Health Workers Fear Service Being Shunned in Case of Surveillance
Police have been accused of spying on drug addicts when they try to use a needle exchange centre set up to stop the spread of hepatitis C and HIV.
Health workers fear people are shunning the centre in Inverness because they are worried about officers keeping them under surveillance.
And there are concerns that addicts will simply drop dirty needles in public places - rather then have them disposed of safely.
According to a city councillor and former police officer, some drug injectors are staying away from the Waterloo Place centre because of the police presence.
Northern Constabulary has dismissed the claim, but NHS Highland said yesterday the issue was of regular concern.
SNP councillor John Finnie praised the efforts of the police and health agencies to tackle intravenous drug use, but urged officers not to deter addicts from seeking help at the needle exchange service.
He said: "While no one is suggesting 'no go' areas for the police, it is vitally important the police do nothing which might restrict access to this vital service.
"Clear guidelines exist regarding surveillance operations and they include the need to consider wider community risks."
NHS Highland substance misuse co-ordinator Dougie Montgomery said there had been "regular concerns regarding the police presence in Waterloo Place" and that the matter was "being discussed with senior officers".
Northern Constabulary's Inverness area commander Chief Inspector Andrew MacLean denied that there had ever been surveillance of the premises.
He said: "We monitor the stop and search of individuals suspected to be in possession of illegal drugs and there is no evidence to suggest these searches have been carried out on people going to and from the exchange programme.
"If an officer has reason to suspect any individual is in possession of illegal drugs, he or she is fully entitled to search them under the terms of the Misuse of Drugs Act."
Inverness Crime Prevention Panel chairman Jim Ferguson said police had a duty to operate "in every area that they see fit when it comes to dealing with criminal activity".
Suzy Calder, chief officer of the Highland Alcohol and Drug Partnership said: "If these issues were raised then this is certainly something that would be discussed by the partnership.
"We have to appreciate the police's position in terms of other ongoing enforcement activity that may be going on that happens to coincide around that area but the partnership wouldn't shy away from having that discussion to establish the facts."
The Waterloo Place centre offers a new-for-old syringe exchange, testing and immunisation for hepatitis and other blood-borne viruses, treatment of injection-induced wounds and safety advice.
There are similar facilities in Nairn and Rossshire and pharmacies provide needle exchanges in Inverness, Nairn, Fort William, Tain, Alness, Wick, Kyle and Portree.
December 5, 2009
Press and Journal