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Sweeney launches OPC Bill

Scotland has the highest drug deaths in Europe. We can do something about that by following examples from across the globe and ensure no life is needlessly lost to drug misuse.

"Every six hours, one of our fellow citizens dies of a preventable drug related death and we need to do everything we can to resolve that." - PAUL SWEENEY MSP

Press release


Glasgow Labour MSP, Paul Sweeney, has today launched a Bill consultation that will pave the way for Overdose Prevention Centres (OPCs) to be introduced in Scotland.

The introduction of the Drug Death Prevention (Scotland) Bill comes as Scotland’s drug death statistics reached a record high with 1,339 people dying from a drug related death in 2020, 93% of which were recorded as accidental overdoses.

Currently, there are over 150 OPCs in operation around the world in countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, Holland, and Norway. Evidence from these facilities shows that they are incredibly effective at reducing the number of drug related deaths, and while they are not the only solution to Scotland’s drug death crisis, they must form part of the public health response.

The proposed Bill consultation seeks to provide a legal basis for establishing OPCs in Scotland; create a licensing framework that will govern and regulate OPCs; and replace the existing Scottish Drug Death Taskforce with a newly established Scottish Drug Death Council with complete operational independence from government and the appointment of board members subject to approval by the Scottish Parliament.

Overdose Prevention Centres have cross party support in the Scottish Parliament with Scottish Labour, the SNP, the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Liberal Democrats all supporting the initiatives whilst the Scottish Conservatives have indicated that they are supportive of plans to introduce a pilot project.

The merits of Overdose Prevention Centres are unequivocal – they save lives, they provide people who use drugs with dignity, they can be the starting point for those wishing to enter recovery services and in the long term, they also save money.

In 2017, the Glasgow City Integration Joint Board from Health and Social Care Partnership developed a business case for establishing an Overdose Prevention Centre in the city. Their data, gathered between 2014-2016, found 350 people who use drugs who were routinely injecting in the city. These individuals were found to account for:

  • Over £200,000 in costs resulting from 1587 Accident and Emergency attendances;

  • Over £1.5 million in costs resulting from 3743 acute inpatient bed days;

  • Approximately £9,600 in costs resulting from 19-day case admissions.

In total, the cost of acute medical treatment for those 350 people who inject drugs in the city equated to over £1.7 million in a two-year period. That figure does not include the estimated average lifetime cost of £360,000 per person who contracts HIV. If this cost were to be applied to the 78 new HIV cases in people who inject drugs in Glasgow between 2015-2016, this would result in a total lifetime cost to the health system of £28,080,000.

Commenting, Scottish Labour MSP Paul Sweeney said: “Reversing the drug death crisis currently gripping Scotland will require a multi-faceted public health approach, and overdose prevention centres must be part of that. They are not a silver bullet, no one approach is, but our ambition here is implement changes that will save lives and overdose prevention centres will do that.

“I have seen first-hand the positive impact that overdose prevention centres have. I volunteered with Peter Krykant at the unofficial pilot in Glasgow, and during that time I saw overdoses being reversed, lives being saved and people who use drugs being treated with dignity and respect, often for the first time in their lives.

“We were warned that we were breaking the law, but not one volunteer was ever charged under the Misuse of Drugs Act. I am confident that overdose prevention centres can be established legally, and the diversion from prosecution policy introduced by the Lord Advocate means that the police have discretion not to arrest people who use drugs for being in possession of drugs.

“It is also clear that the current Drug Death Taskforce no longer commands the confidence of the public or those working in the sector. It has been mired in recent months by resignations due to perceived government interference, and I think it’s time for a fresh start. Our newly proposed Scottish Drug Death Council would be enshrined in law and would have operational independence from government. It would place a far greater emphasis on the lived experience of people who currently use drugs and those with lived experience of doing so in the past. That is hugely important, and I am hopeful these steps would restore confidence in its work.

“The drug death crisis is the biggest single issue facing our country. Every six hours, one of our fellow citizens dies of a preventable drug related death and we need to do everything we can to resolve that. Overdose prevention centres are one tool at our disposal, and I look forward to a grown up, constructive debate about how we all work together to set them up in Scotland.”


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