Research shows majority of Scots support drug consumption rooms

A new study published in The International Journal of Drug Policy, conducted by researchers at the University of Liverpool, Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), and Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), has found for the first time that the majority of Scots support the introduction of drug consumption rooms (DCRs).

The research also revealed that the public are more sympathetic to setting up drug consumption rooms if they are given more information about the potential benefits they could have for people indirectly affected by drug-related harm, such as families impacted by drug-related deaths.

The research found that sixty-one percent of people agreed with the introduction of DCRs in Scotland, whilst only 15 per cent disagreed, and 24 per cent were unsure. This is the first scientific study on public support for drug consumption rooms in the UK.

Tackling the growing drug crisis 

Scientists randomly presented one of six different messages about DCRs to 1591 people from across Scotland, designed to match the profile of the Scottish general population to ensure the findings of the study reflect the wider public’s views.

Dr Andrew McAuley, a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Health and Life Sciences at GCU, is the Senior Author of the paper entitled ‘Effects of messaging on public support for drug consumption rooms in Scotland’ published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. The research was funded by Glasgow City Alcohol and Drug Partnership (ADP).

He said the research provides further evidence for the introduction of DCRs in Scotland to help tackle the growing drugs crisis, and despite widespread support from the Scottish Government, local authorities, and health officials, the UK government has consistently objected to their introduction.

Earlier this year, another study led by GCU researchers also found that the majority (75 per cent) of people who inject drugs in Scotland would use DCRs, with that figure rising to 83 per cent in Glasgow city centre.

Dr McAuley said: “Harms related to drug use in Scotland are at record levels and Glasgow is at the epicentre with an ongoing HIV outbreak and some of the highest drug-related death rates in the country. One of the proposals put forward to tackle these public health crises has been a DCR but this has repeatedly been rejected by the UK government.

“However, that doesn’t mean that the case for DCRs in Glasgow has gone away and, as researchers, we’ve continued to build the evidence base for a DCR in the city by looking at the drug-related harms that such a facility would seek to address including our work on HIV, public injecting, and more recently whether people who inject drugs would use it.

“This latest research not only suggests that Scots support DCRs but also that giving the public more information about the benefits of DCRs such as reducing drug deaths among people who use them, and also that they can save the NHS money because of the overdose deaths and infections that they prevent, would make them more supportive.”

Improving health and saving lives

Dr Suzi Gage, Department of Psychology, University of Liverpool, said: “Our study suggests there is support among the public in Scotland for harm reduction measures that have the potential to improve health and save lives, as well as supporting the communities affected by injecting drug use. This seemed to be particularly the case if these messages are delivered in a way that provides evidence-based reassurance against potential concerns, and personal stories about the impact of drug-related deaths on families.”

Harry Sumnall, Professor of Substance Use at LJMU, and lead author of the study, added: “Although around one hundred DCRs are in operation internationally, where they contribute to strategies to reduce drug related deaths, DCRs are still seen as controversial in the UK.

“Our study findings show that not only is there good public support for DCRs in Scotland, but when some of the concerns that the public might have about them are addressed, and the impact of drug-related deaths on families is explained, there is even greater support.

“Our findings can provide reassurance to decision makers that the public empathise with families who are bereaved through drug use, and when the health and economic benefits are explained, the public would support introduction of a DCR as part of wider strategies to reduce drug related deaths.”

Susanne Millar, Interim Chief Officer for Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership, which oversees multi-agency group Glasgow City ADP, welcomed the research results and said public support for drug consumption rooms “bolsters the unequivocal evidence of the urgent need for such a facility”.

Emotional, social and economic impact of addiction

She added: “It highlights the emotional, social and economic impact addiction is inflicting on individuals, families, communities and public services. People fully appreciate that such a facility could not only help those who are personally struggling with addiction, but also their relatives and the areas they live in, as well as easing pressure on Glasgow’s frontline emergency services.

“The city’s Health and Social Care Partnership is ready to pilot a Safer Drug Consumption Facility as soon as Westminster agrees to make the legal changes required for us to do so legally. And that can’t come soon enough for the city as a whole and the thousands of families affected by addiction.”

Councillor Mhairi Hunter, Glasgow’s City Convener for Health and Social Care, said it was “high time decision-makers in the UK Government caught up with public opinion and stopped blocking the introduction” of drug consumption rooms where they are desperately needed.

Co-authors in the paper were GCU PhD researcher Kirsten Trayner, Dr Amanda Atkinson, from the LJMU Public Health Institute and Dr Suzi Gage, from University of Liverpool Psychological Sciences.

The full paper, entitled ‘Effects of messaging on public support for drug consumption rooms in Scotland, UK’, can be found here.