In Search of a DCR

The Open Veins of Drug Users

de Vlad Stoicescu si Andrei Craciun | Photo: Daniel Vrabioiu 26-05-2015

A blend of poverty and lack of education, doubled by public hypocrisy and the absence of any real and efficient policies – it’s a mix for a lethal Romanian cocktail that might prove to be more dangerous for drug addicts than the drugs themselves. The number of hard drug users in the country is steadily getting higher while their ages are getting lower, with consumption related diseases spreading faster than ever. It’s a situation that requires an urgent change in public views and national policies.

It was in the fall of 2011 when the idea of opening a drug consumption room (DCR) in Romania was first put on the table, at a conference organized by the Carusel Association, a local NGO whose activity focuses on improving the life of hard drug and alcohol consumers.

 

Experts from Romania and the Netherlands attended that conference hosted by the Faculty of Sociology within the University of Bucharest. A consumption room was presented back then as a solution for reducing the personal and social risks associated with hard drug addiction.

 

Four years have passed, all these risks have escalated and the idea is still on the table, available in theory at least. In practice no steps were made to implement it. Meanwhile the condition of hard drug users (especially of those who inject drugs) is getting worse by the day. 


PART I. PEOPLE AND THEIR PROBLEMS

It was still one of those cold mornings of early spring when we found ourselves loading boxes with syringes in a Dacia Logan (a local car brand owned by Renault). A journalist never knows where he might start his mornings. You could find yourself in the lobby of a five star hotel in London or in a roofless house in the other part of the world.

 

This time we were loading boxes of syringes for drug users from Ferentari, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. We were going to meet them in person, shake each other’s hands, look each other in the eyes and talk. Afterwards we would sit down and write their stories.  

 

The destination for the boxes we load in the morning of this cold early spring day is the Caracuda Center, located in Ferentari on the Livezilor Alley.

 

If you look on the Internet for Livezilor Alley you will find images with small blocks of apartments decorated with parabolic antennas, laundry hanging on wires, a place where people seem to have been randomly thrown among hills of garbage. Welcome to the ghetto!

 

Caracuda is the Romanian name for the crucian carp, a fish that lives in swamps, in waters full of mud. Here, in Ferentari, Caracuda is also a legend man. The legend says he was either a pimp, either a thief respected for his ability to steel people’s wallets, either a bully who climbed the hood’s hierarchy based on his guts. He was one of the first drug users in Romania after 1989, the year when communism fell.

 

Nobody knows when Caracuda disappeared from Ferentari or where did he go. However, there are three theories. According to the first, he is in England or Northern Ireland, where he became a respected man who no longer uses drugs. The second theory says he is in a prison somewhere abroad. The third is that he simply died. All could prove to be wrong.

 

What is for sure is that starting with 2012 Caracuda also means something else in Ferentari, something more than a fish or a legend-man. The Carusel Association gave this name to one of its offices in Ferentari. Here it aims to reduce the risks associated with the consumption of injected drugs.

 

  • Bogdan

 

The Dacia Logan rapidly passes by a cemetery as the driver is speeding like an action man. His name is Bogdan Suciu. It is hard to imagine the Caracuda Center without this man in his mid-thirties. He speaks the same way he is driving: with no time to waste in unnecessary explanations.

 

Bogdan knows the streets’ laws. He used to be a drug user. He tried almost everything – marijuana, heroin and cocaine. The “legal ones”, derivative substances that for a short period were legal in Romania, did not suit him.

 

He started late – when he was over twenty, out of stupidity; more precisely, for a sweetheart from the neighborhood. He just wanted to be cool. He doesn’t say if, by using drugs, he seduced the girl or not. It’s his right to have this little secret at least.

 

Bogdan is not the philosopher type. His words are clear-cut: “Heroin kills you”. But Bogdan acknowledges that it is very difficult to stop using it. When he tried the treatment with methadone, he failed his first heroin test. He started buying methadone from the black market in order to stay away from the opioid. Everybody should understand that relapse is something normal for a drug user, but authorities do not – and exactly when an individual is in greater need of help he is rejected by the system.

 

Bogdan no longer uses drugs, he stopped five years ago. He was lucky. His parents had money, Bogdan spent it all, then made it all back, became clean, went to school, studied to become a dental technician, lost everything again and just restarted from scratch.

 

Bogdan Suciu is speeding through the streets of Bucharest. We are in a hurry.

 

Heroin from the old days, specifically that one from the mid-90s, was criminal in every sense of the word. You needed only one dose for two individuals to feel out of this world. But that was before the Americans entered Afghanistan in 2001, one of the main heroin suppliers in the world. After the US invasion, heroin became “dubious”. The generation that started using the opioid back then was damned right from the beginning. Most of them never recovered. And most of them ended up in jail.

 

Before reaching Ferentari Bogdan destroys all the drug related myths.

 

It is a myth that drugs are to be found only where poverty is. He knows lots of users in Dorobanti, one of the richest neighborhoods in Bucharest. The difference is that rich people hide it when they do drugs. They need to protect their image. In Ferentari people do drugs in public, as the border between private and public was practically abolished.

 

It is also a myth that there is no drug traffic behind bars. Bogdan knows the case of two brothers who received ten years in prison because they had ten heroin doses on them. One was 19, the other 21. One of them continued using drugs the whole time he spent in prison without having any problem. There were times when you couldn’t find drugs on the street, while in jail you could.

 

Anyway, says Bogdan, the drugs helped the brother who used them to survive the ten years in prison. Being stoned he did not have time to think too much about where he was and why he was there. The brother who stayed clean left the prison traumatized and now wanders around with no future.

 

It is another myth that, nowadays, if the Police catch you with a dose you end up in jail. Older statistics showed that out of ten thousand people convicted for drug traffic nine thousand nine hundred were just consumers. The real traffickers were free.

 

Now, if the Police catch you, you are beaten and taken to the station just to scare you. Chances are small that you’ll end up in front of a judge, as it used to be. But it depends. The legislation is poorly made – which means that it gives way to different interpretations. For one dose you end up in jail for three years, theoretically. Practically, addicts end up being beaten. However, they can be easily incriminated for trafficking.

 

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Photo: Daniel Vrabioiu

 

Bogdan knows the streets: it is a fact that sometimes you end up buying rat poison instead of heroin. There were many such cases, especially until 2008. The experience of using this kind of poison is excruciating, you feel like your head is going to explode.

 

We are getting closer to Ferentari. We talk with Bogdan about the thousands consumers with hepatitis C virus. The exact number is unknown. Maybe 10.000 people? What about those infected with HIV?

 

We agree with Bogdan that the number is not the most scaring thing. Those infected are not locked up in their homes. They live, they have relationships, they have sex, they have families, they might accidently cut themselves, they go to the dentist, one might even give up drugs, become a bank director and decide to go out on a date…

 

And so, evil moves around.

 

  • Michele, Andreea, Marian

 

The man is in his early thirties; an Italian, studying Urban Studies at Cambridge. What is Michele Lancione doing on Livezilor Alley, in Ferentari?

 

He comes at the Caracuda Center three times a week – on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He comes, spends here three hours as scheduled and if a consumer wants to talk to him, he talks. For the rest of the time he just observes, notes everything down. These notes will be part of his academic work at Cambridge.

 

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Photo: Daniel Vrabioiu

 

Michele came to Romania for personal reasons. In 2003 he was an Erasmus student in Bucharest. He lived with all the other Romanian students. He came back after eleven years because he wanted to see how things have evolved. We start talking about the student houses in Bucharest. We ask him to say cockroach in Italian. He says “scarafaggi”.

 

Michele is from around Torino, but travelled all around the world. Now he wants to study the drug users’ life. Previously he made a research on Italian homeless people. He will leave Romania in May. There is evolution according to Michele: he notes there are less homeless drug users than eleven years ago.

 

Michele has seen the sewers under Bucharest’s Railway Station – the same ones that recently made a story on Channel 4. The first time he went there he took a photo of a guy living in the canals. Eleven years later he went back, recognized the same guy and showed him the picture. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

 

Michele also documented a video and kept an online diary about the situation of several poor families evacuated from a building on the Vulturilor Street in Bucharest. He still can’t believe such things happen in the European Union in the 21st century. But it happened. “In Romania anything can happen”, wraps it up Michele.

 

Andreea Mihai works for Carusel since May 2012. She was at the Caracuda Center from the beginning, practically. She looks fragile. You wouldn’t imagine her talking with a drug user on the verge of a crisis. You wouldn’t see her telling the same user that she understands, that she knows he or she is not being aggressive on purpose.

 

It seems unreal but Andreea knows how to talk to drug users and they like her because she has the power to calm them. If needed she tells them how she quit smoking and how hard it was for her. Andreea is not sure yet that she quit for good, so she can only imagine how hard it must be with heroin. 

 

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Photo: Daniel Vrabioiu 

 

And there is Marian Ursan. Without him, the Carusel Association would not have been established. Marian is teaching Sociology and Social Assistance at the University of Bucharest. Given his casual look one could not guess that he is the famous professor Ursan, but he is. For 19 years Marian has been a social activist involved in HIV/AIDS programs. He started as a volunteer for ARAS (Anti-Aids Romanian Association). He started from the streets. He knows how things go.

 

Marian Ursan is well known in Romania and abroad for his contribution in developing programs for harm reduction that target persons who practice commercial sex, but also users of injected drugs.

 

Andreea was his student, one that wanted to volunteer; that’s why she joined “Salvati Copii” (Save the Children). However, it is the Caracuda Center where she feels she found her calling. In Ferentari her work seems important. And it is.

 

Andreea describes the role of methadone in a substitution treatment. When you switch from heroine to methadone, for six months the dose varies; it may grow or it may drop, depending on how the person feels. Then, after six months it should only drop. But as a former drug user you can take methadone for the rest of your life.

 

The whole process is chemistry, brain receivers that react. Drug users should go to special centers, such as the one in Matei Bals, a Bucharest hospital where they can receive methadone treatment. In this way authorities try to abolish the traffic with methadone. They try but with few results.

 

Caracuda Center is the only place that implements a harm reduction program for the entire Ferentari area, the most ill famed neighborhood from Bucharest. It is a place where many drug users from Romania’s capital live. Approximately 600 people benefit from the services offered by Caracuda Center.

 

At the beginning, the Center’s personnel gave drug users syringes, tourniquets and phials, but also condoms and sterile tampons. Now they only receive syringes and even those are of bad quality, Turkish ones.  The needle breaks very quickly, one can barely use them.

 

A drug user can get better syringes from ARAS (Anti AIDS Romanian Association). They come here, at Caracuda, every Tuesday. They also visit Ferentari twice a week to give condoms to young girls. ARAS has more possibilities. Carusel is a much younger organization. 

 

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At the beginning, Carusel’s Caracuda Center was often attacked by locals. Until people understood what the Center was all about. Bogdan remembers the strategy he employed: being nice and straightforward, explaining that he was a drug user himself and understood them. Now people from the neighborhood know that here, at the Center, something is done for them. Caracuda is family now.

 

If someone hovers around the Center at night the guard from a nearby park calls someone from Carusel and says: “Hey, there could be some problems at your Center!”. But, for more than a year now, there was no reason to call.

 

In its first month of existence, people wrote “dick” and such other words on the Center’s wall, but beneficiaries mobilized and re-painted them. There were occasions when the poor from the neighborhood left the Center with food or clothes. Whenever they had biscuits, the Center’s personnel gave them to the drug users. Boxes of biscuits were eaten here.  

 

Caracuda also offers medical services. Consumers come with infections, hand cuts and so on. They panic, get paranoid and cut themselves. Or they come with a harmed leg for missing the vein, which makes walking difficult.

 

It is cold in late February in Ferentari. In the summer things are different, as the suburb wakes up to life, barbeques are on and Salam (a Romanian singer of “manele”) can be heard in the speakers. But now, as spring barely makes its way, we are cold. We retreat in the Center to heat up a little.

 

We look out the window: a lady crosses Livezilor Alley. She wears a fur cap and slippers. She has a small dog in the leash. She absently passes by Caracuda as if the Center was part of the area since forever.

 

People from Caracuda save lives, even if they do not feel the need to brag about that. There are seven people that entered rehabilitation programs and now are clean. To get new syringes, drug users bring back used ones, in boxes. It is a civilized manner, but it wasn’t always like that.

 

It took two years to teach the users to do that. “Hey, it is also good for you, no more problems with the neighbors, with the Police, everybody will say the area is calm since they will see no more syringes thrown on the streets”, drug users were told. And they understood.

 

Nowadays, some take the current Turkish syringes and sell them – with the money they buy new, better ones. We are in 2015 and for the drug users in Romania things are being done only on paper. The National Antidrug Agency’s reports always describe a bright picture. In those reports the number of drug users in Romania decreases in a manner worth mentioning in the Guinness Book. Thousands of consumers simply disappear with the move of a pen.

 

The first heroin consumer we met was not from Ferentari. We met in a pub on Iancului Road, not far from the city center. He accepted to talk only after we promised that we would not record him and would not write his name or film him with a hidden camera. Our word was given. So he began talking.

 

At first it’s just drowsiness. Then you feel good, really good. It doesn’t matter that trees and grey blocks are disappearing. What remains is only that drowsiness. It feels like you are resting. You are peaceful. But actually you are not. Heroin is first of all an antidepressant. You take it to forget, dammit! It is an antidepressant that eats you up.


Then you throw up. The first time you take it you usually throw up. And you become almost instantly addicted. Heroin can make you an addict right from the start. And twenty-one days pass. You begin to feel ill, eyes are pouring, you get cold even in a hot day and, if you do not take the needed dose, you go into withdrawal.


There’s a daytime withdrawal and a nighttime withdrawal. The last one is like hell. Bones hurt and you can barely move, but you must move. You want to stand, but you are unable to do that. And if you find the will to scream, you scream. Sometimes the scream cannot be heard. So you scream inside. And that is the worst.


The profile of a drug user, as revealed by studies made by specialized organizations, shows that there are 80% chances that the user is a man without education (eight grades maximum), who is not in a relationship and has a low income without a job contract or health insurance.


The average age when the first injection is administrated is usually 19. However, in the last years the age has decreased alarmingly. The more the age decreases, the more chances that the first injection would be heroin. One out of five drug users has no home, living on the streets. The man from the pub had a BA degree.

 

Back to Caracuda! People come, leave old syringes, take new ones, give us a bad look, for they do not know who we are. In Ferentari, if someone doesn’t know you they will think you are from the Police. We have beards and that is equally good and bad. On one hand policemen with beards are not common sight in Ferentari. On the other hand we actually look dubious. 

 

We fear them, they fear us – that is how it is.

 

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Photo: Daniel Vrabioiu

 

We try to joke around with these people. Andreea tells us to look at how attentive they are at details. We start to learn who is already high from drugs. At the beginning the user is more present, more alert, as the brain produces more adrenaline. There are days when they come nervous, flying the syringes around like flags, threatening to sting the Center’s personnel.

 

But what happens with used syringes? There is a contract with a company that incinerates medical supplies. These syringes are burned; their ashes end up in a syringes’ cemetery.

 

Starting with 2013, the syringes’ exchange program was taken from the National HIV/AIDS Program to the Mind Care National Program. Romanian governmental authorities thought it was the right thing to do. But actually it turned to be a mistake. The HIV/AIDS prevention is not a priority under the new program. This is why it is difficult to financially sustain an efficient national program for syringes’ exchange with funds from the Health Ministry.

 

Drug users do not give their identity in the Center’s papers. Each writes down in a register a code that has to do with the personal identification number. 

 

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A drug user enters Caracuda’s premises. He looks depressed, leaves the old syringes, takes the new ones and leaves. “He is going to administer the needed dose”, says Andreea. The man with a nickname composed of two identical syllables leaves distressed, as if wearing a mask. Our eyes follow him until we stop seeing him.

 

When he returns he is totally different - full of energy, ready to clean the Center, although it is not needed, restless. Then, all of the sudden he slips into a box. As his head falls, he goes into a sleeping state. From time to time he gives us a glance, half absent, half warm, smiles and then falls into sleep again.

 

With his image in front of us, we remember that we came here looking for an answer: would addicts benefit a room where they could do drugs under medical surveillance, where they would receive medical attention if they got sick?

 

We are at the Caracuda Center for an hour and eight people entered the grounds. It is Friday. On Mondays more people come.

 

A boy enters. He looks open for dialogue. We find out that he is trailing for a drug dealer but he is not happy with the deal. He barely receives a dose when selling four. He is supposed to find new clients but he is not happy about that either. He might end up in jail. “Get him new clients? No way! Whenever he feels, the dealer will kick me out on the streets. I am not risking prison for that”. Instead, he brought 750 used syringes – yes, you read it well, seven hundred and fifty.

 

15 lei (3,5 Euros) is the price for a heroin dose on Livezilor Alley in Ferentari.

 

The Center has been open for three hours – this is the usual schedule on a Friday. It is time to go. Thirty people have stopped by on this cold early spring day.

 

Caracuda - the fish – has the ability to survive in cold waters. The story goes that it was brought to Europe from Asia. It was the same with heroin. 

 

PART II. INSTITUTIONS AND THEIR SOLUTIONS

There is no common position regarding drugs at the EU level. Therefore, it is difficult to change the national legislations. Without European pressure it is difficult to amend any regulation in Romania.

 

Law no. 143/2000 on preventing and combating drug trafficking and illicit drug use underlines in Article 4, 1st paragraph, that "the cultivation, production, manufacturing, experimenting, extracting, processing, purchase or possession of high risk drugs for personal consumption shall be punished with imprisonment from 3 months to 2 years or a fine". No drug consumption room can be established under this law.  

 

In 2013, according to the National Report on drugs published by the National Antidrug Agency, there were 10,583 drug users in Romania; 55% of them were taking heroin, in the majority of cases administrated by injection. 43.6% were using ethnobotanical drugs and amphetamine and 1.3% cocaine.

 

In Ferentari a heroin dose is 15 lei (3.5 Euro). But if you take 4-5 doses daily the costs can be quite significant.  

 

In 2012 Romanian Angel Appeal and Carusel Association, with the support of the National Antidrug Agency, did a survey among the injectable drug users in Bucharest. According to BSS (Behavioral Surveillance Survey), 49.6 % of these users were taking substances marketed as legal drugs (editor’s note: they are no longer legal); 40.5 % were using heroin and 5.8% methadone.

 

The frequency of administration was over 4.27 times / day. More than 20% said they used a syringe which had been used before by someone else. Over 50% of respondents used non-sterile injecting equipment.

These are the figures. The reality they portray is a brutal one.

 

And the reality is this: Greece and Romania are hotspots of drug related infections with HIV (according to the 2013 European Report on drugs, developed by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions). How did we end up here?

 

It looks like the formerly legal substances are to blame. Because some of these opioid substitutes were readily available, consumers injected more. An article published last autumn in “The Medical Life” journal underlines that “with the new psychoactive substances, the rate of injecting tripled”.  

 

Nevertheless, consumers stay loyal to what they consume. Who started with heroin switches very rare to cocaine. What might happen for those who have the financial means is a mix of the two. Doctor Adrian Abagiu from Matei Bals Institute, quoted by “The Medical Life” journal, explained the way cocaine prolongs the heroine’s effect, while heroin reduces the damages cocaine has on one’s heart.

 

“And you only feel the pleasant part, like in a montagne–russe”, says the doctor. It is a fair of illusions since in the life of a hard drug user nothing is pleasant at all.

 

This is how the idea of establishing consumption rooms came around. When they thought of this solution, the people from Carusel focused on three main issues:

 

  • Is it moral to help someone do something that is both harming and illegal?

  • Is it efficient to help someone do an activity that is both harming and illegal?

  • Is this something that can encourage other people to use drugs?

 

The answers to all these questions cannot be given unless we do a comparison with what happened in other countries where consumption rooms were established. In Australia’s DCRs, for example, between 2007 and 2011, over 4.000 people were saved from overdose. There were no deaths registered in drug consumption rooms.

 

In Canada, the consumption rooms had a significant impact on the country’s economy. The DCRs reduced the number of people infected with HIV, hepatitis B and C. Therefore, 17.6 million dollars were saved in public spending.

 

In Germany, due to the consumption rooms 1 out of 3 users entered a substitution treatment, getting one step closer to stop using drugs at all.

 

Meanwhile, in Romania there is no statistics on how many syringes are thrown away. We are unable to evaluate. We can only assume. There is a low rate of syringes’ return to exchange service providers (it is empirically estimated at around 30% of the total of used syringes for drug administration). What happens with the rest? The rest are on the streets or on the blocks’ communal staircases, around rubbish bins or on alleys with beautiful names. They lay there like antipersonnel mines waiting to spread death.

 

Daan van der Gouwe, from the Trimbos Institute in the Netherlands, was in Romania in the fall of 2011, when the first public roundtable on implementing a pilot drug consumption room took place. Four years later Daan is still concerned about the situation in Romania. We asked him why is it so important to open a DCR and what social effects could such an act generate.

 

The Dutch specialist explained that a consumption room would be just a first step in linking the users with those offering services for drug addicts. In the Netherlands, drug consumption rooms had a significant role in reducing the risks associated with injectable drugs, underlined Daan van der Gouwe.

 

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“A DCR helps reducing the nuisance related to drug use in the streets, thereby reducing the risk for the general public to become contaminated with infectious diseases. A DCR allows those who use drugs to do that in a safe and hygienic way. Initially there were protest in the Netherlands from neighborhood committees, but they silenced once they experienced the benefits of these facilities to them (and not only the drug users).”


Daan van der Gouwe, Dutch specialist in services offered to drug users

 

Are there any possible side effects? Daan van der Gouwe knows that the main accusation brought by those against the consumption rooms is that they could encourage drug use.

 

False, emphasizes the Dutch specialist: "If you restrict the entrance to those facilities to those who really need them, there are no real bad effects as it is a very marginal service. It is not exactly a fun place to be for anyone else except for drug users. Young people who are not dependent on drugs don’t want to be associated with DCRs at all”.

 

"DCRs in the Netherlands are now a part of the system and basically no one cares about them, they are no longer a point of discussion. It is a part of an integrated system of care and services for drug users and is accepted by society since it works."


Daan van der Gouwe, Dutch specialist in services offered to drug users


Is Daan van der Gouwe absolutely convinced that it is a good idea to open drug consumption rooms? The answer is clear-cut: “Yes!”

 

Opening such a service in Bucharest, says the Dutch specialist, would eliminate some of the problems not only drug users, but also the general public face; it would provide drug users better living conditions and it would reduce health risks, risks associated with the use of injected drugs.

 

We confess our skepticism to Daan van der Gouwe as Romania has a very conservative manner of understanding and dealing with drug consumption. The Dutchman comes with a counterargument: "A DCR in itself doesn’t solve all problems but is part of a pragmatic approach. Drug use is of all times, so a realistic approach is much better for society and for drug users than a policy based on morals".

 

What Daan van der Gouve is saying is that – for a DCR to open and start functioning – responsible authorities, the general public, local communities and drug users need to interact and cooperate. It’s a framework that, under the institutional practice established in Romania, seems to shatter any hope from the start.

 

For example: we tried to get a reaction on establishing DCRs from the Ministry of Labor. Why from there? Because, in fact, Romanian drug users are a shared responsibility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (through NAA), the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labor.

 

A national program assumed by the Ministry of Labor refers to social inclusion, social protection and vulnerable groups. It's hard to imagine any other group than drug users that could fit better in the general directions outlined by the Ministry of Labor itself. Yet, all their answers to our questions point out that we should ask for explanations at the National Antidrug Agency, as they are the “main” state institution dealing with the phenomenon.  

 

We address the NAA. In a document signed by Sorin Oprea, the Agency’s director, we receive plain answers to three questions:

 

  • Do you think it would be useful to establish drug consumption rooms?

  • Can the law be designed in such a way to allow the establishment of drug consumption rooms?

  • Do you have any other alternative policies/solutions for reducing the risks associated with drug use, especially injected drugs?


On the first question, the NAA resumes what a drug consumption room means in order to conclude that: “this kind of service could be useful since it completes the services offered by medical assistance system to drug users. However, before establishing such rooms there are a lot of phases we need to overcome, such as: campaigns to inform the public opinion, awareness campaigns for authorities and key decision makers from the community, changing current legislation, attracting necessary funds etc”.

 

But current legislation does not allow establishing drug consumption rooms, the Agency’s answer redundantly shows. It should be changed, we are told, when and if the “opportunity” exists.

 

Marian Ursan, from Carusel, admits that no politician has joined the cause to change the legislation. It is hard, because few politicians would want to associate their image with drug users. Ursan knows this is a long journey. He is willing to take all the necessary steps. 

 

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Valentin Simionov, from the Romanian Harm Reduction Network (RHRN), is forthright in his pessimism: he does not believe things will change for better in the near future. After ten years in the field, he will soon leave Romania; maybe for always. Valentin will work for a British organization offering assistance to drug users from other continents.

 

He has the necessary expertise to do that. He is tired of how slow things change in Romania. He dislikes the Romanian politicians’ mentality. He compares them to landlords. Nothing will change until a politician’s child will suffer from drug abuse – believes Valentin.

 

Therefore, it is very difficult to actually design and implement public policies. Since the number of drug users is relatively small and since the public pressure upon decision makers is non-existent, few will change soon in the way Romania deals with the effects of hard drugs.

 

Valentin Simionov noticed that decisions and consequences arise only when there are demonstrations or protests in front of ministerial buildings. If they are broadcasted it’s even better, because “politicians care a lot about their image”. Image counts not actions, thinks Valentin. 

 

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To all these, one can add the religious prejudices when talking about drug use. Consumers are, first of all, sinners. Lack of education stands as the reason for no real, efficient reforms for drug users, argues Valentin Simionov. Opening consumption rooms? Maybe, sometimes in the future, but definitely not know.

 

Over three million syringes were distributed to drug users in Europe between 2007 and 2010. It was better back then. There was strong support from major international donors, particularly from the Global Fund to Fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

 

The global crisis has severely affected this area and now the harm reduction programs in countries like Romania are run with much greater difficulty.

 

In the end statistics speak for themselves: 15% of those who use injectable drugs start at ages between 8 and 13. In no time most of them will get infected with HIV, most likely CRF14_BG subtype, which is more aggressive than the subtype with which Romanian doctors and patients were accustomed until recently. This ruthless subtype sets a new trend.

 

But it’s not just HIV. 90% will have Hepatitis C, 40% will also have Hepatitis B. This cocktail of viruses will kill them before reaching 18 years but not before they pass over these diseases to other people. This is not an apocalyptic perspective; it's simply what statistics show it will most likely happen.


“Drug users need support, not punishment”


Marian Ursan, Carusel Association’s President

 

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This article was documented and developed with the support of The Resource Center for Public Participation, as part of the program "In PAS cu justitia sociala" ("In trend with social justice"). The project is financed through the SEE grants 2009-2014. The grants are managed by the Romanian NGO Fond. For official information related to the SEE and Norwegian grants access: www.eeagrants.org. The content of this article does not necessary represent the official position of the SEE grants 2009-2014.

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What is a DCR

A continental model

Drug consumption rooms are specially established places where drug users can administrate drugs in a safe environment for their health, in the presence of multi-disciplinary teams of professionals.

Their objectives are to reduce the health risks drug users are exposed to and to improve the quality of life in communities affected by drug use.

Drug consumption rooms are part of the broader concept of drug harm reduction. Although originally these rooms were a response to the problems of injectable drug users, they also address people who smoke or inhale substances prohibited by law. Drug consumption rooms can be organized in fixed locations or can operate as mobile units.

Eight European countries (Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark and, most recently, Greece), Australia and Canada have allowed the establishment of more than 90 drug consumption rooms. These are continuously evaluated, along with their benefits and associated risks.

In the Netherlands there are no less than 37 such institutions, while in Germany there are 27. Switzerland hosts 17. Drug consumption rooms are a practice in Western Europe since the 1980s.

About the project

"In trend with social justice"

It is a project organized by CeRe (The Center for Resources and Public Participation) and Media DoR (an association that publishes a quarterly magazine). CeRe supports people interested in developing advocacy campaigns on issues related to social justice.

Through the advocacy campaigns, the organizations aim to raise the awareness on the problems vulnerable groups face and to empower those groups with the necessary tools to deal with local and national authorities.

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