by Stephen Naysmith

Workers at Glasgow’s Winter Night Shelter had to revive people with the overdose prevention drug Naloxone 17 times in four months last year, it has been revealed.

The drug can bring people back from potentially fatal overdoses caused by heroin and other opiate drugs. Naloxone is used across homelessness services in the city, as Glasgow, like the rest of Scotland, is battling a drug deaths crisis, with both fatal and non-fatal overdoses on the increase.

Social work leaders are warning the number of Naloxone interventions in four months at the Winter Night Shelter alone, demonstrates the high prevalence of drug addiction among Glasgow’s homeless population. Susanne Millar, Interim Chief Officer of Glasgow’s Health & Social Care Partnership said: “The number of lives potentially saved at the Winter Night Shelter demonstrates the scale of the problem.

“Unfortunately, this heart-breaking reality is replicated in our other homelessness services too.

“It is emotionally difficult for staff and trained volunteers at the Night Shelter who work closely with service users and whom I’d personally like to thank for their dedication and professionalism in these difficult circumstances.”

Scotland suffered a record number of drug-related deaths in 2018, when 1187 people lost their lives across the country, a quarter of them (280) in Glasgow. One in six of those were homeless as well as being in touch with addiction services.

In a report to councillors on the City Administration Committee Ms Millar said a comprehensive drugs deaths action plan was under preparation in response to the crisis. “Sadly, of the 45 people who died, the majority of those deaths were related to complex health issues often associated with previous or current addiction issues, including mental health, with a smaller number recorded as drugs deaths,” she said.

“Many of our service users who died had previous or existing addiction issues, some also with significant mental health needs. It is the complexity of those needs which contributed to their deaths, rather than issues relating to their housing status.”

At the last official count, there were 29 people sleeping rough in the city, the report claims. The winter shelter, run by Glasgow City Mission, can accommodated up to 40 people and was never full last year and the majority of those using it were offered alternative accommodation quickly, the council says. This year, homeless people with complex needs are being helped by Glasgow’s Housing First initiative which provides mainstream secure tenancies for people as part of a national pilot scheme.

The city also has a new Enhanced Drug Treatment Service where some drug users can be prescribed pharmaceutical grade heroin which will gradually be reduced over time. Plans to create a Safer Drug Consumption Facility continue to face “a legal barrier”, the council says.