THE pandemic has boosted police efforts to deal with drug addiction in the Scottish city with the highest tally of deaths because lockdown made addicts more visible to emergency teams, a senior officer has said.

Superintendent Gary I’Anson, who is heading up a new strategy which aims to take a more compassionate approach to problem drug use in Glasgow rather than automatic enforcement, said the public health crisis had also helped focus emergency teams involved in referral and treatment.

Figures show there were 1,187 drug deaths in Scotland in 2018 and the numbers for last year could be even higher.

Glasgow had the highest number of drug deaths, at 280, although the rate of death was slightly higher in Dundee.”

Detective I’Anson has previously said officers “can’t arrest their way out of’ Glasgow’s drug issues.

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He said it is too early for any hard data, showing the impact on drug deaths but said the response anecdotally from crisis teams on the ground, “had been favourable”.

He said: “During lockdown people who used drugs were far more visible.

The pandemic has actually helped in terms of closer working relationships. 

“Because of that increased focus it is helping us police the right way. 

“Instead of having an enforcement approach we were doing it, co-ordinated with drug and alcohol partners. It (the pandemic) has actually meant the drug strategy group has met far more regularly.

“There was up to 30 of us chairing a meeting looking at particular areas of concern and considering where do we need to direct appropriate policing.

“What that did was allow us to focus on where our increased training for officers needed to be, where the areas of concern were. 

HeraldScotland:

“We could brief officers who were in that area. It meant that we were better co-ordinated, whether it was needle exchange, so they could police appropriately.

“But still carrying out enforcement activity where it was absolutely necessary.

“What we weren’t doing was flooding an area with police officers to displace drug users therefore they couldn’t access harm reduction teams who were operating in that area.”

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NHS crisis support services for drug and alcohol addiction have not experienced the same level of cuts as other services, perhaps due to fears that the pandemic might lead to an increase in dependencies. 

Mobile units providing needle exchange have been increased in the city centre.

The police chief said he was unable to give his opinion on the stalling of a plan to house the UK’s first Safer Drug Injection Unit in Glasgow, saying “there is much that can be done within the current legislative framework”.

HeraldScotland:

He said there is no evidence that a reduction in crime during lockdown had allowed more officers to be deployed to areas such as drug use though, saying police had still be tasked with policing temporary measures brought in as a result of Covid.

He said: “I suppose in many ways there’s still been a huge demand but it’s just been in a different way. 

“There is still significant levels of crimes and offences right through the pandemic.

“You had the new parts of Covid legislation that were brought in.”

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He said the pandemic had led to some aspects of the strategy, launched six months ago, being delayed such as a plan to put campus police officers into schools to educate pupils on drugs.

The next phase will involve former addicts being despatched into custody units to support drug users in a bid to help tackle re-offending rates.

Susan Brown, who is charge of the Positive Outcomes Project, said: “The ultimate aim is to stop re-offending but you won’t stop re-offending unless you target the core issues which is usually drug addiction, trauma in childhood.

“That’s why we are looking at peer mentors. Their experience is their life experience, they’ve been through it themselves. 

“We’ve got two excellent peer mentors selected who have been the exact same experience. 
“They have been through police custody, they have experienced addiction.

“They have come out of it and they have been in recovery for many years.
“We don’t go in saying, ‘you must stop offending’.”