Cops call for rethink on city centre methadone pick-up points

IT is at the heart of Scotland's busiest railway station, a convenient spot for picking up prescriptions or buying a sandwich for lunch.

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The pharmacy in Central Station is a key pick-up point for recovering addicts
The pharmacy in Central Station is a key pick-up point for recovering addicts

But the busy branch of Boots in Glasgow Central Station also does another business: dishing out the heroin substitute methadone.

Senior police officers are beginning to wonder if this is a good idea.

Today they called for a debate on where methadone should be distributed.

Should it be in stations like Central? On busy high streets?

Do such services suck people with problems into places where they are harder to manage?

Or are they needed in city centres and stations precisely because that is where many addicts are to be found?

Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird commands the British Transport Police in Scotland – and the Central Station Boots is at the heart of her beat.

Ms Bird said: "While I recognise the needs, and support its provision for those on the methadone programme as part of their structured rehabilitation plan, I would suggest that there is a real need for a much wider debate involving all those involved and support the notion of administering this in a more suitable environment."

Frontline officers in and around Central Station have had to deal with the consequences of people with drug problems for years.

As The Evening Times revealed during our Crime on Your Streets series, there has been a gradual shift in drug dealing across the centre of Glasgow, with dealers moving from the Saltmarket to the city centre.

The number of people caught with drugs on key city centre beats jumped in 2011-12 – although remains firmly below figures of five or six years ago.

There were 84 cases of possession in Alpha Bravo 11, the beat that surrounds but does not include Central Station, in 2011-12.

That compares with 50 the year before and 51 the year before that.

Neighbouring Alpha Bravo 7 – the beat at the southern end of Buchanan Street – saw possession cases double from 55 in 2010-11 to 101 in 2011-12.

Nobody is saying this is because city centre pharmacies are dishing out methadone.

These figures may reflect growing stop-and-search tactics by the police.

But sources suggest street dealing is on the rise in the lanes and side streets of the city centre – with police intelligence said to show dealers moving in to areas around the station from peripheral places like the Gorbals and Saltmarket.

The number of drug offences recorded inside Glasgow's mainline stations has fallen in recent years.

Earlier this year we revealed that there were 11arrests at Central, three at Queen Street and none at Partick in 2011-12.

But police sources have signalled they are now dealing with more problems immediately outside the stations, including with methadone users shoplifting or begging.

Such users, of course, are also frequently so vulnerable that they themselves are the victims of crime or accidents.

Strathclyde Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan would like to see a wider debate on where the heroin substitute should be made available.

He said: "I am not sure that city centre chemists are the best places to distribute methadone.

"It would seem more appropriate to offer this facility at hubs away from the city centre where people can access a range of other services, such as help for their children.

"This would mean there would be less of an impact on others and perhaps reduce the stigma around those who use the service."

Pharmacies have come under fire in recent weeks for making money out of methadone, which they distribute under contracts with the NHS. One Labour MSP even talked of "methadone millionaires".

Police sources, however, stress they have good relationships with the businesses. Pharmacists argue that they provide a service – paid for by the NHS – where it is needed.

Addicts traditionally congregate in city centres –not least because some are placed there by local authorities trying to find them accommodation. So, the argument goes, that they need services such as methadone dispensing and needle-exchanges in the areas where they live.

Boots, which runs the pharmacy in Central Station, said: "The customer is at the heart of everything we do.

"Pharmacy plays a very important role for many drug users who attend Boots to receive their treatment and we seek to develop a relationship where we have mutual respect and trust.

"The safe dispensing of methadone is extremely important to us, as is the safety of our patients and people, and we have provisions in place that each pharmacy must adhere to in order to ensure this."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Drug Forum said: "The reasons why vulnerable people with drug problems gravitate towards the city centre are multiple and underline the issues which lie behind problematic drug use – such as homelessness, mental health and social isolation.

"Giving people with drug problems quick and easy access to treatment and care is of key importance which is why services are normally clustered in areas where drug users frequent.

"The whole issue would definitely benefit from informed discussion and analysis.

"The best place to deal with these complex issues is through the Glasgow City Alcohol and Drug Partnership, which has police representation on it, and has overall responsibility for planning drug and alcohol services in the city."

david.leask@ heraldandtimes.co.uk

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