Anas Sarwar has said Holyrood does not need more powers to deal with Scotland’s grim drug death crisis. 

The Scottish Labour leader said he believed safe consumption rooms could be opened under the current devolution settlement. 

One high-profile campaigner said he was “shocked” by the comments and accused Mr Sarwar of ignoring the evidence. 

READ MORE: Scottish Government drug decriminalisation call

Earlier this month, the Scottish Government unveiled a new policy paper which made a number of radical proposals, including the decriminalisation of possession for personal use, and legislative changes to allow supervised drug consumption facilities.

The proposals were rejected by No 10 within an hour of being published.

Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves also criticised the plans.

“I do not think this sounds like a good policy. I find it quite stunning that this would be a priority for the Scottish Government,” she said during a visit to Rutherglen and Hamilton West. 

Figures published last year revealed that 1,330 people died drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2021.

Scotland’s fatalities were 4.9 times higher than England and Wales, and 3.8 times higher than the next worst European nation, Norway

Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Mr Sarwar was pressed on his solution to the crisis. 

He said: “I think anyone that tells you there is a silver bullet solution to our drugs death crisis is not telling you the truth.

"It is a multi-spoke response that we need and I think that is of course partly around viewing this as a public health emergency rather than a criminal justice emergency. 

“I think that does mean using the powers that the Lord Advocate has already demonstrated around safe consumption rooms, to have a presumption against prosecution. greater funding for rehabilitation services, greater funding for alcohol and drug partnerships, greater funding for mental health.

"I don’t think that requires the devolution of drugs laws and or decriminalisation across the UK.

"The one fact that the SNP cannot escape from is we have the exact same drugs laws as the rest of the UK but we have three-times as many drugs deaths.

"I’m not saying that doesn’t meant the law isn’t part of the problem, but it can’t be all of the problem.”

He said the Lord Advocate had made it clear that “we don’t require the devolution of those powers”.

READ MORE: Tories urged to look again at Scottish drug decriminalisation plan

Campaigners have long said that drug consumption rooms - where people can inject drugs under supervision - can help tackle the grim number of drug-related deaths in Scotland.

However, they are opposed by the Home Office.

Health officials in Glasgow previously tried to establish consumption rooms in Glasgow in 2016. But they were effectively killed off by the then-Lord Advocate James Wolffe KC. 

He said it was up to the NHS to decide if it is in the public interest. But that meant that anyone using the facility with their own drugs would be committing a criminal offence.

However, his successor, Dorothy Bain KC, told Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee “the question of what is in the public interest” could be re-examined. 

Mr Sarwar was challenged on the fact this meant he was on the other side of the argument to campaigners, including Peter Krykant, who has set up a safe consumption facility in a converted ambulance in Glasgow.

He said: “Yes, I’m on a different side from Peter Krykant because I saw a comment from Peter where he said that drugs weren’t dangerous, but the laws were dangerous. 

“Actually, drugs are dangerous. Try telling people that have been blighted by drugs that they’re not dangerous or families who have lost loved ones because of drugs that they’re not dangerous, of course drugs are dangerous.

"But does there need to be a different approach to make it about public health, absolutely.”

Mr Sarwar added: "I think that [safe consumption rooms, presumption against prosecution, rehabilitation services] can be without it becoming the usual constitutional fight between the UK and Scottish government.

"I don’t think we need to have that constitutional fight, I think many of the things that the Scottish Government – if they are well intentioned – want to do, they can do within the existing settlement, if not all the things they want to do.”

READ MORE: SNP minister told to halt community health cuts amid drug deaths fears

Mr Krykant said: “Anas must be aware I have lost many loved ones and friends, I have stood over coffins crying and those people, my loved ones are from working class communities, areas ravished by poverty that Labour should be standing up for, instead he would rather people with drug dependency issues be pushed into the margins of society and punished.

“I too have overdosed and I am lucky to have survived, fear of criminalisation means people like me use alone, don’t ask for help.

"Under the Misuse of Drugs Act we can’t set up drug checking, powers are limited for diamorphine treatment and we are having to try and work round laws for overdose prevention sites, in operation for nearly 40 years and now in over 16 countries."

He added that Labour needed to get "on board with the evidence rather than next year’s general election tougher-than-the-Tories rhetoric.”

Elena Whitham, the SNP minister for drug policy said she was disappointed by the Labour leader's position. 

Taking to Twitter, she said: "I am not one wee jot surprised by this but I am disappointed Sarwar seems unable to grasp the evidence presented within our drug reform policy paper and has fallen in line with his timid UK leader.

"This is not a time for timidity. This a time to work collectively with purpose."

Ms Whitham added: "Whilst his trade union colleagues are fully behind @scotgov efforts to have drug laws reformed or devolved, Sarwar is ignoring Scottish Labour policy forum decriminalisation vote.

"To fully roll out low threshold harm reduction safer consumption & drug checking facilities we need the laws changed.

"Stigma & criminalisation drive folk away from support. We need all the tools from HR to OST to rehab & recovery communities. Housing & tackling poverty too."