GLASGOW, Scotland -- Every Friday for the past two months, Peter Krykant has parked his white van on Parnie Street in central Glasgow, Scotland, around the corner from a games shop and several art galleries, and waited for people to stop by and inject illegal drugs.
Inside the van are two seats and two tables, each with a stainless steel tray and hypodermic needles as well as several biohazard trash cans. The van is also equipped with naloxone, the medication used to reverse an opioid overdose, and a defibrillator. (There are covid-19 safety precautions, too: hand sanitizer and a box of masks.)
Krykant usually opens the van by 10 a.m., and on this particular day three people were already waiting to get inside. This was something of a surprise, since Scottish police had charged him with obstruction the week before when he refused to open the vehicle to officers, knowing several people were inside taking drugs. He wasn't sure anyone would come back after that scare.
Scotland is in the midst of its worst drug crisis on record and one of the worst in the world. The country has tallied five-straight years of record-setting drug-related deaths and now holds a per-capita death rate three times higher than anywhere else in Europe.
Overdoses are more common in Scotland, by some measures, than even the United States. In 2018, Scotland had nearly 20 drug-related deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 18 deaths in the United States and around five in Ireland, Finland and Sweden.
Krykant is adamant that drug consumption rooms will help slow the rate of overdose deaths in Scotland by allowing drug users to inject under supervision and with naloxone on hand.
He chats easily with several men waiting to be let in. He asks them what type of drug they'll be injecting, writes it down and then opens the sliding back door.
In addition to Krykant, at least one other trained volunteer is on duty; they take turns watching for police and checking on the people inside.
Krykant, a former addict himself, said he had "learned very quickly that harm reduction is the most fundamental thing."
"People don't get any more opportunities after they're dead," he said.
Drug consumption rooms are facilities that legally allow people to take illicit drugs under the supervision of trained professionals in a sterile environment and with clean equipment. They have been shown to reduce overdose deaths and blood-borne viruses like HIV, decrease public injecting and more quickly connect people to treatment services.
"In all recorded injections that have taken place in these spaces across the world, there has not been one recorded death," said Andrew McAuley, a public-health professor at Glasgow Caledonian University.
The first legal facility opened in Switzerland in the mid-1980s, and over the past three decades they have been established across Europe, Canada and Australia -- around 200 in all.
Despite their effectiveness and Scotland's increasingly dire drug problem, they remain illegal throughout Britain.
The Scottish government has expressed its support, but Westminster has not budged. "We have no plans to introduce drug consumption rooms, and anyone running them would be committing a range of offenses," a spokesperson for the British Home Office said in a statement.
But Krykant thinks blaming Westminster is an easy out.
"All we've been hearing is that it's the U.K. government's fault," he said. "We could have drug consumption rooms in Scotland right now if there was political will."
With Scotland in control of its own health care and policing, Krykant and other drug policy advocates argue that the Lord Advocate, Scotland's chief public prosecutor, could provide legal cover in the form of a "letter of comfort" stating that drug consumption rooms could operate without fear of criminal prosecution.
But he has so far declined to do this, saying the facilities require a legal solution that addresses civil liability and the full range of exemptions from criminal law.
To date, police have not shut down the van, nor have they made any arrests. In a statement, they seemed to suggest they would leave well enough alone -- for now, at least.
"The establishment of any form of safe consumption location contravenes the U.K. Misuse of Drugs Act 1971," an assistant chief constable of the Scotland police agency, Gary Ritchie, said in a statement. "Any attempt to circumvent the law, as it stands, by providing an unregulated and unlicensed facility may expose already vulnerable people to more risk and harm."
For Krykant, the goal of the van is to challenge drug policy more than to curb Scotland's soaring drug deaths.