The rate of drug deaths in British Columbia, Canada, has been declared a public health emergency; and yet, Dundee has a higher rate of deaths from drug misuse. To help curb these rising drug death statistics, Scotland’s public health minister is now calling for addicts to access free heroin in specialist clinics.

In 2016, Scotland recorded almost 900 fatalities, up nearly 25% on the previous year, making the country’s drug mortality figures the worst in the European Union. Aileen Campbell says the creation of centres that administer uncontaminated medical-grade heroin is controversial but would save lives.

“Scotland’s drug death statistics have weighed heavily on me. The numbers are increasing. We can and must do better”, said Ms Campbell.

Ms Campbell said she would lobby the home secretary for the power to create safer injection centres, where addicts could use their own drugs under supervision by specialist practitioners.

She added: “Problem drug use is a public health issue that needs to have a public health response. If we are to take this forward to its logical conclusion then that would require safer injection rooms or heroin-assisted treatment.”

Health officials unanimously approved proposals to establish the UK’s first safer injection centre in Glasgow last year. Medical staff can legally administer drugs as long as stringent conditions are met. However, the Home Office has refused to guarantee that staff would not face prosecution.

Ken Lynn, Dundee city council’s lead spokesman on health and social care, says: “Too many of our people are dying. We need to do more and look at different approaches in tackling this blight on our city. In British Columbia they declared a public health emergency recently due to a rapid increase in the level of drug deaths, which is considerably less than the drug death rate of Dundee.”

The MP for Glasgow Central, Alison Thewliss, has lodged a Private Members’ Bill at Westminster, which, if passed, would give legal protection to staff and users.

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