After some conversation around Drug Consumption Rooms and Heroin Assisted Treatment, Stephen suggested I take a trip to Copenhagen, a city pro-actively tackling the challenge of engaging those outside of treatment services, as well as having a union of people who are active in their drug use.
So at the beginning of March, following an invitation from brugerforeningen, I flew to Copenhagen and not only learnt about Denmark’s sensible and effective approach to harm reduction, but also met some truly inspirational people who challenged many of my preconceptions around drug use and the community that surrounds it.
My introduction to the Danish Drug Users’ Union (brugerforeningen)
The entire trip, including visits to the commissioned services, was coordinated by the Drug Users’ Union. In Denmark, as well as many other European countries, people who use drugs (PWUD) come together as a community and form an independent self-organised, self-directed entity (a union, a network) in its own right. The Danish Drug Users’ Union is a key stakeholder group – not, by any means, a passive recipient of services.
Getting to know members of the Union made me realise that PWUD are the biggest stakeholders and subject matter experts in our community and we could be learning a lot more from this group if we started to think differently. I began to understand that CGL as an organisation, together with our service users and the wider PWUD group, should be part of one community with a shared interest.
Solutions driven by the PWUD community
The Needle Syringe Patrol in Copenhagen is a great example of PWUD leading initiatives and creating new solutions.
The programme has been running since 1997 and is wholly managed by volunteers, including people actively using drugs, from the Drug Users’ Union. It has been led since its inception by Joergen Kjaer, an inspirational man who is passionate about protecting the rights of the drug-using community. The group removes used syringes, needles and other equipment from the streets, with daily patrols in the Vesterbro area, where there have been particular issues with discarded paraphernalia in the past. The initiative has transformed the neighbourhood and is loved by the community.
H17 and Skyen - Copenhagen drug consumption facilities
As part of my trip I visited H17, a purpose-built safer drug consumption facility that cost approximately 18m Euros. The atmosphere, for such a big space, was warm. Leading my tour was Dr Henrik Thiesen a GP who works at H17 and has been involved in the community for many years. His medical team includes another GP and two senior nurses with over 14 years’ experience in frontline street-level health outreach. The ambition of the service was simply articulated by one member of the team: “to bring the street inside”. Once this is achieved there’s an opportunity to provide a safe space, with access to drug-testing for people (not ‘testing people for drugs’), and fundamental physical and mental health care.