Scotland's drug death toll: Needle vending machines added to homeless centres in Edinburgh

A charity is the first in Scotland to install injecting equipment for drug addicts in a bid to curb overdoses, blood-borne infections and save lives.

By Shona Elliott
Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 1:13 pm
Updated Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 1:14 pm

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Hillcrest Futures has installed the injecting equipment provision (IEP) vending machines in four homeless accommodation services in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The machines, manufactured by Orion Medical Supplies, provide discreet and safe access to clean injecting equipment for people who use drugs.

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Number of drug deaths across the country have risen to record highs in recent years.

Ryan Frampton manages three Hillcrest Futures’ homeless services in Edinburgh said the vending machines should help control the increasing number of drug users engaging in behaviours that put people. A increase that spiked during lockdown.

He said: “Lockdown was a difficult time for everyone and we saw a decline in the mental health of people we support. For those using drugs we saw an increase in behaviours that put people at risk.

“People using our services were no longer leaving the project to attend NHS needle exchanges and instead shared needles. This put them at high risk of contracting blood borne viruses (BBVS) and other infections.”

The first vending machine was installed in the Bruntsfield service in May 2021 and three more machines have since been installed in the charity’s other services.

The machines are now across the country.

To use the vending machine Hillcrest Futures residents must first obtain a token supplied by trained project staff or a visiting drug service.

“Having the machines located within homeless services increases the opportunity for staff to engage when people collect tokens, build rapport and trust, and help individuals take the first steps towards recovery.” said Mr Frampton.

Training and development officer at Scottish Drugs Forum, Wez Steele, has lived experience of substance use.

He said it is encouraging to see this ‘progressive’ project take shape.

He said: “All too often people are afraid to seek help and advice around their substance use in supported accommodation for fear of being evicted. I myself kept my substance use secret in hostels for years for this very reason. Reducing the stigma associated with substance use is essential in reducing preventable drug-related deaths.

“It’s encouraging to see such an innovative and progressive project finding ways to make harm reduction equipment more easily accessible.

“I would hope to see this type of project expanded, and adopted by other agencies and made available in external locations, where people could access new injecting equipment 24/7 and remain anonymous if they wish.”

The machines are part of Hillcrest Futures’ wider efforts to lower drug deaths in Scotland.

The latest figures released by the National Records of Scotland showed a record number of deaths from drug misuse in Scotland for the sixth year in row.

Figures showed 1264 people in the country died of a drug related death, up from 1187, the year before.

Hillcrest Futures’ managing director Joy Dunlop said: “Sadly Scotland is the drug death capital of Europe and a recent report by National Records of Scotland states that over 50 per cent of homeless deaths in 2019 were drug related.

“We hope this initiative will start a cultural change in homeless services in Scotland where residents are able to speak openly about drug use within an established environment of acceptance, and be able to make disclosures without fear of losing their accommodation.”

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