College welcomes important drug policy developments

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (“the College”) is welcoming the recent important drug policy developments in Scotland and the UK.

On Monday 11 September, Scotland’s Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC made a statement  confirming that she considered it would not be in the public interest to prosecute users of drug consumption rooms for simple possession offences. In response, a statement by the Scottish Government’s Drugs and Alcohol Policy Minister, Elena Whitham MSP, welcomed the Lord Advocate’s position and said it meant that Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership could take plans to establish a safer drug consumption facility to the Glasgow City Integration Joint Board for approval.

In addition, at the end of August, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee published a new report concluding that The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and Misuse of Drugs regulations needed to be updated to support greater use of public health based drug interventions, including a pilot for a safer drugs consumption facility.  The Committee report highlighted evidence from Professor Dame Carol Black, the independent adviser to the UK Government on drugs, who supported a pilot and argued that it would help to establish a UK evidence-base on safer consumption facilities.

The College has consistently supported the concept of safer drugs consumption facilities, as well as other interventions such as the rollout of a heroin-assisted treatment programme across Scotland, to reduce the unacceptable level of drug deaths. In 2021 we published a major report Drug Deaths in Scotland: an increasingly medical problem backing safer consumption facilities- along with a number of other policies- and have worked with the Faculty of Public Health and others to press governments to support a pilot.

Available evidence demonstrates that safer consumptions facilities are effective in preventing drug deaths, with reviews highlighting that there has never been a fatal overdose reported in the over 130 sites available globally. Evidence reviews also highlight the benefits of these facilities in facilitating patient referrals to treatment services and the adoption of safer injecting practices to reduce blood borne virus transmission.

The College recognises that safer drug consumption facilities are only a part of the range of policy solutions we require to reduce drug deaths and drug-related harms and that continuing investment in the most effective, evidence-based treatments and recovery support is also essential. We look forward to the pilot in Glasgow moving forward quickly and hope that the model may be expanded in other population centres. In the meantime, the College will continue to work collaboratively with all stakeholders to push for the additional actions in drug treatment, recovery, and prevention required in order to address Scotland’s drug deaths public health emergency.