Human rights challenges in addressing and countering the world drug problem

Source: International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)

In a landmark report Human rights challenges in addressing and countering all aspects of the world drug problem released this month, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) denounced the failure of punitive drug policies and the global ‘WarOnDrugs’, and called for a new approach based on health and human rights, including through the responsible regulation of drugs.

The report outlines human rights challenges in addressing and countering key aspects of the world drug problem. It also offers an overview of recent positive developments to shift towards more human rights-centred drug policies, and provides recommendations on the way forward in view of the upcoming midterm review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration and to contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

To implement the recommendations laid down by the High Commissioner, the civil society, on the IDPC initiative, calls on the international community to reform and rebalance the global drug control regime, and national drug laws and policies. A collective statement, signed by over 100 civil society organisations, including DPNSEE, calls on the international community to act on the UN human rights chief’s groundbreaking call for systemic drug policy reform.

Ann Fordham, Executive Director at International Drug Policy Consortium, analyses in this article key takeaways and significance of the report, noting how its call for transformative change includes an unprecedented recommendation on the responsible regulation of currently-illegal drug markets.

IDPC’s advocacy note highlights the major gains from the 2023 OHCHR report and provides recommendations to Member States and UN entities for its effective implementation.


A webinar on the World Drug Report 2023 for civil society

From the UNODC website

UNDOC’s World Drug Report is a crucial annual publication that provides member states and civil society with up-to-date and comprehensive information on global drug trends, patterns of drug use, and emerging substances. The knowledge equips civil society organizations worldwide with a solid understanding of the current landscape, empowering them to effectively educate their communities, advocate for evidence-based policies, and implement effective interventions, working towards a healthier and safer society.

The UNODC Civil Society Unit (CSU) and the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs (VNGOC) jointly organized a webinar for civil society on 20 July 2023, presenting the key findings of this year’s World Drug Report. The webinar provided a spotlight on the latest global and regional trends. Simultaneous interpretation in English, Russian, Spanish and French allowed participants to discuss the latest data with the authors of the 2023 World Drug Report.

Ms. Chloe Carpentier, Chief of UNODC Drugs Research Section, and Mr. Thomas Pietschmann, Research Officer, provided an overview of the latest developments in the World Drug Report 2023, published on 26 June. They also introduced the new interactive online segment which enables easy access to the available data and allows users to extract graphs and maps as required.

This year’s report emphasizes, among other, that a growing number of people worldwide suffer from drug use disorders, 296 million in 2021. This is often exacerbated by the increasing proliferation of cheap synthetic drugs and illicit drug economies that flourish in situation of conflicts. Partnerships are key to reduce the adverse health and social consequences of drug abuse and civil society has an open role to play, often having better access to key populations on the ground.

During the Webinar, two civil society experts also shared their insights and experiences on some of the issues highlighted in the World Drug Report. Professor John Toumbourou from the Dalgarno Institute in Australia discussed prevention and treatment of drug use disorders. He highlighted the success of abstinence-based programs and policies in reducing school-age alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use. Australia’s approach focused on prevention may serve as a positive example in addressing drug-related issues among youth. Focusing on the Amazon region in South America, Rebeca Marques Rocha, representing Youth RISE, stressed the importance of investing in health and education, and offering employment opportunities for young people and indigenous groups in order to more effectively tackle organized crime, including drug trafficking, in the region.

With more than 350 attendees from over 80 countries engaging in a lively questions and answers section, the webinar reflected the enormous interest in up-to-date, reliable data on drug related matters among civil society organizations.


Further Information:

World Drug Report 2023

NGO Marketplace

Recording of the Webinar


Harm reduction services for people who use drugs recreationally

The Alliance for Public Health organises webinar “Introducing harm reduction services for people who use drugs recreationally in EECA and the Balkans”, with the support from ReGeneration and DPNSEE.

Recreational drug use is on the rise, but at the same time young people who engage in it are not properly targeted by harm reduction services and don’t receive the necessary support, information and commodities they need to prevent them from turning to problematic use and all the relevant consequences.

On this webinar international experience on planning and implementing harm reduction programs specifically for this target population will be shared. Also, the draft guide that on this topic will be presented.

The Agenda includes topics:

  • Introducing the key principles and the justification behind the need to advocate for, develop and offer HR services for people who use recreationally.
  • Promoting Safety, Health, and Well-being: The need for Systematic implementation of Harm Reduction Strategies in Southeastern European Festivals.
  • Ukrainian experience on harm reduction services for people who use drugs recreationally.
  • #SafeParty – good practice example of multi-sectoral approach in nightlife harm reduction and recreation settings.
  • Q&A and Discussion.

This webinar will be useful for program managers, advocates, policy makers and communities from across the region to help them inform their decisions and actions.

The webinar will be held via Zoom platform on Tuesday 25 July, from 11:00 to 12:30 CET. Translations will be available in English, Russian, BHCS and Albanian.

Please register to participate following this link>>>.


The path that ends AIDS

From the UNAIDS press release

A new report released today by UNAIDS shows that there is a clear path that ends AIDS. This path will also help prepare for and tackle future pandemics and advance progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The report, ‘The Path that Ends AIDS’, contains data and case studies which highlight that ending AIDS is a political and financial choice, and that the countries and leaders who are already following the path are achieving extraordinary results.

The report highlights that HIV responses succeed when they are anchored in strong political leadership. This means following the data, science, and evidence; tackling the inequalities holding back progress; enabling communities and civil society organizations in their vital role in the response; and ensuring sufficient and sustainable funding.

Progress has been strongest in the countries and regions that have the most financial investments, such as in eastern and southern Africa where new HIV infections have been reduced by 57% since 2010.

Thanks to support for and investment in ending AIDS among children, 82% of pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV globally were accessing antiretroviral treatment in 2022, up from 46% in 2010. This has led to a 58% reduction in new HIV infections among children from 2010 to 2022, the lowest number since the 1980’s.

Progress in the HIV response has been strengthened by ensuring that legal and policy frameworks do not undermine human rights, but enable and protect them. Several countries removed harmful laws in 2022 and 2023, including five (Antigua and Barbuda, the Cook Islands, Barbados, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Singapore) that have decriminalized same-sex sexual relations.

The number of people on antiretroviral treatment worldwide rose almost fourfold, from 7.7 million in 2010 to 29.8 million in 2022.

However, the report also sets out that ending AIDS will not come automatically. AIDS claimed a life every minute in 2022. Around 9.2 million people still miss out on treatment, including 660 000 children living with HIV.

Women and girls are still disproportionately affected, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, 4,000 young women and girls became infected with HIV every week in 2022. Only 42% of districts with HIV incidence over 0.3% in sub-Saharan Africa are currently covered with dedicated HIV prevention programmes for adolescent girls and young women.

Almost one quarter (23%) of new HIV infections were in Asia and the Pacific where new infections are rising alarmingly in some countries. Steep increases in new infections are continuing in eastern Europe and central Asia (a rise of 49% since 2010) and in the Middle East and North Africa (a rise of 61% since 2010). These trends are due primarily to a lack of HIV prevention services for marginalized and key populations and the barriers posed by punitive laws and social discrimination.

Funding for HIV also declined in 2022 from both international and domestic sources, falling back to the same level as in 2013. Funding amounted to US$ 20.8 billion in 2022, far short of the US$ 29.3 billion needed by 2025.

There is an opportunity now to end AIDS by increasing political will by investing in a sustainable response to HIV through financing what matters most: evidence-based HIV prevention and treatment, health systems integration, non- discriminatory laws, gender equality, and empowered community networks.

In 2022, an estimated:

  • 39,0 million people globally were living with HIV
  • 29,8 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy
  • 1,3 million people became newly infected with HIV
  • 630.000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses

To access the report, follow this link>>>.


Global day FOR action

Statement from our Board member Marios Atzemis

This text is not an “anniversary” piece, nor is it a kind of report. Anniversary approaches do not suit us, nor does the cynicism that accompanies them in some cases, and an account would be too long for this occasion.

Every such day, officially called “against drugs” but those of us who are active in peer-led harm reduction call it “Global Day for Action” and for us it is a daily routine, we are given the opportunity to talk about what is of concern to us and to acknowledge the positive developments and future challenges in the field – not as self-appointed saviors, but as people who have experienced our country’s drug policies and therapeutic (or in some cases anti-therapeutic) approaches under our own skin. We also now have the appropriate peer led education, field experience and an ongoing communication, collaboration and osmosis with major civil society organizations abroad on HIV, harm reduction and drug policies.

Yet, in many cases, we are considered the most unqualified to express an opinion on the thorny field of “addictions”, and there are many times when we are tried to be displaced by people without clinical experience and lived experience or any kind of theoretical background, who think they can speak and decide for us without us. All of the above are manifestations of the multiple and multidimensional stigma that we harbour, and which at the first opportunity are indirectly emphasized by the ‘professional saviours’ to remind us that they know better than we do, and that the field of advocacy and politics is not our domain.

As far as the situation in Greece is concerned, significant breakthroughs have been made in recent years with the development of a multitude of services that have solved problems that we used to face, such as housing and having a safe place to use. We have also reached a high level of cooperation with the people who staff these serorganisation sanisations, which is to the benefit of the affected community.

However, we must point out that when we talk about the field, we are talking about something that is constantly changing, as the disparate communities of people who make up the field are always one or more steps ahead of policies and agencies. Thus, we recognize as phenomena that we are called upon to address: The proliferation of shisha (crystal methamphetamine of poor quality) and the consequent changes it has brought about in the psyche of its problematic users; synthetic opioids (which are being decimating in North America); the chemsex phenomenon; the complete absence of LGBTQ+ inclusion in services aimed at users; and the gap between medicalised harm reduction and that on a peer basis. It also shows in some cases how strong the legacy of punitive degrading ‘tough love’ practices is in some cases, and the lack of up-to-date and evidence-based practices that are not based on outdated and ineffective approaches. We should also note the presence of so many private self-proclaimed rehabilitation centres of dubious efficacy and scientific training that are not audited and that trade on the human suffering and desperation of users and their closest support context.

In conclusion, we recognize the need for our country’s alignment with the European Drug Strategy and the corresponding Action Plan, which propose the active and meaningful participation of civil society and the affected community in the design and implementation of services and policies that directly affect their lives. We will continue our work, as it were, meeting people where they are but without leaving them there…

Marios Atzemis, Harm Reduction Officer of Positive Voice – Greek Association of PLHIV


Quality Assurance for Drug Use Disorder Treatment Systems

The Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Section (PRTS) of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with the support fom the Ministry of Health of Serbia, organised a three-day Training on Quality Assurance for Drug Use Disorder Treatment Systems. The aim of this training was to help stakeholders to review national drug use disorder treatment systems, identify gaps and develop plans that will enable the improvement and further development of the national treatment system.

25 participants came from specialised hospitals for treating addictions of pcychiatric hospitals from around the country, institute for public health, institute for mental health, centres for social work and ministry of health. DPNSEE Executive Director Milutin Milošević and representative from Izlazak represented the civil society organisations.

The program of the training was developed following the International standards for the treatment of drug use disorders, prepared by UNODC and the World Health Organisation. A translated version of the Standards was presented and shared during the training.

Trainers Victor Anthony Capoccia (USA) and Thomas Clausen (Norway) were supported by UNODC staff Christina Gamboa-Riano and Žana Glavendekić, Project Officer, UNODC South-Eastern Europe.

Regulating cannabis in EU: current policies and laws

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published document Cannabis laws in Europe: questions and answers for policymaking which provides an overview of current policies and laws at the EU level and in individual Member States. The speed and scale of cannabis policy change and the potential impact of these policies on public health and safety, has prompted the EMCDDA to publish this report

This publication answers some of the more frequently asked questions raised in discussions about cannabis legislation. While the primary focus is on the use of cannabis for recreational purposes, relevant legislation for other uses, including medical and commercial cannabis-derived products such as cosmetics, wellness products and foods, is included in order to provide the necessary context for various policy initiatives.

While the primary focus of this report is on the use of cannabis for recreational purposes, relevant legislation for other uses is included in order to provide the necessary context for various policy initiatives. Written for a broad audience, the report aims to give brief answers to some of the more frequently asked questions raised in discussions about cannabis legislation. These have been grouped into five parts:

  • Why is defining cannabis important?
  • What are countries’ international obligations to control cannabis?
  • How do EU countries respond to illegal use and supply of cannabis?
  • Is there a trend towards cannabis regulation — and if so why?
  • What laws cover medical and commercial cannabis-derived products?

This document is available at our Resource Centre following this link>>>, or at the EMCDDA website>>>.


HIV epidemic among injecting drug users in Greece

After the early HIV epidemics during the 1980s through the 1990s in Western Europe and North America, combined prevention and care interventions – such as needle and syringe (NSP) and opioid agonist treatment (OAT) programs, HIV testing and linkage to antiretroviral treatment (ART) – were introduced and scaled-up. This approach allowed to control the epidemics among PWID. Disruptions in service delivery due to economic crisis, complacency towards maintaining low HIV incidence in this population or other health threats, such as pandemics, may have a detrimental effect on what has been achieved so far in many countries. The largest of these recent epidemics occurred in Athens, Greece, where HIV prevalence in this population increased from less than 1% in 2010 to 16.5% in 2013.

During 2019–2021, and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a community-based intervention offering testing and linkage to care for HCV and HIV infections to PWID was implemented in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece (ALEXANDROS program). During the intervention implemented in 2019–2021 in Thessaloniki, an increasing number of HIV cases was documented.

The article on the HIV epidemic among injecting drug users in Thessaloniki (second largest city of Greece) has just been published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. The aim of this analysis is to describe this new HIV outbreak among PWID (prevalence, incidence, risk factors for HIV seroconversion) that was documented through this intervention during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research paper “A new outbreak of HIV infection among people who inject drugs during the COVID-19 pandemic in Greece” was published by the International Journal of Drug Policy, Volume 117. It is available following this link>>>.


Zhannat retired!

UNODC Officer Zhannat Kosmukhamedova, Regional Adviser for Eastern Europe&Central Asia on Drugs/HIV, Law Enforcement and HIV FP, retired today after many years of dedicated work!

DPNSEE extends our most sincere appreciation for cooperation and support we got from Zhannat. Thank you and wishing you a retirement filled with happiness.

Zhannat with her UNODC team

EU – Western Balkans Expert Meeting on Drugs

The EU-Western Balkans Expert Meeting on Drugs was held on 25 May 2023 in Brussels, within the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU. The aim of the meeting was to exchange information on the state of drug policies in the Western Balkans, discuss current trends and contemporary challenges in this area, as well as areas that need and can be improved when it comes to cooperation between EU and Western Balkan institutions in this field.

The meeting was attended by representatives of the state authorities responsible for the creation, monitoring and implementation of drug policies in the Western Balkans, as well as representatives of EU member states, and representatives of the Council of the EU, the European Commission, the EMCDDA and EUROPOL.

The representative of the delegation of the Republic of Slovenia, Mr. Jože Hren, in his presentation referred to the importance of civil society organizations and civil sector initiatives in the area of drug policy creation in the Western Balkans region. In his presentation, Mr. Hren highlighted the work of DPNSEE with special reference to the Regional round table: Community-led consultati ve process on the importance of human rights and evidence-based national drug strategies in HIV response.

The Civil Society Forum on Drugs of the European Union (CSFD), an expert group at the European Commission consisting of 45 civil society organizations from all over Europe, representing a variety of fields of drug policy, and a variety of stances within those fields, prepared the document with information, views and recommendations of civil society. Several civil society organizations from the region participated in its preparation. DPNSEE, as a CSFD member organization, coordinated the collection of their contributions.