How a Man With a Van Is Challenging U.K. Drug Policy

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GLASGOW — Every Friday for the past two months, Peter Krykant has parked his white van on Parnie Street in central Glasgow, around the corner from a games shop and several art galleries, and waited for people to come by and 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 biohazard trash cans. The van is also equipped with naloxone, the medication used to reverse an opioid overdose, and a defibrillator. (There are Covid-19 safety precautions, too: hand sanitizer and a box of masks.)

Mr. Krykant usually opens the van by 10 a.m., and on this particular day three people were already waiting to get inside. This was something of a surprise, since the Scottish police had charged him with obstruction the week before when he refused to open the vehicle to officers, knowing several people were inside taking drugs. He wasn’t sure anyone would come back after that scare.

Scotland is in the midst of its worst drug crisis on record, and one of the worst in the world. The country has tallied five straight years of record-setting, drug-related deaths and now holds a per capita death rate three times higher than anywhere else in Europe.

Mr. Krykant chats easily with several men waiting to be let inside. He asks them what type of drug they’ll be injecting, writes it down and then opens the sliding back door.

In addition to Mr. Krykant, at least one other trained volunteer is on duty; they take turns watching for the police and checking on the people inside.

A 25-year-old man who would give only his first name, Gezzy, for fear of arrest, said he had injected both heroin and cocaine that day. Dressed in a navy blue tracksuit with a clean haircut, he talked candidly about the death of his ex-girlfriend, who suffered an overdose seven weeks earlier.

“This is what we needed,” he said. “There are too many overdoses.”

Mr. Krykant, a former addict himself, said he had “learned very quickly that harm reduction is the most fundamental thing.”

“People don’t get any more opportunities after they’re dead,” he said.

For Mr. Krykant, the goal of the van is to challenge drug policy more than to curb Scotland’s soaring drug deaths.

“We may keep people alive, but this has always been about a push for an official establishment,” he said. “We can’t provide a service for hundreds of people from the back of one transit van.”

Mr. Krykant grew up in Falkirk, about 20 miles from Glasgow, and said he was taking drugs on a daily basis by the time he was 11 years old. By 17, he was injecting heroin, and a few years later found himself in Birmingham, England, living on the street and begging for money to fuel his drug habit.

He was eventually approached by an outreach team in Birmingham and offered a chance to enter a residential treatment program. “I grabbed my bag and enough drugs to take on the train and got myself there,” he said.

After that, he moved to Brighton in southern England and completed another program, and has been clean now for two decades. He returned to Falkirk in 2013 with his family and started working in drug recovery services.

But he started to grow disillusioned with the work he was doing. As an outreach coordinator for a charity, part of his job was testing homeless people in Glasgow for H.I.V. and hepatitis C.

“We would be walking away from people who tested negative, knowing that they were going to be back in the alleyway later that day,” he said.

“Almost all of the interventions that work to help people were started through civil disobedience,” said Alex Kral, an epidemiologist from the nonprofit research institute RTI International. “Needle exchange programs, naloxone programs. Safe consumption sites are no different.”

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