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What progress has been made this Harm Awareness Month?

By Lucy Dunn

Editor-in-Chief Lucy Dunn speaks again to Peter Krykant, ardant drug policy reform campaigner, following this year’s Harm Awareness Month, about the changes that have been made surrounding drug support since last year.

Peter Krykant has long been campaigning for changes to be made to drug policy in Scotland. I first spoke to Peter after receiving an email from the medical school sent to all students that warned them of getting involved with his drug consumption van, back in 2020. Since then, the campaigner has spoken to Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish government about heroin-assisted treatment rooms, made waves in current conversation surrounding Scottish drug policy, and continued to be authentically vocal about the state of Scotland’s drug scene despite, on occasion, severe backlash. As Harm Awareness Month of January 2022 came to a close, The Glasgow Guardian spoke to Krykant about what’s changed in the past year.

We met on Microsoft Teams after we’d both finished work at around 5pm, once again navigating the crackly interface that continues to constitute virtual meetings, me a little late thanks to the office WiFi once again failing to connect to my laptop. Peter’s head and shoulders filled up the screen, prompt and businesslike, and I greeted him slightly apologetically. He explained he’d have to hop off equally promptly as his next meeting was with people in Canada, subtly emphasising just how international Peter’s influence, and the influence of the charity he now works with – Cranstoun – has become.

January was Harm Awareness Month at the University, and as such I had been keen to reach out once again, after having spoken to Peter twice before, to find out where his harm reduction work had progressed to. “What’s changed since then?” I enquired, “Are approaches different? Altered attitudes to drug consumption rooms?”

I don’t know if I had been expecting a more upbeat response, but Peter’s long sigh took me aback. “I’m just off Twitter,” he confessed, “flicking through Angela Constance’s (Scotland’s Minister for Drug Policy) Twitter page to see what’s been going on.

“A big change is that drug policy no longer falls under the remit of health, sport, and wellbeing. It was absolutely insane: you’d be talking about drug policy one day, and then talking about cricket the next day. We needed a specific ministerial role in the Scottish government to focus 100% on drug policy.

“What is slightly disappointing is that I don’t see a massive change in terms of where drug policy is. We’re no further forward with drug consumption rooms: there still isn’t an official drug consumption room in Scotland. You know, currently, drug consumption “rooms” are dirty, urinated, rat-infested alleyways. That’s frustrating.

“Currently, drug consumption ‘rooms’ are dirty, urinated, rat-infested alleyways…”

“I understand that from a political perspective, there are different levels of government, but an individual has gone out and proven that something is not against the law, which I did,” he adds, referencing his drug consumption van and the low-level, and ultimately irrelevant, police attention it received last year. “I was not stopped from operating the consumption facility, I wasn’t closed down by police or authorities… It was closed down simply because I was running it myself, and I couldn’t deal with the financial and emotional impact of running a service like that on my own without any official backing. So that’s frustrating.”

Peter emphasised that the current system isn’t necessarily not trying to help, but that the methods being currently employed are the wrong types for many people: “In some cases, if we push people into certain types of existing projects, those who have no desire to actually be there, it can make the risk of drug deaths higher.” He went on to discuss the 12-step programme, in which a key facet of this is to believe “in a power higher than yourself”, which, he pointed out, takes a certain level of motivation and willpower in the first place. Rehabilitation facilities can also arguably increase the post-rehab dangers to some addicts too, making them vulnerable after discharge without provisions of support on the outside. He went on: “After three months, they may leave that residential rehab with no tolerance to drugs or alcohol. What happens then if they do relapse? And if they’ve not the support around them, or don’t possess that desire to not use drugs again, they can relapse.”

“You made an interesting tweet around New Year,” I said, bringing up the controversy that Peter’s tweets had caused around Hogmanay, after he made a post that slammed alcohol consumption in place of drug use. The point he was making – that both are drugs, but one is legal, and therefore more socially acceptable – was missed by many, and he received an immense backlash. “I know you posted an explainer video in response, but can you explain the point you were making in more depth?”

“You know, the war on alcohol ended very quickly,” Peter replied. “America started this little war on alcohol with prohibition… And then, after that ended, it became an everyday part of society for such a long period of time. I mean, when was the last time you went to a birthday party, or wedding, or a funeral where there wasn’t alcohol around?

“It’s part of society. And it’s not a danger to most people: most people who drink alcohol will never experience any problems with it. That’s exactly the same when it comes to drugs. Most people who take drugs will not experience problematic drug use, and in most scenarios, drugs will cause less issues than alcohol. Once somebody becomes intoxicated on MDMA, for example, they’re not likely to get aggressive or violent, whereas that can often be the case, even for non-problematic users of alcohol.”

“In most scenarios, drugs will cause less issues than alcohol. Once somebody becomes intoxicated on MDMA, for example, they’re not likely to get aggressive or violent.”

It’s the attitude variation between alcohol and drugs that has a knock-on effect on the users of either that are contemplating seeking help, Peter continued. “If you go to your doctor right now and say ‘look, I think I’ve got a problem with drinking’, they’re not going to phone social services on you. If you go to your doctor and say ‘I think I’m consuming too many substances’, the first thing that GP is going to do is contact social services, if you’ve got children. That’s coming from my own personal experience.”

I noted Peter had recently accepted and started his place at the University of Glasgow, and in that vein, I wondered, now that he is surrounded by the students of today, and the policy-makers of tomorrow, what would his advice be for anyone interested in finding out more about drug policy, getting involved, or spreading awareness? “What would be your advice for them?” 

Peter nodded: “Joining organisations and getting involved with those ones that are at the forefront of drug policy is a good first step. Think of ones like Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Relief Drugs and Anyone’s Child. Look at the history of drugs and “the war on drugs”; look at the MPs and MSPs in your area, write into your MPs, write into your MSPs… These are all practical things that people can do to educate themselves and to also be activists and campaign for reform. Get involved at a local level.

“I can’t see major changes happening at a UK level for the next five to 10 years at least, until new, younger politicians come through who are willing to make those changes. The medical students, the politics students of today… You know, they are the next generation. They are the ones that are going to come through and change these things.”


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