Ricky goes every day to the “chuto room” in Lisbon. There they “give affection, comfort, we don’t feel like trash” – Current Events
He is one of 862 registered users in the Lisbon surveillance drug consumption room, in the acquaintances of the former Casal Ventoso, which began operating on May 18 and is frequented daily by 200 people.
Like Ricky, most are men (85%) and the average age is 44, with the youngest being 20 and the oldest 70, according to data from the Ares do Pinhal association, which is dedicated to the recovery of drug addicts and manages the project, supervised by the Service for Intervention in Additive Behaviors and Dependencies (SICAD). They mostly consume exclusively smoked (72% of the total).
Ricky goes every day to Campo Pequeno, where he lives, to the “kicking room” (as it is commonly known), the only one in the country for six months, “in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening”, to consume with “safety” the heroin and cocaine that he buys on the streets, under the eyes of health technicians and using the sterilized materials they supply him there, from silverware to syringes, including garrotes.
“[Venho] for safety and hygiene reasons and to think that, in case something happens, I have a group of people here, nurses, who come to the rescue”, he says to Lusa, after having passed the smoked consumption room, who shared with others five men.
This room “is always full”, says Inês Pereira, a psychologist, who with a nurse monitors consumption from the “aquarium”, a glass space from which they observe who is smoking drugs, on one side, and who is inject, make another.
All the material used by users is provided within the space and fonts brought from the street are added, so that the team can act in case of an ‘overdose’.
At the same time, there can be up to 10 people in the two rooms, and for the one with smoked consumption, there are, as a rule, users waiting at the reception. The maximum length of stay in the consumer space is 40 minutes, the result of negotiation with users.
“I feel comfortable inside this house, because we are not discriminated against, and they give us comfort, everyone who works here, gives affection, gives comfort, we don’t feel trashed”, explains Ricky, a drug user since he was 16 years, who has already gone through phases of treatment and successive relapses, and who used to smoke and inject “where I happened”, “inside a building” or “in the middle of the woods”.
“There may be people who do not understand why we are here, in quotes, to help consumption, to facilitate consumption. That’s not true. What harm reduction teams have to offer is to give more security to consumption that I can’t help it, it’s going to happen anyway. So I’m going to give you more security and make this consumption more hygienic. That’s what we do here”, says nurse Paulo Marques, coordinator of the area, to Lusa project, which for one year of this pilot project.
After users enter the space for the first time, the team working there begins a process of approximation, leading them to carry out screening tests (HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis) or treatments (for wounds, for example). Since recently, medications prescribed in hospitals or health centers have been dispensed in the nursing office.
“This service is designed for people who consume substances, but we also have another part. This does not mean that a person has to consume. This happens to many people who come in search of bath, clothing, food and, even sometimes doing these screenings without using the rooms [de consumo]”, explains Paulo Marques.
In addition to the cafeteria at the entrance, the drug consumption rooms and the nursing office, there is a clothes bank and changing rooms in this space, especially for the 18% of users who are homeless.
“The population comes to us a lot through peers, who inform us of the existence of the service. They know we are here, they more or less know the answer. Also through the other teams that work here in the field, who make known our answer and ours community team that goes out daily and gets in touch with people who are consuming in the area”, explains Roberta Reis, a psychologist who coordinates the Integrated Support Service.
It was precisely through the mobile units of Ares do Pinhal’s methadone (drug substitution) program that Ricky learned of the supervised consumption room, where an ‘overdose’ was recorded within the consumption spaces for six months, which the nurses managed to reverse.
“What often happens is that we don’t reach the ‘overdose’ because we do prevention beforehand”, says Paulo Marques, who explains that sometimes they do, for example, “tease” with users regarding the amount of drugs they intend to consume .
The control of the type and quality of substances that users take to consume is not yet being carried out, but Ares do Pinhal is finalizing a protocol with an entity accredited for this purpose.
The number of users, which was estimated at 300 before the opening of the supervised consumption room, has continued to grow for six months and the forecast of those who manage the room is that this will continue with the arrival of winter.
*** Margarida Pinto (text) and António Cotrim (photo), reporting by Agência Lusa