Drug workers concerned about the rise in overdose deaths in Dundee could set up rogue safe consumption rooms to tackle rising fatalities, Canadian experts say.
Professor Bernie Pauly and Dr Bruce Wallace, of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR), told a city conference that Vancouver activists got fed up waiting for action on the city’s drugs crisis.
A report on the meeting concluded that those who attended believe immediate change is needed to halt the rate of drugs deaths in Scotland.
However, Dundee groups which interested in operating a safe consumption room of their own are uneasy about the move.
Rev Tony Thornthwaite, minister at Coldside Parish Church, has shelved his plans for a consumption room after holding discussions with police.
He said: “We’ve got a group of people looking at this but the trouble is if we did something illegal we’d be writing off a lot of other agencies which would love to be involved in safe spaces. It would be counter-productive.
“But the latest figures have been a tipping point. The urgency is not going away and change has to happen as soon as possible.
“The fact that we’re living in the drugs deaths capital of the developed world can’t be allowed to go on.”
The report on the meeting, hosted by government-funded think tank Drugs Research Network Scotland at the Steeple Church in May, was released yesterday.
The CISUR experts noted parallels between Vancouver – where 389 people died of overdoses last year – and Dundee.
Of note in their discussions were the actions taken by activists to set up their own safe consumption rooms as a response to lawmakers who they felt were taking too long to act.
While illegal, the facilities were tolerated by police who understood the benefits of giving drug users clean equipment and supervising them to prevent overdose deaths.
Before long, they were sanctioned under a special ministerial order at the end of 2016.
The report said: “In British Columbia, law enforcement took a position of non-interference with respect to overdose prevention services.
“There was no need for police authorities to publicly support these services and provide letters of comfort – they just acknowledged this is a health and not a criminal justice issue.
“Decriminalisation and legal protection to open overdose prevention sites is needed now.
“There is growing evidence of need and of what works. Bold changes are needed, yet here we are again talking and not acting.
“Are Scottish policy makers and planners too risk-averse?”
However, it is understood that police would not be able to turn a similarly blind eye in Scotland.
The report comes after Dundee City West MSP and public health minister Joe FitzPatrick called on Home Secretary Sajid Javid to attend an emergency drugs deaths summit in Glasgow.
It is being convened in response to the 1,187 drugs deaths in Scotland last year, 66 of which were in Dundee.
Mr FitzPatrick’s letter said: “In response to these statistics, I am inviting the UK Government to work with the Scottish Government to tackle this problem which claims so many lives.”
The Home Office says it will respond to his letter in due course – and Mr Javid told the Westminster home affairs committee yesterday: “If the minister wants to have a meeting I will happily meet him.”
The Steeple Church meeting also found problems with existing services alongside changes in policy that need to be made.
Delegates found that it was easier to refer someone to addiction services if they were in prison than through health services.
The report added: “Scotland could be bolder. Harm reduction is a philosophy, not a service.”