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Foreign Policy Analysis
Migrating to Shoot Up Legally: Heroin Commuters | High Society

Migrating to Shoot Up Legally: Heroin Commuters | High Society


He’s with someone, so watch out.Do you need some dope?It’s 120 milligrams.OK?This is dope [heroin].This is not a life I recommend
for no one
but here in Denmark, the government
is more liberal in that way,
that places like this
makes it more controlled.
I’m at the heart of Copenhagen’s
drug scene in the area of Vesterbro. Behind me is one of the world’s
largest, legal drug intake facilities called H17. Inside, they have 24 rooms where
users can inject or smoke their drugs which happens roughly around
700 times a day. Denmark introduced these
drug consumption venues in 2012 and they have special areas
surrounding them where you won’t get arrested
for drug possession if it’s for your own personal use. These kinds of drug consumption
rooms, known as DCRs, are government funded venues where illicit drugs can be used under
the supervision of trained staff. The first DCR opened in 1986
in Bern, Switzerland, in response to rising HIV infections
and drug related deaths. In the years to follow, DCRs opened
in nine European countries. Now Portugal, Mexico, Ireland, the UK
and Romania are considering opening them. However, in Denmark,
this liberal policy has had an unexpected consequence: an influx of heroin users
from neighbouring Sweden, where there is a zero tolerance
drug policy. There are around 50 to 100 Swedish
drug users in Copenhagen at any given time. Some commute, others, like Kris,
have moved here even if it means sleeping rough.What was your life like before you
became homeless?
I had a very good life.I worked in buildings, you know,building new houses.I worked there for maybe ten years.After that I had to go to court.After that,it just went downhill.I sold my car and moved
out of my apartment,
I couldn’t pay the bills.Everything was just gone.So I,I got out of there.-You took off?
-Yeah, I took off.
Kris has been homeless on the streets
of Copenhagen for six years now.I met some other Swedish guys,and we’re very good friends now.-Do you have any weed?
-No, nothing. We smoked all of it.
I do this thing, to go to H17.Okay, I’m an addict.I’m waiting for Patrik, who just
left with a drug dealer.
When he returns, we’ll enter H17.While we’re waiting to enter, Patrik shares his drugs
with a Swedish friend.-Do you want some dope or not?
-You can’t come in with me, no.
-But can’t we just…
-Here, do you want it or not?
Open your hand.-Hi. How’s it going?
-Hi. What are you saying?
-Are you good?
-Yes.
-The nicest one on the block.Does anyone have a lighter?A lighter?Can you ask her for some citric acid?We need some acid.This is dope.I’m going to take dope and coke.Hardened drug users like Patrik
mix heroin and cocaine in search of a more powerful high, a so-called ‘speedball’. It’s a dangerous cocktail that
multiplies the risk of overdose.This is cocaine.Hopefully it’s really strong cocaine.Patrik needs to shoot up between
six and eight times a day,
to avoid withdrawal symptoms like
stomach cramps, anxiety and fever.
-So that’s the heroin?
-Yes. This is heroin.
Since 2012, Denmark’s
drug consumption rooms have seen more than
a million drug intakes and experienced 700 overdoses, yet they haven’t registered
a single death.I don’t enjoy this.It’s just something that I wish
I could stop
and I believe I’m going to be
able to do that.
This is not a life I recommend
for no one,
but here in Denmark I think you
help people, and listen more
and the government is
more liberal in that way,
that places like this makes it
more controlled I think
and less violentand there are fewer diseases.Tina Leth Hansen has a Masters
in social work. She wrote her thesis about
Swedish drug users in Copenhagen. I ask her what the drug scene is like
in Sweden.It’s harder to get a hold of drugs
and they are more expensive.
It’s also harder to get clean needles
and syringes and so on,
the tools you use for taking drugs.This is the tip of a needle
through a microscope.
What you see is how nice and sharp
it is before it’s been used.
When it’s been used six times,well it says six, but it actually
means when it’s been
in and out of the skin six times,it’s completely broken.The more you use a damaged needle,the larger a hole you make
in your veins,
increasing the risk of blood clots,
of harming yourself
and the risk of disease.Michael Lodberg is a social
entrepreneur who opened Denmark’s first DCR
in 2011.Once you have a drug intake room
suddenly it’s possible
to control the drug scene
just a little bit,
because you’ve created
a very attractive place,
for drug users to ingest their drugs
in the safest way in the world.
No drug user has ever died in a drug
intakeroom anywhere in the world.Before we had drug intake rooms 8,000
to 12,000 used needles were collected
every week in the Vesterbro area.For a very small area,
that’s a lot a of used needles.
I want to know how Patrik experiences
life on the streets of Denmark.Here you have a lot of shelters
where you can sleep and
you can eat food for free
in many different places.
It’s really easy, the only thing you
need to do is you need
to work to get money to buy
whatever stuff you take.
Now I have to go to jail again.I got caught about 50 times
for theft.
Think of three years you do this,four times every day,
for over three years
then people think, “What an idiot,
he’s been caught 50 times”
but if you do this four or five times
every day for over three years,
of course you get f*****g caught.One of the things setting the Swedes
apart on the Danish drug scene is,
that they are younger than their
Danish counterpart.
Besides that, they’re overrepresented
in the overdose statistics.
Despite the fact that they,
from the outside, seem like a group
that’s very exposed
and is having a hard time,
they themselves say they have it
better in Denmark than in Sweden.
As a healthcare professional,
one can only think,
“Well, you are sitting here really
exposed and with no rights,
and you’re telling me that you are
better off here.”
That’s interesting
and thought provoking.
What are you coming from
if you feel life is better
on the streets of a foreign country?According to the EU’s drug agency,Denmark has 57 drug related deaths
per 1 million citizens per year. In Sweden, that number is 100. It’s the country with the second
highest overdose death rate in Europe after Estonia. I want to understand why the Swedish
system so rigidly sticks to its
zero tolerance policy,despite the proven success
of drug intake rooms.
So I travelled to Malmö to meet
Per Einarsson
one of the politicians against DCRs. He’s a Christian Democrat who sits
on the health council in the region of Skåne.What is the general stance
on drug users?
The Swedish stance is that
we want to help them
in the situation they are in and,
as much as possible,
help them out of their addiction
to narcotics.
So you are against drug
consumption rooms?
Yes. I wouldn’t consider them.But we know that drug consumption
rooms lower overdose mortality rate.
How can drug consumption rooms that
are saving lives be a bad thing?
I think that,saving lives is important.We want to lower the overdose rate,
but we want to do it differently.
We can’t just put drug use
into a nice environment and say,
“Now you can inject your drugs,
look, here is a place,”
while we have the law saying,
“NO”.We say stop.As a politician, is it not necessary
to look inwards,
when confronted with the fact that
Swedish drug users would rather
sleep rough in Copenhagen,where they are only offered help to
survive on a day-to-day basis,
than be in their own country and
receive help with getting clean?
Don’t you have to do something
about this?
Yes. It’s something
that really affects me.
It shouldn’t be necessary to travel
to another country,
because Sweden’s attitude
is too tough.
I want to know why this is happening.What is it that has put a stop
for him in Sweden?
What went wrong?-Where did it go wrong?
-Yes.
We have to look at that question.This is not reasonable.It’s unlikely that Swedish drug users
will stop coming to Denmark anytime soon. However, the situation for Swedish
drug users is slowly improving. It’s already easier to get access
to clean needles and in 2018, Nalaxone, the same drug
H17 uses to treat overdoses became available in Sweden. But for now, the choice is clear for
Kris, Patrik and the other Swedish drug users
in Copenhagen. They prefer life in Denmark.

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