Safe space: helping Glasgow's drug users from a van

Glasgow (AFP) –


In the shade of the buildings at the bottom end of a secluded street in central Glasgow, Peter Krykant gets out of his converted white minibus and glances up an adjacent alleyway.

Drug spoons, bloody syringes and human excrement litter the ground.

Krykant, 43, knows these streets well. Before he gave up drugs 11 years ago, he was homeless and would inject cocaine and heroin in places just like these.

"We need to stop criminalising people," Krykant, who started using drugs when he was 17, told AFP.

"We need to pull them out of the dark, rat-infested alleyways that they are currently using drugs in, pull them into a safe, supportive environment and offer them the help and support that they need."

Krykant's experience as a drug user and the resistance he encountered from authorities to the idea of safe consumption rooms inspired him to buy his minibus in March.

He raised £2,400 ($3,100, 2,600 euros) in a crowdfunding campaign and converted the van into a mobile sterile consumption facility.

It contains clean needles, injecting equipment and doses of Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

- Legal dilemma -

He took the vehicle out for the first time in the first week of September. Nine people used it that day.

He now plans to go out once or twice a week and eventually would like to see areas around Glasgow where drug users can inject in a safe, sterile environment.

Krykant, who is now a full-time drug policy campaigner, says doing so would help save hundreds of lives.

But while Scotland's devolved government in Edinburgh backs the use of safe consumption areas, the country's drug laws are governed by the UK government in London.

The Home Office (interior ministry) has no plans to introduce drug consumption rooms or decriminalise drugs, which it says devastate lives and communities.

Krykant, however, doesn't believe what he is doing is illegal and hopes the Lord Advocate -- Scotland's most senior law officer -- will challenge the constitutionality of the issue.

There is, he says, a large grey area in the law when it comes to establishing safe places for users to inject drugs.

"Police Scotland have been great so far," he says. "In terms of what they have to deal with, they are kind of between a rock and a hard place.

"How do you arrest or prosecute somebody for providing an internationally recognised way to reduce the harm caused by drugs, an evidence-based way?"

- Health emergency -

Scotland, which had 1,187 drug-related deaths in 2018, has one of the highest drug death rates in the world, according to latest figures published by the government.

The Scottish government has labelled the high rate of fatalities a public health emergency.

The latest European Drug Report meanwhile mentions Scotland, which has a population of 5.5 million, as a "point of concern" when it comes to drug abuse.

For those who inject drugs in filthy alleyways and parks in the often bleak Glasgow weather, the van is a welcome sight.

The first of the users arrive to make use of it shortly after 2:00 pm.

They include William Logan, a 48-year-old grandfather, his friend, and a young mother, both of whom ask to remain anonymous.

Logan is gaunt and wide-eyed. Drugs have caused him to lose weight, he says.

He collects his sterile parcel which contains gloves, a mask, a sachet of sterilised water and a new syringe from Krykant, then sits at a table in the back of the van.

- Regular fix -

Logan unwraps his wrap of cocaine, dissolves it in a few drops of sterilised water in a metal spoon, pulls the mixture into a syringe and inserts the needle into a vein on his forearm.

"Bloody wonderful, just great," he says as the drugs take effect.

He was clean of drugs for 18 years but started using again while he was in prison. By the time he was released onto the streets of Glasgow, he was injecting full-time again.

"I've seen some people mix drugs into their own urine," he says. "Here you get sterile water and a syringe. It's safe. It's clean. There's support. We don't have to lie in filth."

Krykant works his hands into a pair of medical gloves, drops the used syringes into a medical waste bin and methodically wipes down the surfaces where the users mixed the drugs.

The users usually inject three times a day and will take their next fix around 6:00 pm.

By then though, Krykant will be at home with his family and they will once again be left to inject in a park, a derelict building or one of the alleys.