Following a good result in coordination of the campaigns since 2017, the International Drug Policy Consortium and The Drug Policy Network South East Europe agreed on continuing cooperation on organising the campaign in 2022.
The 10th Global Day of Action was a resounding success and brought into sharp relief our movement’s commitment to bring about positive change with people at the centre! For a decade, campaigners in all corners of the world have mobilised decisively to counter the harmful ‘war on drugs’ and the many systems of violence and neglect at its heart, and to build sustainable alternatives based on harm reduction and decriminalisation.
Through hundreds of creative, collaborative and impactful activities, campaigners have put harm reduction, decriminalisation and community engagement firmly on local, regional and national agendas. All while growing people power to ensure no one is left behind.
The Support. Don’t Punish 2022 campaign was held in all countries of South East Europe. It had
The Support. Don’t Punish activities were organised by, or in collaboration with, people who use drugs, people living with HIV, women, LGBTQ+ people, sex workers, young people, families of incarcerated people, and a long etcetera.
The DPNSEE staff collected and published articles alongside with photos of the involved organisations in the Network during the campaign on Internet page www.dpnsee.org and social media Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Support. Don’t Punish is a global grassroots-centred initiative in support of harm reduction and drug policies that prioritise public health and human rights. The campaign seeks to put harm reduction on the political agenda by strengthening the mobilisation capacity of affected communities and their allies, opening dialogue with policy makers, and raising awareness among the media and the public.
The Drug Policy Network South East Europe coordinates activities of the campaign in South East Europe around the Global Day of Action 26 June – which is also the United Nations’ International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
In 2022, we shall participate in activities of the #DrugDecrim month to contribute to fighting stigmatisation and criminalisation of people that use drugs.
The campaign 2022 shall have in South East Europe:
Our member organisation Duga launched a new program on the HIV/AIDS-a and sexually transmitted diseases prevention.
Checkpoint Belgrade is a safe space within which, in one place, is possible to receive confidentially and anonymously provided services in the field of prevention, HIV testing and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as psycho-social support. All services are provided free of charge, without referral and personal documents needed.
The checkpoint is run by experienced, certified community counselors, in a team with a network of expert associates in the field of medicine and social protection. All members of the team are especially sensitive to work with MSM and LGBTIQ + people as well as members of other groups who face stigma and discrimination in society. The testing process is fast and painless. Blood is drawn from the finger. The results are ready in 15 minutes. Confidential counseling before and after testing is included in the testing process.
Checkpoint Belgrade provides the following free services:
Voluntary, confidential counseling and testing (DPST) for HIV, hepatitis C and syphilis
Networking and monitoring in other institutions and partner organizations
On 26 May, our member organisation Re Generacija organized the Closing Event of the project “LEt’s Talk about drugs – new MEthods of communication with youth” (LET ME) at the Palace of Serbia, in Belgrade.
The event was attended by representatives of the Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, representatives of ministries, civil society organizations, young people directly affected by drug education and policies and high school teachers.
The aim of the project was to support youth workers, educators (peer educators), street workers, harm reduction specialists working directly with youth who can potentially start using drugs or already use them with the innovative approaches and methods on drug education. The main target group of the project were youth workers, youth educators, peer educators and outreach workers who will be able to influence the young people who use drugs, directly within the outputs of the project.
According to the data of the research in which 124 young people participated in Serbia, they most often have a lecture on drugs at school (85.8%) in the form of a one-time formal lecture (83%), which was mostly focused on the effects and risks of use (89.36%) as well as drug treatment (43.62%). As many as 78% of the respondents who participated in this research believe that drug education should be conducted by specialised drug counselors, psychologists, youth workers, peer consultants and health experts. Respondents assessed the acquired formal education on drugs as unsatisfactory. They stated that they mostly turn to the Internet, friends and the media in search of information.
During the final event, the activities and results of the project, research results, as well as the Manual on “How to communicate with young people about drugs” were presented. The guide is divided into three modules, and is a comprehensive resource for all who work with young people. The first module is dedicated to basic concepts and policies towards drugs, harm reduction and prevention; while the second contains information on peer work, theoretical frameworks but also program planning as well as skills that educators need to develop. The third module is fully dedicated to the ways in which young people could be informed about the risks of drug use through the production of short and interesting video content and offered the necessary information in an easier and more understandable way.
The manuals in English and in the languages of the partner organizations can be found on the project website.
In addition to these project results, the film “Teach Me“, made during the project, was presented. Young people participated in preparing the film.
The Association of HIV-positive people of Greece Positive Voice, DPNSEE member organisation, warmly welcomes the opening of the Supervised Use Area (XEX) “STEKI 46” by The Organisation Against Drugs OKANA. After more than ten years from the epidemic of HIV in people who use substances in the center of Athens and after the cessation of the operation of “Odysseus” – the first site that operated as a pilot for some time (2013) on the initiative of the then President of OKANA, Professor of Psychiatry Mr. Mallioris – finally a permanent claim of the Civil Society professionals in the field, but also of the involved community that has been affected by the absence of such structures.
In a meeting held on 18 April 2020, in the presence of the Prime Minister Mr. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the President of OKANA Athanasios Theocharis and the representative of the Positive Voice, responsible for Harm Reduction issues, Marios Atzemis, presented a number of urgent issues.
Positive Voice hopes that the site can provide both smooth operation of the space and full utilization of the multidimensional to the population of the most vulnerable people who use substances.
According to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the safe consumption areas provide a safe framework for the use of substances in hygienic conditions under the supervision and the possibility of immediate intervention by qualified personnel. They are harm reduction services, the usefulness and effectiveness of which have been proven many times over.
XEXs function essentially as prevention sites for opiate overdose and as centers for preventing the transmission of blood-borne infections, such as HIV and hepatitis. They are also often a gateway for a multi-excluded, heavily stigmatized and marginalized population to various services that would not otherwise be accessible to them.
From Positive Voice’s experience in the field, any structure, strategy and practice of harm reduction not only saves lives, but can be the bridge to reintegration and facilitate access to any form of treatment.
“In order for all this to happen, one must first stay alive. Every year in Greece we mourn deaths that could have been prevented by simple means. “Every death from overdose is a manifestation of the failure of the drug policies in our country so far.”
This was pointed out, among others, by the person in charge of harm reduction of Positive Voice, Marios Atzemis, in a joint speech with the President of OKANA, Mr. Athanasios Theocharis, within the 2nd European Symposium of Controlled Uses (2nd European Symposium of Drug Consumption Rooms) organized by the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe and took place at the latter’s premises in Strasbourg on 1 July last year.
There is still much to be done to improve the conditions under which substances are used in the center of Athens. This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, always centered on the common and unified strategy followed by the European Union on Drugs and the Joint European Action Plan. If the guidelines of the Commission and the Council of Europe are consistently followed, Greece can see significant improvements in the conditions of use and quality of life of people who use substances, as they have shown examples of cities such as Lisbon, Rome and Amsterdam where the European directives were implemented.
“Drug policies are not judged by intentions but by the result and the existence of such places brings tangible, measurable results“, concludes Marios Atzemis.
Based on the requests we made to the National Committee for Drugs, the requests that arise from the field and the developments in it, but also based on the constant and timeless requests, the Positive Voice claims:
Immediate adoption of the new National Action Plan on Drugs by the diligent inter-ministerial committee of Surveillance Areas in each area where there is a concentration of people who use high risk
Approach of the competing populations where they are, by strengthening the services in the field (state, Civil Society) but also further strengthening each front line service, such as e.g. the distribution of sterile utility equipment
Extending the legal framework for naloxone – an antidote to opioid overdose – to pass into the hands of civil society organizations and the community directly involved, its users and relatives, a practice which in foreign countries has prevented countless unjust deaths
Evaluation of all services aimed at people who use psychoactive substances by themselves
Involvement of the community directly affected in the design and implementation of policies and services that directly affect the lives of its members
Inclusion of the special needs of the populations involved (gender issues, LGBTQI + inclusion, interpretation and intercultural approach to design, services of detoxification structures)
Ensuring the human rights of those who use it
Strengthening and staffing of the Special Infections Units and establishing their cooperation with the substitution units but also with those of the “dry” programs
Complete, appropriate and free primary and secondary mental health services
Creating harm reduction services for people who use substances found in penitentiary establishments
Training of security forces and health professionals
Combating homelessness and precarious housing with the immediate reopening of state-owned housing and the further creation of new accommodation and housing structures for people using in Athens and Thessaloniki
Identify and combat the factors that contribute to the further stigmatization, marginalization and social exclusion of people who use “problematic” substances
Drug use is a manifestation of the complexity of human behavior and existence, and addiction – according to modern views – is often the result of a complex and divisive trauma.
The full information note on the visit of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the Supervised Use Area “STEKI 46” of OKANA is available (in Greek) following this link>>>.
Our member organisation HOPS – Options for Healthy Life Skopje, in the period from the 13th to the 15th April 2022, realized three one-day trainings in three different cities: Strumica, Bitola and Skopje on the topic: “Treatment of women victims of gender-based violence who use drugs“, intended for professionals working with victims of gender-based violence.
On April 13, the training was held in the Therapeutic Community “Pokrov” – Strumica, which was attended by a total of 13 representatives: 8 representatives from the Centers for Social Work in Sveti Nikole, Strumica, Kočani and Štip and 5 representatives from other non-governmental organizations: Educational – humanitarian organization “EHO” – Štip, Youth Club of the Red Cross Strumica, Women’s Action Radoviš, Sky Plus Strumica and the therapeutic community Pokrov Strumica.
On April 14, the training was held at the hotel “Millennium Palace” Bitola, which was attended by a total of 12 representatives, of which: 3 representatives from the Centers for Social Work in Prilep and Resen, 2 representatives from PHI Health Center Bitola and PHI General Hospital Prilep, 1 representative from PHI Psychomedica Bitola and 6 representatives from non-governmental organizations: Center for Human Rights AMOS – Bitola, Via Vita – Bitola, Station 5 – Prilep and Association for Social Action, Prevention Education EASP Prilep.
On April 15, the training was held in the hotel “City Park” Skopje, which was attended by a total of 13 representatives, as follows: 4 representatives from the Centers for Social Work in Skopje, Veles and Tetovo, 2 representatives from PHI General Hospital Kumanovo and 7 representatives by non-governmental organizations: Macedonian Young Lawyers Association, Association for Health Education and Research HERA Skopje, Civic Initiative for Women Sveti Nikole, National Network against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence and the Red Cross of the Republic of Northern Macedonia.
The trainings were led by prof. Dr. Liljana Ignjatova from the Medical Faculty Skopje, Department of Psychiatry and Hajdi Sterjova Simonovic – Executive Director of the Association HOPS. The purpose of these trainings is to sensitize the professionals who work with women who use drugs in cases when they are victims of gender-based violence.
The participants evaluated all three trainings extremely positively, both from the aspect of high quality and level of theoretical and practical knowledge of the trainers, as well as from the aspect of interaction established between the participants and the trainers and the possibility for exchange of information and experiences.
The experience from the held trainings showed us that there is a huge interest in this topic and the need to conduct such trainings in the future.
The trainings are organized by the Association HOPS, supported by the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA), as part of the project “Access to comprehensive care for women who use drugs in cases of violence” funded by COVID-19 Response Mechanism (C19RM) of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as part of the regional project “Sustainability of services for key populations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia region” (#SoS_project) implemented by the Alliance for Public Health.
The Association HOPS – Options for Healthy Life Skopje announced that yesterday, on World Health Day, and in just a day before today’s International Roma Day, after 15 years of existence, they had to close the daily harm reduction center Šuto Orizari – a Skopje suburban municipality with a Muslim Romani people majority.
They point out that the reason for closing the day center is the reduction of funds for HIV prevention programs from the national budget.
“This center opened in 2007, with funds from the Global Fund, and from then until yesterday was the only place where Roma who use drugs and their families had easy access to all services that provide HIV prevention, but also harm reduction from drug use. In this center our customers received basic (and often unique) medical care, received information and support for their social and legal problems, could wash their clothes, warm themselves in winter, eat when they are hungry, drink coffee or tea in a friendly, non-stigmatizing and non-discriminatory atmosphere,” said HOPS.
During the coronavirus pandemic, HOPS managed harm reduction centre was one only contact with the system drug users and their families in Šuto Orizari had.
“When they were isolated and had no therapy, when they had health problems, when they survived all forms of violence, including gender-based violence, when they were given criminal warrants for violating curfew because they went out to find food, goods or therapy – they only received help from our team,” states HOPS. In addition, they say that access to health services, which has already been difficult for these people, has multiplied during the pandemic.
The association says that although in 2017 with the transition of funding from the Global Fund of the Government they merged two other centers, just to keep the center in Šuto Orizari. Now, as they say, they have been put in a position to close the busiest and most visited center in Kisela Voda or to close the “much needed” center in Šuto Orizari.
“From today, the lives of people who use drugs in Šuto Orizari and the surrounding area will not be the same, but HOPS will do its best within its financial means to continue its activities for prevention of HIV and other infectious diseases.” said HOPS.
At the same time, they announced that three times a week, their field team consisting of a social worker and a field worker will visit the users in their homes, dwellings or temporary residences, and that twice a week a medical person will visit them with their vehicle.
Our member organisation Coalition “Margini” from North Macedonia published a very useful guide for guide for drug users in situations when they are contacted by police.
What if I get caught with drugs? Can the police call me for an interview and do I have to show up? How can I exercise my right to a lawyer? – These are just some of the questions that can be answered in this handbook, primarily intended for drug users when contacting the police.
The Drug Policy Network South East Europe held its regular annual General Assembly on 29 March 2022. The Assembly was again held online.
The Assembly performed regular annual duties: discussed and adopted the narrative and financial reports for 2021. The report states that 2021 was a challenging year, but that DPNSEE and our member organisations managed to operate in a solid way, although the space for our work is more and more shrinking.
DPNSEE have managed last year to reach the new horizons. We have been welcomed to the EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs. Our representatives spoke on important events, our colleagues elected to other important positions. We joined Correlation, EHRA and other organisations and networks in joint advocacy to fight harm reduction crisis in our region and preparing project proposal for project submitted to the EU for Health programe.
Most of our work in 2021 was dedicated to young people. We implemented the “No risk, no borders for young people” project with our 5 member organisations. We already have a large group of engaged young people, many of whom takes important roles in their organisations and internationally. We hope that they bring a new spirit and engage their peers.
Unfortunately, the Assembly acknowledged that Centre for Life from Greece stopped operating so we had to take them off the list of our member organisations. On the other side, the Assembly recognised the LINK – Montenegrin Harm Reduction Network as the ordinary member organisation. The Assembly also changed the status of organisation PROI from Bosnia Herzegovina from ordinary to associate.
Members of the new Board are
• Nebojša Đurasović, President, President of Prevent, Serbia
• Nicoleta Dascălu, Vice-President, Advocacy manager, ARAS, Romania
• Marios Atzemis, Harm reduction worker, Positive Voice, Greece and Consultant at European AIDS Treatment Group and Steering Committee member of AIDS Action Europe
• Besnik Hohxa, Clinical psychologist, Aksion Plus, Albania
• Berina Bahić, Project coordinator and head of regional office Tuzla, Margina, Bosnia Herzegovina
• Marija Mijović, Deputy Coordinator of the Direct Assistance Program, Juventas, Montenegro
• Zharin Simrin, User Activist, Coordinator and Assistant for Needle Exchange, HOPS, North Macedonia
We are assured that the combinations of experience and youth, men and women, people from communities and those supporting them and geographic spread around the region we have now in the Board will be efficient and effective in the challenging period ahead.
In the second session, the Assembly completed the strategy review process with the support of our consultant Nenad Čelarević. The new Board will consolidate the results of the process and propose Action plan to implement the strategy.