“There is no time to waste”, a leading Canadian drug activist has told Scots planning to set up supervised injection facilities to save the lives of drug users in Glasgow.
Glasgow campaigner Peter Krykant has announced he is planning to launch a safer injection centre in the city, despite the UK government ruling out proposed legal amendments that would allow an official pilot of a drug consumption room.
Canadian drug activists used similar techniques, setting up unsanctioned sites that ultimately forced authorities to establish an official facility in Vancouver in 2003.
Krykant is a street worker for an HIV charity who has experienced addiction and homelessness, and is now in recovery. He said he was “no longer able to sit back and do nothing” following two days of drug summits by the Scottish and UK governments, at which no firm actions were agreed.
He raised over £2,000 on the Crowdfunder website before the platform withdrew his appeal. The website claimed it could no longer support his appeal under its terms and conditions and would refund all donations.
However, Krykant says the “set-back” has made him more motivated to go ahead. He is now seeking donations by other means.
Canadian drug activist Garth Mullins, who runs the Crackdown podcast, said Krykant had his full support, and claimed that an injection facility could save hundreds of lives. He urged Scots to act now.
Mullins, a former drug user who now takes methadone, is also involved in the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), an organisation instrumental in setting up illegal safer injection facilities in the city.
“You cannot wait any longer,” Mullins told The Ferret. “You cannot have another discussion for another year or more. It is time to do it without permission.”
He pointed out that a review by the coroner in Vancouver concluded that 2.5 times more people would have died if it wasn’t for safer injection sites in British Columbia, along with using narcan, a brand of naloxone which can reverse the effects of overdose.
Mullins added: “That year 1,500 people died but it would have been so many more. So that’s what at stake. Every day you don’t do this in Glasgow you let the chance to save those lives slip a little bit further away.
“That doesn’t need to be happening. There are people in London, the Tory Government, who are making these decisions. And they have blood on their hands.”
Every day you don’t do this in Glasgow you let the chance to save those lives slip a little bit further away. Garth Mullins
Vancouver is home to North America’s oldest supervised consumption site, Insite. Mullins, a broadcaster and former drug user who takes methadone, claims it would never have been permitted if Canadian activists had not set up illegal safe injection sites first.
Unsanctioned facilities popped up in unused shop fronts, or tents, offering clean needles, advice, support and naloxone. Charities, health workers, lawyers and church organisations lent their support
Despite repeated challenges to its licence, Insite – run by Vancouver Coastal Health and Portland Hotel Society – remains operational and there have been no fatalities.
Mullins admitted that he was sceptical when the sites were set-up in Canada, and that people were scared they would be arrested, or that the approach would not work.
Yet he insisted it was necessary. “People realised no-one was coming,” he argued.
“They said: ‘We’ve got to save ourselves’. Someone starting them up now is in a much better position because they have a network of people with expertise to draw on. They can troubleshoot in advance.”
He advised Scots to act “thoughtfully and carefully”, putting into practice lessons learned from “centuries of civil disobedience”.
He said: “Make sure to protect yourselves, build a coalition, have the people you need, but get on with doing it. There is no time to waste.
“In almost every jurisdiction where there is a safer injection site people had to do this first, and set up and operate unsanctioned, underground ones. This is the right path to the reforms you want.”
Krykant is also planning to follow the example of Danish activists, and buy a mobile van. He wants to refit it so that it is suitable to inject drugs safely, with naloxone onsite.
He told The Ferret that he was “taken aback” when he realised his Crowdfunder had been cancelled. “It’s a bit of a step back but it’s not going to stop me,” he said.
“I realised that this was the first of many challenges that I’m going to face in coming weeks. In fact it’s made me more motivated. I didn’t go into this thinking it would be a bed of roses that that everybody was going to be supportive – I know they are not.
“But I think we need to focus on the fact that this is how it has worked around the world and it’s going to be worth it. It’s about getting the law changed – that’s the reason I’m doing it.”
Krykant’s plans have been backed by campaigners including Annemarie Ward, chief executive of addiction charity Favor UK and Rev Brian Casey of Springburn Parish Church, who has held hundreds of funerals due to drug deaths. All three have also been outspoken on the need for more treatment and rehab.
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon MSP and former Labour MP Paul Sweeney have also offered support.
Drug policy group, Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF), has issued a final appeal for the UK Home Office, the Scottish Government and the Crown Office, to work to ensure that a pilot facility is provided.
If this does not happen, the forum suggested that the Crown Office should rule that prosecution of those involved in injection facilities would not be in the public interest.
An SDF spokesperson added: “It is a sad reflection of the failure of the state due to government inaction and a lack of will from legal authorities, if these services have to be developed by concerned private citizens.
“However, international precedents from Canada and elsewhere show that these types of initiatives can be mainstreamed and develop into state-supported services.”
The Scottish Government stressed that the introduction of injection facilities would require a change in the law, which it is pushing for. “The Scottish Government cannot condone any action which would be against the law,” said a spokesperson.
The UK government does not consider the proposal possible within the current legal framework.
Police Scotland said it was “committed to new ideas to keep vulnerable people safer”, but claimed injection facilities presented “challenges” in terms of the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Photo thanks to iStock/Pureradiancephoto.