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Politics / Greens call for harm reduction measures to help local drug users

THE LOCAL branch of the Scottish Greens is advocating the creation of a safe injection facility for drug users in Shetland as part of a raft of measures to break the vicious circle of problematic drug use in the isles.

The party, which will be putting forward candidates at next year’s council elections, has now pledged to work with the NHS, Police Scotland and the local alcohol and drugs partnership towards the implementation of harm reduction measures.

Responding to last month’s huge drugs bust in Lerwick and recent drugs related deaths the Greens are calling for a new approach to drug use in Shetland.

The party, which won around 10 per cent of the local vote in last month’s Scottish Parliament election, said the approach to drug control based on enforcement has clearly failed.

What is needed, they say, is a new approach. The proposals now put forward have all shown to lead to positive health outcomes, the party said. They include:

  1. A police diversion scheme, to divert vulnerable users towards health and social care services and away from the criminal justice system;
  2. Heroin assisted treatment: provision of medical heroin on prescription to vulnerable users;
  3. Establishment of a safe injecting facility in Shetland;
  4. Increase the availability of naloxone – a life-saving antidote to heroin;
  5. Establish a drug safety testing laboratory, so recreational drug users can anonymously check the strength and purity of drugs they have bought and receive safety advice before use;
  6. Ensure that the general public receive honest, evidence based education about drugs from suitably qualified people, with a particular focus for at-risk groups and young people.

Drug reform campaigner and member of the local Greens, Alex Armitage, said these measures could transform lives.

“So many Shetlanders have died from drug overdose and so many more are being unnecessarily put in harm’s way by the current system,” he said.

“We can’t change the law overnight, but these are policies that have all been tried and tested in different parts of the UK and if implemented could transform the life chances of drug users in Shetland.”

Newly elected MSP for the Highlands and Islands Ariane Burgess added: “This is a public health emergency and it’s absolutely clear that the UK Government’s dogmatic approach, which criminalises rather than treats, is doing nothing to help solve the problem.

“That having been said, while there is a lot of fantastic harm reduction work taking place across the country, health is a devolved matter so the Scottish Government has to shoulder some of the responsibility. The evidence shows our approach doesn’t work.

“Meanwhile countries that treat addiction as a serious health issue have massively reduced deaths. It is long past time to change approach.”

Please also see our Letters page: A new approach to drug use