The mobile safer consumption van has created important bonds of trust – Pedro’s story

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My name is Pedro Alves. I am 23 years old. I was born in Amadora, in the suburbs of Lisbon. I’ve lived with my parents in Brandoa up until I was 12 years old, when they both passed away. I was then taken care of by my uncles, but because I started to use cannabis and skipping school a lot, I was then put into foster care, in a correction house for young people. I stayed at that correction house up until I was 16. Back then, I was frequently tested for drugs, and one of those times I tested positive for drug use. I was then referred to a children protection service that was focused on young people and their rights. This was the first instance in which services should have done something in regards to my drug use. But, in reality, the only action they took to direct me to a drug support service. Through that service, I was only supported to finish one of my cycle of studies, having completed my sixth year. There was no follow-up concerning my drug use, and there was no actual action in regards to harm reduction or any help in managing my use. They made me sign some sort of agreement stating I wouldn’t use drugs or misbehave in school, but there was no actual support in this direction.

When it was time to leave the foster house, I felt that I would either leave like a grown-up, or things would get much worse. So I ran away from the foster house, and I feel like the latter happened, since I immediately started injecting drugs, using mostly speedball, which is heroin and cocaine together. I then moved to the south of the country, to Algarve, with a partner. But things didn’t go well, and my drug use went up by a lot. Once more, I didn’t manage to get any help, since I couldn’t find any services by myself. So when I hit 18, I decided to try and move to Lisbon, to change my life and try to stabilise myself as much as possible. But it took me two years to find any help for my consumption and housing situation. Until then, I used to help parking cars and beg next to a supermarket in downtown Lisbon, in order to make enough money for my fixes and my daily life.

The first help I’ve managed to get was a temporary housing response, in an emergency centre created after the Covid pandemic hit Portugal, in Casal Vistoso. It was there that I first had access to injection kits. I also met the mobile drug consumption room (MDCR) – which runs a van where people can come and use drugs in a safer environment, since they used to stop in front of the shelter. It was through this program that I’ve managed to create a personal relationship with the team, developing a bond of trust and friendship that really helped me get through the hardest days. No matter what kind of service I needed or what kind of personal situation I was going through, this team was always there for me.

The MDCR team, after being with me since October 2020, has put me in touch with other health services, after detecting an Hepatitis C virus infection through rapid testing in the van. I know that I got this infection by sharing equipment with a friend who had the same infection. The MDCR team has been coming with me to my hospital appointments since then, and at the moment I am waiting for my treatment to start.

Right now, I’m staying at a more permanent shelter and I’m not doing heroin or crack. I’m waiting to get an entry at a therapeutic community by Equipa de Tratamento de Xabregas, where I’ve had my first appointment already. I wish I can find myself at the community, and fight my inner demons in order to focus on my future.


Photo: Pedro

Pedro’s story was originally compiled by GAT (Grupo de Ativistas en Tratamentos). His story has been edited for clarity.