Jackson Carlaw [Tory deputy leader] and I spoke about a few weeks ago, that means a willingness to look at different approaches and to be innovative.
“The Tories have called on the Government to do that—and we are willing to do that—but again I call on them to drop their knee-jerk opposition to safe consumption facilities.
“Just recently, Dr Andrew McAuley, senior research fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University, said that Glasgow’s case for a drug consumption room is ‘arguably the most compelling Europe has seen’.
“If the United Kingdom Government will not act in that way, it should devolve the powers to allow this Parliament to do so as part of an overall approach to taking innovative action to deal with what is a massive challenge for all of us.”
Tory Miles Briggs agreed with the First Minister that there is a cross-party consensus on the need for change on this matter – “but there are two things that she could do: first, have an independent review of the methadone programme in Scotland; and, secondly, have a third sector-led review of recovery services. Will she commit to those actions?”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “We are already convening an expert group to examine exactly what changes either in practice or in the law could help to save lives and reduce harm.
“Our mind is not closed to any suggestion about how we can do this differently, but my ask of others is that they do not close their minds, either.
“When health professionals and experts in this field are saying that this is one of the most important things that we can do in Glasgow right now, it is unconscionable for the UK Government—which has admitted that it knows what benefits the move might bring—to stand in the way of it.
“If we are going to take an open-minded approach to this—and I have certainly signed up to that—it has to apply right across the board, and I am sad to say that, so far, the Tories have been found completely lacking and wanting in that respect.”