Glasgow: A Safe Space for All?

Kirsty Campbell on plans for a self-injecting facility

Self-injection rooms for drug addicts seems like a pretty paradoxical idea. After all, shouldn’t we be helping addicts get over drugs rather than creating a cozy place for them to inject? Yet Glasgow City Council, the health board and police have all agreed initial plans, merely calling for a more detailed cost analysis. The plan focuses on long-term drug users unlikely to seek help in recovery and who meanwhile face a myriad of risks. By providing a safe space with additional health and advisory services, the clinic aims to simultaneously tackle the public health risk of dirty needles and ensure the target population remains alive to seek recovery in the future.

The roughly 500 long-term drug addicts who publicly inject in Glasgow are daily exposed to dangerous living conditions, which takes its toll. Hence the clinic would provide a safe space in which users are more likely to seek and find aid, as they do not feel judged. For example, it would include healthcare, counselling, and housing and welfare advice. This directly addresses the common difficulties of the target population, who often face unhealthy living standards, mental illness and homelessness. Rather than demonizing them, society would in this way establish support. Perhaps that, more than anything, could lead to a renewed desire to recover?

Even if we take a pragmatic, somewhat self-interested view, we could see that the self-injection rooms are positive. In an economic sense, public drug use leads to increased health risks, evident in a current resurgence of HIV cases in Glasgow. In the long-term, providing a safe, clean environment for drug-injection could avoid the high level of hospital admission of drug-users currently taxing the public health system. Moreover, discarded needles currently litter Scotland’s streets and pose yet another health risk, with 3,900 reported cases in the last two years in its biggest cities.

As Professor McKeganey points out, these plans are controversial as people fear the focus is being taken away from recovery. However, I would ask in what sort of environment people are more likely to seek help, including recovery. And, more broadly, what sort of society we want to be? The planned clinic proposes a step in the direction of an inclusive, support-driven network aimed at helping those most in need.

[Kirsty Campbell]

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