DRUG consumption rooms in Scotland moved a step closer on Thursday after the Scottish Government asked the country’s top law officer to consider a new bid for a service in Glasgow. 

Angela Constance told MSPs that Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership had been working on a proposal that would fit “within the constraints and limits of the currently reserved drugs law.”

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 who oversee the UK’s drug laws. 

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 QC. 

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

She said: “If indeed there is a proposal that is made for a drug consumption facility that is precise, detailed, specific and underpinned by evidence, and supported by those that would be responsible for policing such a facility and Police Scotland, and there is careful consideration of how these consumption rooms would impact on communities.

“If that sort of planned use of drug consumption rooms is brought to the Lord Advocate as a very well set-out proposal, then in terms of the undoubted crisis we face in terms of the number of drugs deaths we face in Scotland, if it is in the public interest that there should be no prosecutions for those using drugs consumption facilities with all these safeguards that require to be in place, that would require fresh consideration by me as Lord Advocate.”

In her statement to MSPs, Ms Constance said that Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership had been working on such a proposal.

The minister said: “Following detailed partnership working between the Scottish Government, Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership, Police Scotland and the Crown Office, details of a new service specification have been developed and shared with the Crown Office. 

“The specification which seeks to meet the parameter set out in the Lord Advocate's statement on the third of November will now be considered by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

"If appropriate, it will then be referred to the Lord Advocate for consideration of any related statement of prosecution policy.”

Detail of the proposal came as Ms Constance told parliament that targets on implementing new medication-assisted treatment (MAT) standards had not been met. 

The drugs policy minister said that while there had been some progress in meeting the benchmarks “the pace and scale of change is neither good enough nor quick enough.”

MAT is the use of medication, such as opioids, in the treatment of drug abuse, together with any psychological and social support. 

The Scottish Government’s ten standards should provide a minimum level of treatment and should be implemented equally across the country’s 29 alcohol and drug partnerships (ADPs). 

They were supposed to have been implemented by April. 

However, a new report from Public Health Scotland found that while work has started, “there is still a lot to do for full, consistent and sustained implementation of the standards across Scotland.”

The first standard, which guarantees that all people accessing services “have the option to start MAT from the same day of presentation,” was only fully implemented in one ADP.

The second, which ensures “all people are supported to make an informed choice on what medication to use for MAT, and the appropriate dose” was fully implemented in just 14 per cent of the partnerships and only partially implemented in another 76%. 

“These are not standards that should be considered as nice to have,” Ms Constance said. “My view is unequivocal - they must be delivered. These standards are a demonstration of our commitment to a whole-system approach to care, and are fundamental to our rights-based approach in Scotland.”

The minister said ADPs needed to “fully implement the MAT standards – in particular standard one on same day treatment.” 

She added: “We all want people to have the right to treatment – but that will be for nothing if the services are not in place.”

The minister said she would use powers available to Scottish Ministers under the Public Bodies (Joint Working) Act 2014 to “compel local partners to implement these standards.”

“This ministerial direction has been issued to all Health Boards,Integration Authorities and local authorities spelling out what must be achieved, and the oversight arrangements I am putting in place to hold local leaders to account for implementing the MAT standards fully.”

Scottish Conservative Shadow Drugs Minister Sue Webber said the SNP had “fallen short”.

She added: “This statement lays bare their damning failure to meet a critical target that is the cornerstone of their strategy for dealing with this crisis.

“Despite setting a target last year to ensure that the MAT standards would be ‘fully embedded across the country by April 2022’, this report shows that was nothing more than a pipe dream.

“Just 17% of standards have been fully implemented. And shamefully, MAT standard 1 has only been fully implemented in one Alcohol and Drug Partnership area – that’s a 97% failure rate.

“Now the target has been pushed back by a year and watered down. The new recommendation is that only half the standards be implemented by April 2023, with only partial implementation for the others. That’s completely unacceptable.”

Labour’s Paul Sweeney, who recently tabled legislation on drug consumption rooms, welcomed the “news that there has been some progress on work being done on overdose prevention centres.” 

"The minister and I wholeheartedly agree that they are desperately needed particularly in a city like Glasgow,” he added.  

"But what Glasgow also needs is full implementation of those MAT standards the government has committed to. 

“And I find that appalling that Glasgow, the city with the highest drug death rate in Scotland, has not fully implemented a single MAT standard by this target date.”

He told the minister that every time a target was missed more “people are dying.”