At best, the Sydney injecting room hosts just 5% of Kings Cross/Darlinghurst
injections but accounts for a staggering 77% of all the recorded overdoses in the Kings Cross/Darlinghurst area. 400 overdoses are recorded on average in the facility each year. But the injecting room’s own clients inject more often in the streets and houses outside the facility than in it, where the overdose rates outside should roughly match those inside the injecting room, but don’t.
Last week Scotland’s leading law officer, the Lord Advocate, brought a shuddering halt to a proposal from Glasgow City Council to develop a safe injecting centre in the city. Such a centre would have required a change in UK drug laws to enable individuals in possession of illegal drugs to use those drugs within the centre without fear of prosecution. Supporters of this initiative will be disappointed by the outcome, but they need to recognise that the provision of some level of legal protection covering the possession of illegal drugs within the injecting centre would also, by implication, need to be extended to all of those who might claim, legitimately or otherwise, that their drug possession should be green-lighted because they were en route to the injecting centre. In effect, such an initiative would deliver what many of its supporters actually desire – the legalisation of illegal drugs within at least some part of the UK.
In his judgement, the Lord Advocate has not ruled against setting up a centre where doctors can prescribe opiate drugs to addicts. Rather he has simply pointed out that he is not prepared to offer legal protection to a centre where illegal drugs are being used. The Glasgow proposal sought unwisely to tie the proposal for a doctor-led heroin prescribing clinic, which would be legal, with a setting where individuals are allowed to use illegal drugs which would break UK drug laws. There will be many who rightly question the wisdom (and the cost to the public purse) of linking those two proposals.