RESEARCHERS from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) are to spend 30 months leading a study to evaluate Scotland’s first £1.2 million heroin-assisted treatment service in the city.

They will work with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Kings College London and the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow to put the initiative, which opened last month, under the microscope.

Their work, financed by an award of £291,000 from the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office, will help shape the initiative’s future in Glasgow and create a blueprint for similar facilities around the world.

This new facility is the first of its kind in Scotland, where drug users at greatest risk of harm are prescribed pharmaceutical l-grade heroin (diamorphine). Patients then administer it themselves at the facility under the direct supervision of an experienced nurse.

READ MORE: Scotland’s first heroin addiction service to open by end of year

The provision of heroin-assisted treatment is part of the Enhanced Drug Treatment Service (EDTS) created by Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership in response to the city’s drugs crisis. It is anticipated that it will help those using the service to reduce their street heroin use, drug-related crime and set users on a stable path to recovery.

Dr Andrew McAuley, a senior research fellow in the School of Health and Life Sciences at GCU and principal investigator on the study, said: “The research is an evaluation of how the heroin-assisted treatment service is implemented within the Glasgow context of widespread polydrug use, epidemic levels of drug-related deaths and an ongoing outbreak of HIV among people who inject drugs. There is already a strong body of evidence to show that heroin-assisted treatment as an intervention is effective within a controlled research environment. However, little is known about how best to implement heroin-assisted treatment in the real world, so we are conducting what we call an implementation science evaluation which tries to understand how the service works, for whom, when and why.”

McAuley said it involved an in-depth exploration of the experience of people involved in the service, from patients and staff to the wider stakeholders such as police, social work and housing services.

“Ultimately, our aim of this evaluation is to understand how it’s implemented in Glasgow and to shape the development of that service moving forward,” he said.

“We also aim to create good practice guidance so that other areas in the UK and other parts of the world looking to implement this type of service can learn from the experiences in Glasgow and implement their own service effectively.”

Susanne Millar, chair of Glasgow’s Alcohol and Drug Partnership and interim chief officer of the city’s Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “Sadly, the rise in drug-related deaths is a nationwide issue and Glasgow’s facility is the first of its kind in Scotland – so the evaluation by Glasgow Caledonian University will also be of interest to other cities who are considering how to best save lives and tackle this national public health emergency.”

Drug-related deaths in Scotland are at a record high with more than 1000 lives lost in 2018. Earlier this year, research led by McAuley revealed that Glasgow was experiencing the largest HIV outbreak among people who inject drugs in the UK for more than 30 years.

McAuley added: “The drug consumption room idea has been kicked into the long grass by the Home Office but the heroin-assisted treatment service is possible within the existing legal framework.”