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Europe’s drug death capital tries a new way of reducing fatalities

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With by far the highest drug abuse death rate in Europe, Scotland is pursuing new ways of bringing fatalities down.


Britain will soon see the opening of its first officially sanctioned room for the safe consumption of illegal drugs. 

The facility will be in Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland – a country whose rate of drug abuse fatalities is by far the highest in Europe.

Scotland’s government has backed setting up the consumption room, even as British drug law makes the mere possession of many drugs a criminal offence. 

The facility, which will start recruiting staff next year, was first proposed in 2016 following an HIV outbreak in Glasgow among people who injected drugs in public places.

Its proponents say evidence from more than 100 similar facilities worldwide, including in Germany and the Netherlands, show they work to save lives and reduce overall costs to health services.

The £2.3 million (€2.53 million) centre will be staffed by trained healthcare professionals and offer a hygienic environment where people can consume drugs they obtained elsewhere.

Officials have stressed the centre will not encourage drug use, and will focus on promoting harm reduction and avoiding overdoses. 

Users will not be permitted to share drugs with others in the facility, and health and social workers will be on hand to offer advice and support on recovery and welfare.

Kirsten Horsburgh, CEO of the Scottish Drugs Forum charity, told Euronews in a statement the case for the facility is backed by international evidence.

“Safer drug consumption facilities should be provided in areas where people are injecting drugs in outdoor or unsafe locations – car parks, waste ground, alleyways and so on. The Glasgow service was proposed first in 2016 to serve a city centre-based group of people amongst whom an HIV outbreak had occurred. That need still exists as it does in cities across the UK.

“Since it was proposed we have seen some shifts in media and public debate and in attitudes. This has been driven by the drug deaths crisis which is recognised as a public health emergency and the subsequent development of a more public health approach rather than a moralistic and legalistic approach which has failed over decades.”

Chronic crisis

While there was a decline in the overall death rate in 2022, Scotland’s annual number of drug deaths has risen particularly sharply over the last ten years.

By European standards, the country is a stunning outlier. 

Scotland’s 248 drug deaths per million people puts it far above the European countries with the next highest rates: the UK as a whole (88 per million), Finland (79 per million), Ireland (73 per million) and Sweden (64 per million), according to figures from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction

The reasons for the crisis are many, but longstanding and widespread problems with substance abuse are associated with social marginalisation and poverty inside the country.

Many drug deaths recorded in Scotland are linked with long-term use and addiction to injected substances, as opposed to misadventure among occasional users. 

There is also a serious problem with the abuse of benzodiazepines, which the Scottish Government reported were implicated in 73% of drug-related deaths in 2020.

Colloquially known as “benzos”, these drugs are depressants that induce drowsiness and hypnosis. 


“Motivations for benzodiazepine use among people who use drugs are wide-ranging and have been evidenced to include a range of psychological, social, economic, and supply-driven factors,” a government report concluded.

Other “motivations often include the self-management of psychiatric disorders and adverse experiences; their pleasurable effects, and affordability/ease of access.”

While some other countries in Europe have moved to liberalise their drug laws and move the issue from the remit of law enforcement into public health, successive UK governments have taken a more punitive approach. 

While Scotland has the benefit of devolved government in many areas, Edinburgh cannot unilaterally make changes to drug policy. It is determined by London.

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