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Do drug consumption rooms hold the answer to Glasgow's heroin problem?

  • Watch Peter Smith's extended report

Glasgow is in the middle of an HIV outbreak.

Almost every new case is a heroin addict, and it is spreading faster than anywhere else in the UK.

According to those monitoring this outbreak at Health Protection Scotland, it’s the worst we’ve seen in the UK for three decades - spreading on a scale and at a rate last witnessed in the 1980s. That was the Trainspotting era.

Glasgow first detected an HIV spike three-years-ago but, against all the trends seen elsewhere in the UK - and indeed in Western Europe - it is getting worse.

The core of the problem is it’s proving difficult for Glasgow to control the spread of the virus when the addicts are hidden away, injecting in alleyways and the backstairs of public car parks.

Heroin users inject in Glasgow's alleys and backstreets. Credit: ITV News

Many are homeless, struggling with mental health issues and self-medicating.

They are not easy to reach and few are engaged with health professionals, which makes it harder to contain the HIV spreading among this group within our population.

In response, Glasgow asked a panel of experts to come up with a plan.

Their recommendation is to open a drug consumption room - a clinic where addicts could bring their own drugs to inject with clean needles under supervision and with the offer of health checks.

A user prepares to inject heroin in a Denmark consumption room. Credit: ITV News

Such clinics are already used in Canada, Australia, and across Europe.

The users simply register at the clinic, then they’re allowed to bring their own drugs without facing arrest.

It’s safer than injecting the streets and they also get help for any physical or mental health problems, as well as HIV tests.

Addicts are offered a clean room to inject, a nurse is on standby to treat overdoses, and the used needles are disposed of.

It’s a long way from lying comatose in the gutter among the rats.

A heroin user in Glasgow who lives and injects on the city's streets. Credit: ITV News

In Denmark, HIV rates have plummeted to one of the lowest in the world since they opened drug consumption rooms.

They’ve also dealt with a spike in drug deaths from overdose.

In context: 700 overdoses have been treated in the Skyen drug consumption room alone, resulting in no deaths.

Scotland still has the worst record for drug deaths in Europe, with 867 deaths last year. And it is getting worse.

Drug consumption rooms now have support from the Scottish Government.

But drug laws are the domain of the UK government, and the Home Office has so far refused permission, meaning the addicts at any clinic could be arrested for possession, and staff arrested for assisting drug use.

But while politicians debate drug policy, heroin addicts will be injecting tonight again.

And it’s the city’s alleyways that will be their drug consumption room.