Problem drug users may not be a pleasant sight. Because of their addiction – and what preceded it – they may struggle with nervousness, mood swings and other psychological and physical difficulties. The urge to take their drug affects them throughout their lives, and addiction can land them on the streets, without a roof over their head or a loving home. This can also be reflected in their appearance and behavior.
“Imagine that you leave your house every morning and there are groups of people on the streets who are shouting in different ways, maybe they are high and do not know what they are doing. They take off their pants or even poop. The locals sent me a letter describing the situation,” reports for Blesk Zprávy the mayor of Prague 5 and member of parliament Renáta Zajíčková (ODS), who for the past 2-3 years has been dedicated to the problem of addicts in her district, but also to street safety in general.
It is precisely in Prague 5 that two of Prague’s three contact centers for drug addicts are located, which to some extent causes the clients of these centers to congregate in the adjacent streets. Zajíčková decided to solve the complaints of the locals and after a series of meetings with contact centers, as well as experts and members of the municipality, she decided on a surprising and, according to experts, illogical step – one of the contact centers had their contract terminated, and Progressive must leave Prague 5 by the end of this year.
Experts: We understand the complaints, but this will make the situation worse
The closure of the center makes sense to the citizens who live in its vicinity. This suggests that there could be fewer addicts on the streets. But as pointed out by experts contacted by Blesk Zprávy, it doesn’t make sense. And for several reasons.
The first reason is the fact that there is also a substitution treatment office next to Progressiv in Mahenova street. Problem users appear here also because they get medicine to fight their disease – addiction. In addition, the fact that there is a second contact center, Sananim, just a few streets away, does not help Prague 5 in this regard. Problem users will most likely stay in the location, which is related to another reason why it is pointless to terminate the contract with the center.
In general, the situation will not improve for urban dwellers and addicts because contact centers are overloaded. “There are 12-14,000 problematic drug users in Prague, these are people who inject intravenously. That number is qualified, because of course they don’t report to us, and it’s clear that it’s a high number even for 3 contact centers,” Kristýna Kinkalová, head of Progressive’s contact center, reports for Blesk Zprávy.
The centers in Prague 5, i.e. Progressive and SANANIM, can already handle around a hundred clients a day. “For a long time, we have been talking about the fact that we are far beyond our capacity and every now and then we have to take some measures in order to function. Here it is necessary to realize that the demand of our clients is very important from the point of view of public health. Whether it’s testing for infectious diseases, exchanging injection materials, and motivational, pre-treatment and other interventions,” David Pešek, head of SANANIM, comments on the situation around the contact centers.
If one of the centers were to close, some of the clientele would probably try to get to the remaining two centers. This would result in even greater congestion – regardless of the fact that some clients could be completely left without help.
“I certainly don’t want to discount what people are complaining about. There are days when it’s really challenging here. Whether it’s the crowds of people you have to walk through because the clients occupy the entire sidewalk, or it’s the shouting, their visible nervousness, but also the application itself nearby in the park,” adds Kinkalová, adding that she understands the complaints, but that the closing of their center will only cause some of the clients to move or stay in the locality and have even less chance of getting professional and medical help.
He also adds that the center’s employees often went out into the streets and encouraged their clients to behave decently, not to use the drug in public, and to resolve possible fights.
“Unfortunate solution,” says the councilor
The mayor is also aware of the overload. This raises the question of why one of them is closing when it is not clear whether Progressive will find replacement premises. “I will tell you one thing about that, it must not happen. It would be a failure of the capital city of Prague and the municipality,” he states.
Prague has already prepared a strategic plan that has ambitious goals. Among other things, it is to create a network of six more contact centers so that clients have somewhere to turn and so that they do not end up in one place. “Thanks to expert analysis, we also know in which city districts the centers are to operate – they are Municipalities P1, P2, P4, P5, P7, P8, P9, P10 and P11,” Prague councilor Milena Johnová informs us about the details.
“There are two centers in Prague 5 for historical reasons, and it makes sense for one of them to be elsewhere. However, it is necessary to proceed with the transfer of capacity in a coordinated manner and in cooperation with other city districts, where this service is not yet available, although it should be.” he adds that he considers the mayor’s decision to be unfortunate. He explains that as long as there are no spare spaces, or places that have already been precisely selected, aid is simply not coordinated.
“Uncoordinated closure of the contact center is a big risk, according to experts. It will definitely bring an end to services that help people at risk of addiction not only to reduce the negative effects of illegal drug use, but also to start the path of treatment and return to normal functioning in society. For the public, this means a reduction in the protection of public health against infectious diseases,” says the councilwoman, who met with representatives of the city districts on August 19, where they clarified how the contract for Progressive was terminated and where they agreed that the selection of suitable premises would begin .
However, Zajíčková defends herself by saying that the residents of Prague 5 deserve their peace and notes that she has been trying to coordinate for several years. “I called a meeting at the municipality, I wrote letters, I participated in control committees where it was discussed and I also met with the coordinator Jindřich Vobořil. I communicated the needs of the people and that it is simply not sustainable in the long term, so I am asking for help,” he defends himself during an interview for Blesk Správy. According to her and the letters she showed us, however, there wasn’t much interest in the topic.
He does not even see the transfer of responsibility in the move to close the center. “We still have one contact center here and we still have an office with substitution treatment here,” supplies. “As I have already said, it is simply the responsibility of the capital city of Prague, and if this does not happen, the situation can really get worse and public health can be threatened,” she said, adding that the capital city should simply act with construction of new contact centers.
Worst neighbor, kick them to the curb
However, according to John, this is not so simple, because some city districts block the effort to have help for addicts in their locality at all. “To solve serious problems, we need cooperation, not populist and dangerous pre-election gestures,” he notes.
After all, the contact center does not look pleasant and can be considered as the worst neighbor for residents. According to Master Pešek from SANANIM, it is also impossible to build so many new centers in two and a half years. “It is completely unrealistic, pure fiction. The need is there, but not a single facility has been opened over the years that this has been addressed. The idea of opening six of them in two years is impossible. Even from the point of view of the inability to agree between the city districts. These are political decisions, just like the closing of Progressive,” explains. Kinkalová is a bit more optimistic in this respect and believes that it could be done and that it might even be possible to fill the centers with suitable personnel.
Another snag, according to Pešek, is the vision that the centers would be cut off from residential zones and residential districts. He sees behind this only further stigmatization of addicted persons, while addiction is classified as a disease. “When psychiatric hospitals were founded, they were outside the city so that people would not have to look at the mentally ill. That was in the nineteenth century and now we have perhaps moved on,” he declared.
Zajíčková: I want to help addicts, I’m thinking about a “beater”
According to the councilor and the experts consulted, Zajíčková is acting in an uncoordinated manner and they are also dragging out the upcoming municipal elections. According to the mayor, it only happened by chance and she reminds that she has been dealing with the issue for several years. It emphasizes that its task is also to solve the problems of its citizens, etche also shows that he really wants to help addicts, as well as the citizens of the “five”. And although closing the center seems like the opposite way, the mayor brings out her other vision – the establishment of “whipping shops”.
“We need to get drugs off the streets so we don’t have to be exposed to, for example, seeing a person sitting on a bench injecting something into either their thigh or their hand. Application rooms are the way to go, and it’s tried and tested from abroad.” says Lightning News.
We are talking about rooms, spaces or tents where addicts can inject the drug in peace, with the necessary material. Zajíčková has the idea of getting the amendment to the law regulating the establishment of “whipping factories” to the House of Representatives, where she serves as a member of parliament. “There may be voices out there who will say they are against application rooms, but I believe there will be MPs out there who will support it, and I know there are such MPs out there,” states.
Kinkalová also acknowledges the application rooms. According to her, it could get clients off the streets and also to safety. It would probably also strengthen further prevention. “It doesn’t mean that everyone will go there, but a large part will, which is proven by experiences from abroad,” supplies.
“Application rooms are a well-known and functional intervention that has been common in many Western countries for decades, it is nothing new,” adds the head of SANANIM. “Unfortunately, their establishment in the Czech Republic is hampered by the approach of politicians who make decisions based on impressions, and not on the basis of scientific evidence. This type of specialized equipment is the way to ensure safety and dignity for people who use addictive substances, but also how to ensure safety and dignity in public space. The establishment of such an institution brings practically nothing but benefits. And that is the message that should be conveyed to the public. Not her cheap negative media coverage,“he adds.
Finally, we will explain what the benefit of contact centers actually consists of. As already mentioned, addicts come here to exchange needles, to be provided with additional clean material, condoms, masks, and other hygiene aids. The centers usually also offer space for basic hygiene and psychological help. Local therapists try to get to the heart of each client’s problem, listen to their stories and try to help them navigate their addiction.
“We respect the path they’ve taken, even if it’s just that they’re using drugs. We’re helping them not to ruin their lives even more, and we’re keeping communities from spreading infectious diseases.” concludes Kinkalová, noting that the benefit for the neighborhood is also the fact that, among other things, state money is saved. After all, a clean needle is cheaper than, for example, treating jaundice.