PLANS to open a safe injecting facility for heroin addicts in Glasgow City Centre have suffered a serious setback after the Lord Advocate refused to give legal backing to the scheme.

Glasgow's Health and Social Care Partnership had proposed the facility – the first of its type in the UK – to help treat hundreds of drug users who inject in public in the city centre.

The pilot project would allow users to bring street drugs purchased away from the premises and take them in a supervised setting in a safe way. The plan was also to offer heroin assisted treatment (HAT) providing prescribed medical heroin to a small number of drug users who had exhausted other options.

Loading article content

But it relied on prosecutors being willing to accept a 'tolerance zone' in the neighbourhood of the facility where the authorities would turn a blind eye to people on their way there in possession of drugs.

Now the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC has effectively blocked the plan, in a letter to the HSCP in which he refuses to change prosecution policy.

He says aspects of the scheme are legal – HAT can be provided within the law currently – and the council should explore those rather than seeking legal permission.

But Scotland's leading prosecutor said drug users would not be allowed to bring street drugs to the facility. The Herald understands officials had concerns that a change in prosecution policy would effectively sanction drug use and give all those with a dependency a way to evade prosecution if caught in possession.

While the Lord Advocate has invited the scheme's backers to discuss their ideas with the Scottish Government, drugs law is reserved to Westminster. Meanwhile although the HAT treatment proposal could go ahead, those behind the safer injecting pilot scheme have always insisted that the scheme needs to go forward as a whole for the centre to work. They have also struggled to find a suitable building for the pilot project, which was intended to open for business next year.

A spokesman for the Crown Office said: "The Lord Advocate has considered the proposals and is of the view that the public interest objective is a health rather than justice one.

"Scottish Government Health Officials will therefore offer to meet with the HSCP to discuss the proposal, its objectives, and how these might best be met."

A spokesman for the HSCP conceded that the Lord Advocate's decision would mean the safer injecting scheme could not be put in place as swifely as they had wished. However he insisted the idea was not dead and said partners involved including the council and the health board would look at ways to take it forward in the longer term.  “We have received a response from the Lord Advocate and we will be taking some time to study and consider his opinion, he said.

“Information in relation to the response will be reported to committee in due course.”

Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss said the Lord Advocate's decision was disappointing.  "With rising drug deaths in Scotland, the status quo is failing to tackle the many problems associated with drug addiction," she said.

“In 2015, Glasgow saw a 35% increase in new diagnoses of HIV among people who inject drugs in the city centre. Evidence from safe injecting facilities in other countries demonstrates that they reduce levels of drug addiction, as well as improving public safety through reducing the level of discarded needles and other items of drug paraphernalia in the streets.

“I understand that the Scottish Government will continue to work with the Health & Social Care Partnership, and I am hopeful a solution can be found. Doing nothing will continue to leave vulnerable people injecting on our streets, and the local communities I represent without a solution to this public health issue”.