ENCOD visits a Lisbon peripheral zone to discover the reality of the injectable drug users with Doctor Luís Patrício (Mala Da Prevenção).
In Portugal, venepuncture rooms were approved by law in 2001, as well as substance testing, yet after almost twenty years there’s not a single safety consumption room in Lisbon or in any other portuguese city. This is because the City Halls don’t want to lose votes as this is an unpopular theme and they don’t have the culture or the interest about good practices associated to the behaviors in relation to drugs.
Although, there are still people who dedicate their lives to the welfare of others who are at risk of social exclusion, they do their work at informal spaces that lack of infrastructure to have a good service, people like Dr. Luís Patrício and the initiative that he leads, Mala Da Prevenção.
With a prestigious career behind him, he continues to visit the places in most need around Lisbon, normally these are abandoned places at poor areas, where heroin and other injectable drug users continue having their meeting points.
These places are prosecuted by the authorities, even though they do not give an alternative answer to these people. Thanks to Dr. Luís Patrício, we were able to visit one of these places and perceived the institutions neglect around the vulnerable collectives relation with drugs.
There we found an old and abandoned public building, a totally unhealthy place with deplorable hygienic conditions, a source of infection of diseases such as Hepatitis or AIDS. We were told not to share the location for fear of police repression.
From the street we could already see lots of used syringes on the floor, and this place is accessible to anybody who walks around, including children that could be playing around. The local was first occupied by the users and then closed by the authorities, what makes it more dangerous, because now, to access users need to overcome a different number of obstacles plus a wall of two meters tall that they need to jump in order to get inside. This entry is also near to the train tracks, increasing the risks for users lives and community lives.
Doctor Luís Patrício explained us that the prevention agents attend the people at this places. They distribute tools for safe injection and social workers explain the risks of bad use of the substances. Although this work is very important and helpful, unfortunately, it’s not enough.
Among these tools, we can find the drug prevention case of Mala Da Prevenção. The briefcase includes a basic guide explaining how to approach the intervention with drug users; different common objects such as a cup or a deck of cards. Objects with which he makes easy to understand the most complex concepts in terms of risk prevention.
We were able to talk with two heroin users who shared their vision about the lack of attention they get from the government and society in general, as well as about the danger and insalubrity of the area. They asked about the new social worker because they want to speak with her, evidencing the importance of risk prevention agents in these contexts.
Doctor Luís Patrício has been denouncing this situation for more than twenty years and although safety rooms for consumption are approved by national law from 2001, no city hall has yet implemented the law or has given any other alternative to this people. Now, after sixteen years, Lisbon City Hall wants to implement the first one at the Mouraria district, a zone near to the city center, that traditionally has been a place frequently visited by smoked drug users, not injectable. So they want to make this safety room more for political reasons than for practical reasons, and this is strongly criticized by the experts for its reprehensible effectiveness.
Actually, the main focus is found in other districts, far from city center, where there really is a lot of pending work for risk prevention agents and institutions to improve the quality of life of the Lisbon’s citizens, by having models that include safety consumption rooms, to focus and facilitate the work on prevention and reinsertion.
By Ana Afuera Gómez
ENCOD (European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies)