CAMPAIGNERS calling for Police Scotland officers to carry naloxone – a medication used to block the effects of opiates and save the lives of people overdosing from drugs – have reacted with anger to claims from the Scottish Police Federation that their ask goes beyond the call of duty.

Police Scotland is currently considering the proposal, which has been put forward by the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) and gained widespread support from campaigners, who believe it’s an essential step due to the numbers dying from drug overdose across the country.

Last year 1187 drug deaths were recorded in Scotland, and those working with communities using drugs claim the numbers have remained high and may still be rising. Many families have lost multiple members in the current drug death crisis.

The National: Naloxone can be injected or sprayed into a person's noseNaloxone can be injected or sprayed into a person's nose

Though the Scottish Government has set up a task force to look at how to prevent deaths, it has not declared a public health emergency, and it is claimed that measures to deal with urgent issues such as the lack of treatment options are woefully inadequate.

Meanwhile charities such as the SDF are promoting emergency measures to save lives including the widespread use of naloxone by anyone likely to witness an overdose.

Training to use the drug – available in injectable form or as a nasal spray – is complete in less than two hours and is it held by many hostels and homeless day centres. Though it can only save lives in the case in the case of opioid overdose, it has no harmful effects.

In England several police forces, including West Midlands Police, have adopted its use.

But the proposal has met with opposition from the Scottish Police Federation, with vice-chair David Hamilton shocking campaigners with claims that saving lives is not a “statutory function”.

He told the Sunday National: “Our statutory duty is to protect lives, not save lives. Saving lives is the work of medics. The problem we have is that the police service is under increasing strain and we need to push back.”

He insists that the clinical, health and safety and legal advice given to the Police Scotland has warned against police involvement in the programme, denied claims that it is discriminating against drug users and said the issue had been “whipped up” by the SDF.

However Annemarie Ward, chief executive of the Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR) group which supports people who have lost loved ones to drug deaths, said: “It is just ridiculous to make comments like these and really offensive.

“It would be so simple for officers to carry naloxone and it would save lives. Police are often our first responders and they know this community. Most of the officers we deal with they know that people are really ill, that they need help. But their hands are currently tied.”

The National: Naloxone works by blocking opiates from having an effect on the brainNaloxone works by blocking opiates from having an effect on the brain

FAVOR has been campaigning for more action to be taken using the hashtag #youkeeptalkingwekeepdying but its upfront approach has met from resistance from some quarters.

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Kirsten Horsburgh, of SDF, said it made sense for police to carry naloxone. She added: “Police officers are commonly first on the scene of an overdose, and in the middle of a public health crisis where rates of drug-related deaths in Scotland are the highest in the whole of Europe, they could play an important role in saving the lives of people who use drugs.

“West Midlands Police are leading the way in the UK by training and equipping their officers with naloxone kits. They have faced similar barriers and concerns from the Police Federation but have overcome these through training, protocols and service level agreements.”

Deputy chief constable Fiona Taylor said: “We are currently considering all of the implications surrounding the availability and use of naloxone by police officers. This will include consultation with internal and external stakeholders and partners.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it is continuing to support harm prevention work on a national level “including the potential provision of naloxone to first responders such as the Police”.

She added: “The Drugs Death Taskforce, convened by the Public Health Minister, is also exploring ways to make naloxone available where and when it can reverse an overdose and potentially save a life.”