This has raised major concerns for public health, and with the increasing number of HIV cases in the city, there are now plans for a supervised injection site in the city centre. This would be the first injecting facility in the UK, and would act as a pilot programme for heroin-assisted treatment.
A number of leading doctors have recently called for the NHS to provide heroin for those struggling with heroin addiction. Glasgow City Alcohol and Drug Partnership is now exploring the possibility of the supervised injection site in a bid to tackle drug use. Some public health officials have said that Scotland was years behind other countries in Europe in the way it dealt with drug use.
Around five hundred people in Glasgow inject their drugs in public places around the city, according to estimates, and most of these are living on the streets. Many suffer from mental health issues, poverty or have recently been released from prison.
A health spokesperson said, “These individuals are substantially responsible for the majority of discarded needles in public areas such as alleyways, car parks, parks, public toilets, and closes, putting the general public at risk and contributing to other related public order problems.”
Drug abuse has been a major issue in Glasgow, with council staff and police in the city dealing with hundreds of instances in 2015 alone. Heroin addicts who inject drugs and share needles are at risk of contracting blood-borne viruses such as Hepatitis and HIV. There is also the risk of overdose and death. In 2015, Glasgow hospitals recorded forty-seven new cases of HIV, which was a massive increase from the previous average of ten cases per year.
Although there are plans in place for an injection site in the city, the health board has not yet thought about where this unit might be. They have said that the Alcohol and Drug Partnership (ADP) will put forward a business case for consideration in the autumn and, if this is approved, it will make recommendations to the Glasgow City Integrated Joint Board. It will also be necessary to keep the Scottish Government informed before the facility can be developed under the correct legal framework.
Supervised injection sites have been in place in many European cities since the mid-eighties. At the moment, sixty-one cities worldwide are housing ninety facilities. Approval has been given for an injection site in Dublin and a number in France.
While many people with heroin addiction are treated using methadone, some experts believe that this just swaps one addiction for another. Methadone is more addictive than heroin and some addicts simply do not respond to this treatment. They may miss their appointments, and when they begin to experience the withdrawal symptoms, will return to street drugs. Others are unable to stick to rehabilitation programmes, and relapse as a result. This can be a major health issue because they do not realise that after a programme of detox and rehabilitation, they are unable to handle as much of the drug as before; this can result in overdose and death.
Heroin-assisted treatment is believed to be a suitable alternative for those who do not respond to current treatments. According to the ADP chair, Susanne Millar, “There are approximately 5,500 drug injectors in Glasgow, with around 500 of these injecting in public in the city centre. While this is a tiny percentage of the city’s population, it has a huge level of need and consists of a huge cost to the public purse.”
She said that there is an impact on the wider community when people inject drugs in public places and that this is something that needs to be addressed, adding, “We need to make our communities safer for all people living in and visiting the city, including those who publicly inject.”
ADP vice chair, Dr Emilia Crighton, said that Scotland is ‘decades behind other countries in the way we tackle this problem’. She added, “In recent years, Glasgow has been at the centre of outbreaks of anthrax, botulism and most recently HIV infection in people who inject drugs.”
She said that the ultimate goal is to help drug users to beat their addictions and to help them to stay clean. But she added, “Until someone is ready to seek and receive help to stop using drugs, it is important to keep them as safe as possible while they do continue to use drugs.”
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