31 August 2023

Ministers ‘playing politics’ on drugs rather than saving lives, claims Sarwar

31 August 2023

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has accused the UK Government of “playing politics” over the issue of drug consumption rooms.

A report from the Home Affairs Committee at Westminster published on Thursday backed proposals to allow people struggling with addiction to safely take drugs under supervision from medical professionals and offer treatment services.

Such a facility has been mooted in Glasgow for years, but requires an exemption to the Misuse of Drugs Act from the Home Office to go forward.

If the UK Government is not willing to support such a move, the committee said, the relevant powers should be devolved to Holyrood.

Mr Sarwar said the Scottish Government could move ahead with consumption facilities now, but accused the UK Government of “playing politics”.

He said: “I think there is a way forward here that allows us to pilot safe consumption rooms in Glasgow and other parts of the country that does not require the devolution of our drug laws.

“It requires – as the Lord Advocate has already highlighted – a change in terms of how you would have a presumption against prosecution.

“I think that is a much more co-operative way forward if we are serious about tackling the issue.

“One drug death is one drug death too many.

“To have the highest drug deaths anywhere in Western Europe, anywhere in the UK is utterly unacceptable.

“I’m sick and tired of politicians wanting to play politics with these people’s lives rather than help save these people’s lives.”

Responding to the report, a spokesperson for the Home Office said: “There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we have no plans to consider this.

“Our 10-year Drugs Strategy set out ambitious plans, backed with a record £3 billion funding over three years, to tackle the supply of illicit drugs through relentless policing action and building a world-class system of treatment and recovery to turn people’s lives around and prevent crime.”

Under the committee’s recommendations, Glasgow would operate a pilot of the facilities that could then be expanded across the UK, funded by government north and south of the border.

The report comes after figures published last week revealed Scotland’s largest ever fall in drug deaths, with data from National Records of Scotland (NRS) showing there were 1,051 deaths due to drug misuse in 2022 – a drop of 279 on the previous year.

But while the number of deaths linked to drugs misuse is now at the lowest it has been since 2017, the NRS report made clear the rate of deaths is still “much higher” than it was when recording the data began in 1996.

Additionally, the MPs said on-site drug checking services at temporary events like music festivals and within the night-time economy should be rolled out, recommending the Home Office “establish a dedicated licensing scheme for drug checking at such events before the start of the summer 2024 festival season”.

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