In Search of a Drug Consumption Room - The Open Veins of Drug Users

June 11, 2015

A blend of poverty and lack of education, coupled with public hypocrisy and the absence of any real and efficient policies – it’s a recipe for a lethal Romanian cocktail which could prove to be more dangerous for drug addicts than the drugs themselves. The number of hard drug users in the country is steadily rising, while their average age is falling, 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 organised 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, which was hosted by the Faculty of Sociology at the University of Bucharest. A consumption room was presented back then as a way to reduce the personal and social risks associated with hard drug addiction.

Four years have passed, all those risks have escalated, and the idea is still on the table, available in theory at least. In practice, no steps have been taken to implement it. In the meantime, the situation for hard drug users (especially those who inject drugs) is getting worse by the day. 

PART I. PEOPLE AND THEIR PROBLEMS

It was one of those cold, early spring mornings, when we found ourselves loading boxes of syringes into 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 on the other side of the world.

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

The destination for the boxes we were loading in the morning of that cold, early spring day was the Caracuda centre, located in Ferentari, on the Livezilor Alley.

If you look for Livezilor Alley on the Internet, you'll find images of small blocks of apartments decorated with parabolic antennas, laundry hanging on wires, a place where people seem to have been randomly thrown together among mountains 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 man of legend. The legend says he was a pimp, or a thief respected for his ability to steal people’s wallets, or maybe a bully who climbed up in the neighbourhood 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 he went. 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 certain, is that since 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, the driver speeding like an action man. His name is Bogdan Suciu. It is hard to imagine the Caracuda centre without this man in his mid-thirties. He speaks the same way he drives: with no time to waste in unnecessary explanations.

Bogdan knows the law of the streets. 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, didn't suit him.



He started late – when he was over twenty, out of stupidity; more precisely, for a sweetheart from the neighbourhood. 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 the authorities don't – and just when an individual is in greatest 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 abstinent, 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, from the mid-90s in particular, was wicked 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 “dodgy”. 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 neighbourhoods in Bucharest. The difference is that rich people hide their drug-use. They need to protect their image. In Ferentari, people do drugs in public, as the border between private and public life has been 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, but 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 didn't have time to think too much about where he was and why he was there. The brother who stayed abstinent left the prison traumatised 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 ninety-nine out of a hundred people convicted for trafficking 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. The chances are low that you’ll end up in front of a judge, the way it used to be. But it depends. The legislation is poorly drafted – which means that it can give rise to different interpretations. In theory, for one dose, you end up in jail for three years. In practice, addicts end up being beaten. However, they can easily be charged with trafficking.

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 up 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 of users with the 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 scary thing. Those infected are not locked up in their homes. They live, they have relationships, they have sex, they have families, they might accidentally 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 to the Caracuda centre three times a week – on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He comes, spends three hours there 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 in Cambridge.

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 had 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 has travelled all around the world. Now he wants to study drug users’ lives. Previously, he did research on Italian homeless people. He will leave Romania in May. There is evolution, according to Michele: he notes there are fewer 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, recognised 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 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,” Michele concludes.

Andreea Mihai has been working for Carusel since May 2012. She was at the Caracuda centre practically from the beginning. 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 necessary, she tells them how she quit smoking and how hard it was for her. Andreea isn't sure yet that she's quit for good, so she can only imagine how hard it must be with heroin.

And there is Marian Ursan. Without him, the Carusel Association would not have been established. Marian teaches Sociology and Social Assistance at the University of Bucharest. Given his casual look, one wouldn't 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 sex workers and injecting drug users.

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

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

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

The Caracuda centre is the only place that implements a harm reduction program for the entire Ferentari area, the seediest neighbourhood in Bucharest. It is a place where many of the drug users in Romania’s capital live. Approximately 600 people benefit from the services offered by the Caracuda centre.

At the beginning, staff at the centre used to provide drug users with syringes, tourniquets and phials, but also condoms and sterile pads. These days, 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, to Caracuda, every Tuesday. They also visit Ferentari twice a week, to give condoms to young girls. ARAS offers more possibilities. Carusel is a much younger organisation.

At the beginning, Carusel’s Caracuda centre was often attacked by locals, until people understood what the centre 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 neighbourhood know that here, at the centre, something is being done which benefits them. Caracuda is family now.

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

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

Caracuda also offers medical services. Consumers come with infections, cuts and so on. They panic, get paranoid, and cut themselves. Or they come with a leg damaged by 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 on the loudspeakers. But now, with spring barely arrived, we are cold. We retreat into the centre to heat up a little.

We look out of the window: a lady is crossing Livezilor Alley. She wears a fur cap and slippers. She has a small dog on a leash. She absently passes by Caracuda as if the centre had always been a feature of the area.

People from Caracuda save lives, even if they don't feel the need to brag about it. There are seven people who have entered rehabilitation programs and are now abstinent. To get new syringes, drug users bring back used ones, in boxes. It's a civilised process, 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 neighbours, 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 drug users in Romania, things are being done only on paper. The National Antidrug Agency’s reports always paint a cheerful picture. In those reports, the number of drug users in Romania is decreasing at a rate worthy of a mention in the Guinness Book. Thousands of consumers simply disappear at the stroke 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 centre. He agreed 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 streaming, you get cold even on a hot day, and if you don't take the required 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. 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, according to studies done by specialised organisations, shows that there's an 80% chance that the user is a man without education (eighth grade at most), who is not in a relationship, and has a low income without a job contract or health insurance.

The average age for a first injection is 19. Over the last few years however, that starting age has gone down alarmingly. The lower the age, the higher the chance that the first injection will 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 dirty 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 the one hand. policemen with beards are not a common sight in Ferentari. On the other hand, we actually look dodgy.

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

We try to joke around with these people. Andreea tells us to look at how attentive they are to 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 adrenalin. There are days when they come in nervous, waving the syringes around like flags, threatening to sting the centre’s personnel.

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

From 2013 onwards, the syringe exchange program was transferred from the National HIV/AIDS Program to the Mind Care National Program. The Romanian government authorities thought it was the right thing to do, but actually it turned to be a mistake. 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 syringe exchange, with funds from the Health Ministry.

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

599

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 centre, although it is not needed, restless. Then, all of a 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 from a room where they could do drugs under medical surveillance, where they would receive medical attention if they got sick?

We've been at the Caracuda centre for an hour, and eight people have entered the premises. It is Friday. On Mondays, more people come.

A boy enters. He looks prepared to talk. We find out that he is trailing for a drug dealer but he is not happy with the deal. He barely receives one dose for every four he sells. 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 like it, the dealer will kick me out on the streets. I'm not risking prison for that”. Instead, he brought 750 used syringes – yes, you read it correctly, seven hundred and fifty.

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

The centre has been open for three hours – this is the usual schedule on a Friday. It is time to go. Thirty peope 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. This makes it more difficult to amend national legislation. Without European pressure, it is difficult to amend any regulation in Romania.

Law no. 143/2000 on preventing and combatting drug trafficking and illicit drug use states 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 Drugs Report, 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, administered 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 a day, the costs can be quite significant.  
In 2012, the Romanian Angel Appeal and Carusel Association, with the support of the National Antidrug Agency, carried out a survey among injecting drug users in Bucharest. According to the 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 previously been used 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 for drug-related HIV infections (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 as if 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. Someone who started out on heroin will only very rarely switch to cocaine. For those who have the financial means, it can be a mix of the two. Doctor Adrian Abagiu from the Matei Bals Institute, quoted by “The Medical Life” journal, explained the way cocaine prolongs the heroin’s effect, while heroin reduces the damage cocaine has on one’s heart.

“And you only feel the pleasant part, like on a scenic railway,” says the doctor. It's a fairground illusion, 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 harmful and illegal?

Is it efficient to help someone do an activity that is both harmful 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 has happened in other countries where consumption rooms have been established. In Australia’s DCRs, for example, between 2007 and 2011, over 4.000 people were saved from overdose. There have been no deaths recorded in drug consumption rooms.

In Canada, a consumption room has had a significant impact on the country’s economy. The DCR reduced the number of people infected with HIV, hepatitis B and C, saving 17.6 million dollars in public spending.

In Germany, because of consumption rooms, 1 in 3 users has entered substitution treatment, getting one step closer to stopping using drugs completely.

Meanwhile, in Romania, there are 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 returned 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 lie 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 round table discussion 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 it's so important to open a DCR, and what might be the social effects.

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

“A DCR helps reduce the nuisance related to drug use in the streets, thereby reducing the risk of the general public contracting infectious diseases. A DCR allows those who use drugs to do so in a safe and hygienic way. Initially, there were protests in the Netherlands from neighbourhood committees, but they stopped, once they saw the benefits of these facilities to themselves (not only to 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 who oppose consumption rooms, is that they could encourage drug use.

False, emphasises the Dutch specialist: "If you restrict entry to those who really need these facilities, there are no real bad effects as it is a very marginal service. It is not exactly a fun place to be, for anyone other than 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 subject of discussion. It is a part of an integrated system of care and services for drug users, and is accepted by society because 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 faced not only by drug users, but also by the general public; it would provide drug users with better living conditions, and it would reduce the health risks associated with the use of injected drugs.

We confess our scepticism to Daan van der Gouwe, as Romania has a very conservative attitude to drug consumption. The Dutchman comes back with a counter-argument: "A DCR doesn’t in itself solve all problems, but is part of a pragmatic approach. Drug use will always exist, so a realistic approach is much better for society and for drug users than a policy based on moral judgements".

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 Labour. Why from there? Because Romanian drug users are in fact a shared responsibility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (through NAA), the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Labour.

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 summarises what a drug consumption room means, in order to conclude that, “This kind of service could be useful, since it complements the services offered by the medical assistance system to drug users. Before establishing such rooms, however, there are a lot of stages we would need to go through, such as: campaigns to inform 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 drug consumption rooms to be set up, 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.

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

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

It is therefore very difficult to actually design and implement public policies. Since the number of drug users is relatively small, and since public pressure upon decision-makers is non-existent, little is like to change in the near future, in the way Romania deals with the effects of hard drugs.

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

To all these, one can add 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, some time in the future, but definitely not now.

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 between the ages of 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 to 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  they reach 18, but not before they've passed these diseases on to other people. This is not an apocalyptic perspective; it's simply what statistics show will most likely happen.

“Drug users need support, not punishment”

Marian Ursan, Carusel Association’s President

 

by Vlad Stoicescu and Andrei Craciun 

This article first  published at the dela0.ro website

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This article was documented and developed with the support of The Resource centre 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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