Cross-party pressure on UK Government grows to reform drug policy

Calls for a safe injection pilot scheme in Glasgow increase ahead of Westminster debate

ALISON THEWLISS, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has joined those calling for the UK Government to consider relaxing drug laws in order to allow for a Safer Drugs Consumption Facility (SDCF) scheme for heroin users.

This comes ahead of a 17 January debate on the issue at Westminster Hall, led by SNP MP for Inverclyde Ronnie Cowan, vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on drug policy reform, who also said ahead of the debate that the UK Government must either change the law, or devolve the necessary powers allowing the Scottish Government to do so.

Thewliss, a long-time supporter of plans for a Safer Drugs Consumption Facility (SDCF) in Glasgow, will also speak at the debate, and has added her name to a cross-party letter to the Home Office arguing in favour of the pilot scheme, which until now has been blocked by the UK Government. Fellow signatories include SNP MPs Mhairi Black, Joanna Cherry and Tommy Sheppard, Scottish Labour MPs Ian Murray and Danielle Rowley, and Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson.

READ MORE: UK Government must allow ‘fix rooms’ or devolve powers to Scotland, says SNP MP

A plan for such a SDCF pilot scheme, which would provide heroin users with medical supervision and greater safety, was approved by both Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership and the Scottish Government last year, but was blocked by the Home Office.

Commenting ahead of the debate, Thewliss said: “Evidence on the need for action on this issue has never been more compelling. In 2015 for example, there was 47 new diagnoses of HIV compared to an annual average of 10, for those who are injecting drugs. Indeed, there is thought to be around 500 people who regularly inject drugs in public places in Glasgow City Centre alone.

“I have seen for myself public injecting taking place in locations not far from where my office is located.” SNP MP Alison Thewliss

“I can attest to the fact that Glasgow has a growing problem with respect to public injecting; my constituency office often receives reports of needles and other drug paraphernalia being discarded in public places. In addition, I have seen for myself public injecting taking place in locations not far from where my office is located.

“It’s clear to me that the drug injecting population in Glasgow face a number of different barriers in accessing health services which can help them with their addiction, and that current methods are falling short of offering the appropriate level of support. For this reason, Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership, and other parties, have developed innovative plans for the implementation of a Safe Injecting Facility.

READ MORE: Ronnie Cowan MP: Why we should at least consider decriminalising drug use in the UK

“It is imperative that the Home Office consider this request – which has cross-party support from a number of Scottish MPs - to allow an SDCF to be trialled in Glasgow. This issue has become a serious public health issue, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that we do what we can to improve the situation not just for drug users, but for the wider public in general.”

Pressure is growing on the UK Government on the issue, with calls for reform to the its current position on drugs coming from drug reform campaign organisations including Release, Transform and Anyone’s Child.

“No one ever died from an overdose in a safer drug consumption room.” Danny Kushlick, Transform

Danny Kushlick of Transform said: “No one ever died from an overdose in a safer drug consumption room, anywhere in the world, and there are groups across the UK - including the NHS in Glasgow - ready to open them if the Home Office grants permission. Meanwhile, the UK is suffering record levels of drug deaths year after year. This carnage can stop, but only if the Government puts saving the lives of the poor and vulnerable - rather than criminalising them - at the heart of its approach to drugs.”
 
Rose Humphries, a member of Anyone’s Child who lost two sons to overdose, commented: “Bitter experience has taught us that the current drugs policy doesn’t work. It didn’t protect my children and it won’t protect yours. I fully support the call for the establishment of drug consumption rooms. No one has ever died in one.”

The Scottish Drug Forum also described the UK Government’s decision to block the initiative as “incredibly disappointing”.

However, Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated during Prime Minister’s Questions in December last year that she did not take a “liberal approach to drugs”, and emphasised that preventing drug use would remain her government’s main priority.

Picture courtesy of Todd Huffman

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