Drug Consumption Rooms, Safe Injection Rooms, call them what you will, it’s the same thing. A safe venue where an addict can be supervised and be safe in their taking of whatever narcotic they’re addicted to. It stops them doing so in the park, public toilets or even the street and medical practitioners and drug counsellors can both oversee what’s taken and provide guidance and give support.
So, the Lord Advocate’s announcement that she won’t be criminalising those seeking to access them is to be welcomed. That had always been the stumbling block for the police, as drugs law is reserved and even possession is a crime. Getting to the venue to take the drugs was the problem, not just for the addict but for the police.
What were officers to do if they met a user on route? Cross the road and pretend they never saw them? Say hello and enter into a chat when they would otherwise have stopped and searched? That put officers in an invidious position.
But this pragmatic position allows for sites to be opened and the concept delivered in practice. It’s a small step in many ways, as the number of sites to be established, users supported, and lives saved will be very limited. But in other ways it is a significant step allowing for a visible sign of treating drug addiction as a health not criminal justice issue, and Scotland leading the way in drug reform.
It’s churlish to complain about delay, as it’s a welcome step but equally it’s hyperbole to talk about it as a gamechanger. The number of venues will be few. Mostly just the big cities and not in every town and village. Some still wont use them and the number of lives saved as a result will be few. But everyone matters.
What it cannot be allowed to do is take away the need for other forms of support in recovery and treatment. Cuts in that have seen deaths mount and this is no replacement for that core funding. But it’s still welcome progress and hopefully Westminster will copy and allow further changes to be piloted here.