THE SNP and Scottish Greens have called on the UK government to devolve drug powers to Scotland, and allow safe consumption rooms.

Both parties reiterated their commitment to making changes to Scotland’s drug policy to tackle the growing number of drug deaths in the country, during a debate on the issue in Holyrood this afternoon.

Angela Constance, Minister for Drugs Policy, set out the Scottish government’s plans for an additional £14.4 million investment in front-line services to allow drug users to access treatment. 

As well as extra funding, the Scottish Government have also called on the UK government to allow drug checking in Scotland to mitigate risks and put restrictions on the ability to own pill presses.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon admits more to be done on drug deaths

It comes after a staggering rise in the number of people dying in Scotland from taking knock-off benzodiazipines, also known as street valium, usually used to treat anxiety and insomnia. 

In 2019, 1264 people in Scotland died from drug misuse, a 6% rise from 2018. The next available statistics from the National Records Office are due to be released in July. 

Leading the debate on tackling drug deaths, Constance said: “This government also remains committed to the establishment of safer drug consumption faclities. The evidence shows quite simply that these help reduce drug deaths.

“I will continue in this area to pursue two approaches at the same time. I am engaging with the UK government on the evidence, and seeking to persuade them to allow these life saving facilities or devolve the powers to this parliament, but also in the meantime we are working with services to leave no stone unturned to overcome existing legal barriers in our duty to seek solutions here in Scotland.”

The Scottish Greens lodged an amendment to the motion up for debate, which later passed. They said safe consumption rooms should be considered “public health measures” and that the government will look to find out “what options it has to establish legal and safe consumption rooms within the existing legal framework”.

Speaking in the chamber, Greens health spokesperson Gillian McKay said it was clear the issue was a “health crisis”. 

She said: Health is devolved to this parliament, powers over drug legislation should be devolved to this parliament to ensure that a more compassionate approach could be taken to that of the UK government.

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READ MORE: New funding announced to fight crisis of drugs deaths in Scotland

“Turning to the substance of my amendment, Portugal decriminalised the use of all drugs in 2001, and in 2019 theyu established their first mobile safe consumption rule. In Portugal drug related deaths have been below the EU average since 2001 the proportion of prisoners sentenced for drugs has fallen from 40% to 15% and rates of drug use have remained consistently below the EU average. 

“The facilities primarily aim to reduce acute and direct harm, preventing overdoses and providing intervention when they do happen. Ensuring that needles are not reused and ultimately that no one puts themselves in a dangerous or vulnerable position.”

McKay then told the story of Peter Kryant, who has been running a mobile safe consumption van targeting the most vulnerable drug users to stop them from injecting with shared needles and in alleyways. 

The van is kitted out with clean needles, naloxone in case of overdose and users are supervised.

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Kryant has previously been arrested under the misuse of drugs act for the van, but police have allowed him to operate the service on a weekly basis. 

McKay pointed to a particularly heart-wrenching story of one user of Kryant’s safe consumption room. 

She said: “The young woman didn’t want to come inside the van and inject herself for fear of being arrested. Instead, she went down the nearest close, pulled her trousers round her ankles and instead sits on the floor full of broken glass, animal faeces and dirty water. What have we done for her dignity? Without Peter to keep an eye on here, anything could have happened.”

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The Scottish Parliament voted by 94 to 28 in favour of the motion from the drugs policy minister, and three amendments also passed. 

The Scottish Green amendment called on the Scottish Government to urgently investigate what options it had to introduce safe consumption rooms within the existing legal framework, and passed with 94 votes in favour and 28 against.

A Scottish Labour amendment calling for the government to report to parliament on a six monthly basis regarding improving treatment services passed, as did a Lib Dem add-on calling for the new Lord Advocate to strengthen guidance for police on dealing with minor drugs offences through police warnings. 

A Tory amendment which would have removed the reference to reforming the Act and instead called for a “right to recovery” to be enshrined in law was defeated by 72 votes to 28 with 22 abstentions.

It comes as Constance promised more money for drug rehabilitation services. 

She set out how the final £14.4 million share of the £50 million set aside to tackle Scotland’s drugs problem this year would be spent.

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It will include additional funds for local alcohol and drug partnerships, who work to try to help those struggling with addiction.

She made clear she was “specifying that £5 million of that must be used to increase the use of residential rehabilitation and associated aftercare”.

Constance also pledged £4 million of funding this year to make buprenorphine, an alternative to methadone, more widely available.

Unlike methadone, which has to be given daily, buprenorphine can be given by weekly injection.