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Sensemaker audio

A man in a van, fighting drugs

A man in a van, fighting drugs

Peter Krykant is waging an unorthodox, possibly illegal, war against the terrible death toll from drugs in Scotland.

Transcript

Claudia Williams: Hi, I’m Claudia – and this is Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, how a former drug user from Scotland could change the country’s streets forever.

***

“I said from the beginning whatever it takes, I’m going to do this. If I’m doing something that breaks the law, come and stop me doing it.”

Peter Krykant speaking about his ‘illegal’ drug van

On Thursday, Scotland goes to the polls. And everyone knows the main storyline. The Scottish National Party is fighting to win enough votes to pave the way for an independence referendum.

But over in the seat of Falkirk East, one election candidate – a man called Peter Krykant – is fighting for something completely different… To consign Scotland’s place as the drug deaths capital of Europe to the history books.

So what is he actually trying to do? And does he have any chance of succeeding?

***

“I think we took our eyes off the ball on drugs deaths, and I’ve said enough to the Scottish parliament.”

Nicola Sturgeon, SNP Leader, speaking in April 2021

That was Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking in a leaders’ debate a couple of weeks ago, and her critics would say she’s downplaying things a bit.

Scotland’s drug death rates are fifteen times higher than the average in Europe. The number of drug deaths reported in Scotland has nearly tripled since 2010. Because of drug users sharing needles on the streets, for the past few years Glasgow has been going through the worst outbreak of HIV in the UK for three decades.

When every day, on average, four more people are dying from a drug overdose, the situation is urgent. And that’s where Peter Krykant comes in.

***

“Supervising the addicts taking their own drugs is Peter Krykant, who modified this minibus.”

STV News

Since August last year, Peter Krykant has been operating a mobile injection van in Glasgow. People can bring their illegal drugs to the van and take them with clean needles, under his supervision – he also has medicine on hand which can reverse overdoses. 

But Peter Krykant’s story with drugs goes back much further. By 11 years old, he was smoking cannabis. By 17, he was injecting heroin. A few years later he was living on the streets.

Now that he’s been sober for two decades, you can imagine how he could be a useful role model for people still struggling through addiction. But Peter Krykant isn’t employed by the local council, or by a health service, to drive around his van. He’s doing it without permission, because what he’s doing is illegal – but, in his eyes, completely essential.

People who use the van agree.

“Nobody else helps us. There’s nowhere else we can go. Because he’s been through most of this shit, he understands.”

Anonymous addict

And although the whole thing might sound pretty radical, other countries have been doing it for years. A Canadian injection facility called Insite has been operating since 2003. There have been thousands of drug overdoses there, but not a single death.

In Denmark, supervised injection sites have been legal since 2012, and drug related deaths in the country have stabilised. So there’s evidence it works. And Peter Krykant is using the political stage to make it more than just a man with a van.

***

“Three reasons why you should vote for my dad in the Scottish parliament elections. One, because he’s honest, two because he’s reliable, and three, because he helps people who have problems right now.”

Peter Krykant’s son

Peter Krykant doesn’t express much hope of winning the Falkirk East seat which he is running for. He’s admitted as much – running a campaign on a shoestring with the help of his friends or family.

Nor is it entirely clear what the Scottish government can actually do about setting up legal injection sites. The Lord Advocate – the most senior legal officer of the Scottish government – said his hands are tied unless the UK changes the law, which it doesn’t plan to.

But in an election otherwise dominated by talk about independence, Peter Krykant is still doing something really important. He’s getting candidates to actually commit to stuff.

More than 80 of them have signed up to Peter Krykant’s proposed law which would set up safe sites around Scotland. And, beyond that, he’s also getting drug reform at the heart of the national conversation.

Candidates are talking about it on the campaign trail. And as you heard earlier, even Nicola Sturgeon is being challenged on what more the government can do. None of this comes a moment too soon, because Peter Krykant wants to retire the van for good.

“I need at some point to be able to move on with my own life, but it’s leaving the people that I’ve built the relationships with. Knowing they don’t have an alternative.”

Peter Krykant

Whether or not he wins on Thursday, he’s getting Scotland one step closer to giving its drugs users that alternative.

Today’s story was written by Xavier Greenwood and produced by Imy Harper.

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