Drug addicts say they are reluctant to carry a lifesaving device containing an antidote to opioid overdose as they believe police will search them if they see it.
Addicts have told researchers that they think there is an incriminating stigmatisation connected to the naloxone device.
They fear police will search them when they see the yellow box, viewing it as drug paraphernalia or an advert to the fact they might have drugs in their possession.
However, Police Scotland deny this is the case and say they are actively involved in moves to encourage carriage and the use of the device outdoors.
These steps include the consideration of all police offices carrying naloxone.
Dr Andrew McAuley, senior research fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University, was involved in developing the kit and has carried out research surrounding its use.
He said some addicts told him of a reluctance to carry the kit due to its size, stigmatisation and what they believe is the police’s attitude towards it.
He said: “They say police view it as drug paraphernalia and interpret that the carrier must be a drug user, prompting a more detailed search.
“We need to reinforce that this is a life saving device and carrying it is a responsible step, rather than an incriminating item.”
Between 2017 to 2018 naloxone was distributed to more than 60% of drug users but just over 10% carried it.
Dave Barrie, from Addaction Dundee, said: “It doesn’t surprise me that drug users believe that they might be targeted for carrying naloxone kits, but they are not illegal to carry.
“We also need clear reassurance from police that people will not be searched or arrested for carrying them.”
Addaction Dundee hands out naloxone kits daily, sometimes to people who have used the antidote previously, and it will soon be distributing the medication in a nasal spray form.
Mr Barrie added: “Dundee is high up on the tables in terms of distributing naloxone – it’s a life saver, there’s no doubt about it.
“We give a lot of it out but we still need to give out more because people are still overdosing when there is no naloxone about. No one deserves to die. We need to get a proper handle on it and turn the tide on fatal overdoses in Dundee.”
Awareness sessions about the antidote kits have been held across Tayside for frontline police, delivered by Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) and NHS Tayside.
Kirsten Horsburgh, strategy coordinator at SDF, said: “These sessions highlight the scale of the problem, how to recognise an overdose and give an overview of exactly what naloxone is, what it looks like and how it is used.”
She added that as a result of these sessions, Police Scotland is currently considering the introduction of pilots to allow officers to carry naloxone kits, in recognition of the fact they are often first on the scene of an overdose.
Police chief inspector Scott Tees said: “The naloxone programme has been available in Scotland since 2011.
“Naloxone is not an illegal substance covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act, but is covered by the Medicines Act.
“Therefore officers do not consider anyone found in legitimate possession of a kit, which has been supplied as part of the naloxone programme guidelines and is being carried appropriately, to have committed an offence. However, each incident will be dealt with on its own merits.”