THE UK Government's crime chief has said drug consumption rooms could open up operators to law suits.

Kit Malthouse, the police and crime minister, has written to the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee saying there is no plan to legislate for the injecting facilities without new evidence to support them.

It comes after Scotland's drugs death rate figures, published this week, showed the number of people dying from drugs has risen further in the last year, and is still the highest in Europe.

The number of people dying from drug-related causes increased by 6 per cent between 2018 and 2019.

Last year, drug abuse claimed the lives of 1,264 people - the highest figure since records were initially compiled in 1996.

HeraldScotland: Kit MalthouseKit Malthouse

There has been an ongoing row between the UK and Scottish Governments over the use of drug consumption rooms as a means of reducing the death toll.

In a letter to the Committee chairman SNP MP Pete Wishart, Mr Malthouse explained that the rooms would present a myriad of legal challenges, criminally and in civil courts.

He added that there has been a commitment by the UK Government to review the "overly restrictive" laws around the distribution of naloxone - a drug which is used to stop a drug user from overdosing.

Mr Malthouse said: " In addition to these issues of criminal liability there are difficulties around civil liability, were things to go wrong, with those operating DCRs potentially being sued for damages in negligence or other civil causes of action."

Mr Malthouse added: "At present there has been no new evidence presented to me which would change the Government’s position in relation to DCRs. Whilst the Government has an open mind, we are not yet persuaded by the case for DCRs when there are a range of other more immediate measures available to administrations and health systems across the UK.

"Given the legal issues raised above with DCRs, operating them would only be permissible should there be changes to primary legislation to create an appropriate legal and regulatory regime for their operation. Such changes would not remove all of the challenges for law enforcement nor for those running such a facility and would therefore require considerable thought. As I am sure you appreciate, without further evidence, this is not something the government intends to pursue."

Along with Mr Malthouse's letter, the Scottish affairs committee has published minutes of a meeting about the drugs crisis in September.

The meeting was attended by Mr Malthouse as well as Joe Fitzpatrick, Scotland's public health minister, and various other politicians and experts.

During the session, they discussed the drug consumption rooms. The minutes state that Mr Fitzpatrick was to "share the evidence base supporting a drug consumption room in Scotland." and that Mr Malthouse "noted that as he has previously said, his mind was open and he would be willing to consider any new evidence."