How a man with a van challenges UK drug policy
GLASGOW – Every Friday for the past two months, Peter Krykant has parked his white van on Parnie Street in central Glasgow, around the corner of a game shop and several art galleries, and waited for people to come by. inject illegal drugs.
Inside the van are two seats and two tables, each with a stainless steel tray and hypodermic needles, as well as several biohazardous bins. The van is also equipped with naloxone, the drug used to reverse an opioid overdose, and a defibrillator. (There are also safety precautions for Covid-19: hand sanitizer and a box of masks.)
Mr. Krykant usually opens the van at 10 a.m., and that day three people were already waiting to enter. This was somewhat of a surprise, as the Scottish police had accused him of obstruction the week before, when he refused to open the vehicle to officers, knowing that several people were drugging inside. He wasn’t sure anyone would come back after this fear.
Scotland is in the midst of its worst drug crisis ever recorded, and one of the worst in the world. The country has had five consecutive years of record drug-related deaths and now has a per capita death rate three times higher than anywhere else in Europe.
Overdoses are more common in Scotland, e.g. some measures, that even the United States. In 2018, Scotland recorded almost 20 drug-related deaths per 100,000 population, compared to 18 deaths in the United States and around five in Ireland, Finland and Sweden.
Mr Krykant is adamant that drug use rooms will help slow Scotland’s overdose death rate by allowing drug users to inject under supervision and with naloxone on hand.
Mr. Krykant easily chats with several men who are waiting to be let inside. He asks them what type of drug they are going to inject, writes it down and opens the sliding back door.
In addition to Mr. Krykant, at least one other trained volunteer is on duty; they take turns watching the police and watching the people inside.
A 25-year-old man who would give only his first name, Gezzy, for fear of being arrested, said he injected both heroin and cocaine that day. Wearing a navy blue tracksuit with a crisp haircut, he spoke candidly about the death of his ex-girlfriend, who had overdosed seven weeks earlier.
“This is what we needed,” he said. “There are too many overdoses.”
Mr Krykant, a former drug addict himself, said he “learned very quickly that harm reduction is the most basic thing”.
“People have no more opportunities after they die,” he said.
Drug use rooms are facilities that legally allow people to consume illicit drugs under the supervision of trained professionals, in a sterile environment and with clean equipment. They were shown to reduce overdose deaths and blood-borne viruses such as H.I.V., reduce public injections and connect people more quickly to treatment services.
“In all the recorded injections that have taken place in these spaces around the world, there has not been a single recorded death,” said Andrew McAuley, professor of public health at Glasgow Caledonian University.
The first legal facility open in Switzerland in the mid-1980s, and over the past three decades, they have been established in Europe, Canada and Australia, about 200 in all.
Despite their effectiveness and the growing drug problem in Scotland, they stay illegal across Great Britain.
The Scottish government has expressed support, But
Westminster has not budged. “We do not intend to introduce drug consumption rooms, and whoever runs them will commit a series of offenses,” a spokesperson for the UK Home Office said in a statement.
But Mr Krykant thinks blaming Westminster is an easy solution.
“All we’ve heard is that it’s the UK government’s fault,” he said, adding: “We could have drug consumption rooms in Scotland right now if there is. had political will. ”
With Scotland controlling its own healthcare and policing – a system called devolution – Mr Krykant and other drug policy advocates argue that the Lord Advocate, Attorney General of Scotland, could provide legal coverage in the form of a ‘comfort letter’ stating that the wards of drug use could work without fear of criminal prosecution. (The Lord Advocate provided similar advice this spring for naloxone.)
But he has so far refused to do so, saying the facilities require a legal solution that addresses civil liability and the full range of criminal law exemptions.
To date, the police have not closed the van, nor makes arrests. In a statement, they seemed to suggest that they would be going pretty well on their own – at least for now.
“Establishing any form of safe drinking place contravenes the UK Drug Abuse Act 1971,” Gary Ritchie, a Scottish Police Assistant Constable, said in a statement. “Any attempt to circumvent the law, as it stands, by providing an unregulated, unlicensed facility may expose those already vulnerable to further risk and harm.”
For Mr Krykant, the van’s aim is to challenge drug policy rather than to curb the spike in drug deaths in Scotland.
“We can keep people alive, but it’s always been a pressure for a formal establishment,” he said. “We cannot provide service to hundreds of people in the back of a single van.”
Mr Krykant grew up in Falkirk, about 20 miles from Glasgow, and said he was on drugs daily when he was 11. At 17, he was injecting heroin and a few years later found himself in Birmingham, England, living on the streets and begging for money to fuel his drug use.
He was eventually approached by an outreach team in Birmingham and offered him a chance to enter a residential treatment program. “I grabbed my bag and enough medicine to take the train and made my way over there,” he said.
After that he moved to Brighton in the south of England and completed another program, and has now been clean for two decades. He returned to Falkirk in 2013 with his family and began working in drug recovery services.
But he started to be disappointed with the work he was doing. As an outreach coordinator for a charity, part of his job was to test the homeless in Glasgow for H.I.V. and hepatitis C.
“We would move away from people who tested negative, knowing they were going to be back in the alley later today,” he said.
In February he attended a conference sponsored by the Scottish government and heard of the promise of drug consumption rooms. He was intrigued. A few weeks later, he traveled to Copenhagen and met the people who opened Denmark’s first mobile site in 2011. Less than a year later, the Danish Parliament legalized supervised injection facilities.
“I was inspired by what happened there,” he said. “They quickly got the legal framework and now have the the biggest in the world safe consumption facility. “
He returned to Scotland and decided to do the same.
He invested £ 500, or roughly $ 650, of his own money and crowdsourced the remaining £ 2,400 to buy the busy van and equip it with the necessary equipment. August 31 – International Overdose Awareness Day – he drove him to Parnie Street for the first time.
“Almost all interventions that aim to help people have been initiated by civil disobedience,” said Alex Kral, an epidemiologist at the nonprofit RTI International research institute. “Needle exchange programs, naloxone programs. Safe consumption sites are no different. “
Mr Kral said the situation in Scotland was “completely parallel” to that in the United States. Despite attempts by cities like Seattle and Philadelphia to create drug consumption rooms, the country currently has no legal sites. (An unauthorized installation operates since 2014 in an undisclosed location.)
Mr. Krykant carefully chose the parking space for the van. Within a 30-second walk is an alley where people who use drugs publicly inject. It is filled with discarded needles, foil strips and teaspoons.
James Muir, 34, said when the van was not there it would usually inject into back alleys like the one nearby or in car parks around Glasgow. He said he had been to the van about three or four times now, adding, “I think it’s really good.” I asked if he was worried about the possibility of the police showing up and arresting him for drug possession.
“The guy reassured me that he is locking the van,” Mr. Muir said of Mr. Krykant. “I trust him.”