Innovation and resilience in times of crisis

From the IDPC website

In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) characterised COVID-19 as a pandemic, prompting governments around the globe to declare a state of emergency and/or implement a wide variety of policies and programmes in order to curb outbreaks, minimise mortality rates, and maintain public safety and order. These include, but are not limited to, different forms of travel and/or movement restrictions (such as lockdowns and quarantine), closure of premises deemed non-essential, and restrictions on gatherings and/or events. Such measures have caused significant changes in public life, public services, governance, democracy and policymaking processes around the world – as well as having serious short- and long-term economic implications.

One additional impact of these measures is the disruption of various channels and dynamics of advocacy conducted by civil society organisations. Prior to the global pandemic, civil society organisations were already facing increasing constraints and shrinking space for advocacy. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly accelerated this downward trend of intensifying repression, in some cases combined with various forms of disinformation, abuse of power and violence. Meanwhile, some civil society actors have been pushed to adapt their ways of working while remaining resilient as they face impacts such as increased workload and/or pressure (amid having less in-person interactions, working from home, and growing demand for services), uncertainty around financial and organisational sustainability, and health concerns, among others.

Aiming to better understand and support the network to respond to these emerging challenges, especially with regard to advocacy for drug policy reform centred on human rights and public health, the IDPC Secretariat initiated a process of documenting and analysing the experiences of civil society and governmental actors working in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The result of this process is report “Innovation and resilience in times of crisis – Civil society advocacy for drug policy reform under the COVID-19 pandemic” available following this link>>>.

 

Portugal’s Approach to Drug Policy – what works and what does not?

From Movendi’s website

The Swedish Drug Policy Centre (NPC) has published a new report Decriminalisation of Drugs: What can we learn from Portugal?, written by Pierre Andersson, about Portugal’s approach to drug policy and the lessons that can be learned from the country’s decriminalization of drugs.

In drug policy debates reference is often made to Portugal as an example of a country with a successful approach to drug policy. Often, the country’s good results in reducing the drug problem are attributed to the decriminalisation policy instituted in 2001. But knowledge and understanding of the exact policy and its results is not always accurate and well-informed. Therefore, Pierre Andersson has conducted a series of interviews on the ground in Lisbon and studied the reports on Portugal’s drugs policy published in scientific journals in recent years.

The report makes it clear that Portugal’s reforms in 2001 were more far-reaching than the abolition of penalties for using and possessing small quantities of drugs. Above all, they included major efforts to improve services for rapid and effective treatment, and good coordination between various healthcare interventions. This is likely to have contributed to the development that fewer people developed drug dependency, and, as a result, to a reduction in the number of drug-related deaths.

But, the report also shows that the drug-related death rate fell after the reform, when major efforts were made to expand healthcare, only to then increase again to almost the same level as before decriminalisation.

The Swedish drug policy debate often compares the figures for drug-related deaths between Portugal and Sweden. As the new report shows, these comparisons are flawed because the measurement methods differ from between countries. For example, over 75% of all deaths in Sweden that screened positive for drugs are ultimately classified as “drug-related” according to the definition by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

But the corresponding figure in Portugal is below 5%. The report also shows that Sweden undertakes twice as many post-mortem examinations and three times as many forensic analyses as Portugal. Comparisons between the figures make little sense when the methods differ as much as they do.

Concerning drug consumption trends in Portugal, the new report shows that cannabis use has increased among schoolchildren and is now at a higher level than that of the corresponding age group in Sweden.

Countries still have a lot to learn from Portugal’s drug policy, especially with regard to the short waiting time for treatment and the coordination between the various healthcare services. For example, Portugal’s Commissions for the Dissuasion of Drug Abuse (CDT), which people charged with possession or use have to appear before, is quick to make referrals to addiction specialists. The quick and effective response and follow-up increase in all likelihood people’s chances of overcoming – or avoiding – drug use disorders and addiction.

The report also highlights the risk of overlooking some really good lessons from both Portugal and other countries, overshadowed by the framing that decriminalisation in itself is the solution to all drug problems.

The purpose of the report is therefore to contribute to a focused and informed drug policy debate taking into view the initiatives that hold substantial potential to reduce and prevent harm, provide adequate services to all who need it and help prevent drug use and harm among children and youth.

The analysis of Portugal’s drug policy is complemented with a broader overview of ten more European countries which have decriminalised drugs. You can read the additional report “Decriminalization in Europehere>>>.

Comparison of the developments following decriminalisation in these eleven European countries shows that drug-related deaths increased in some countries and decreased in others. It therefore does not seem to be decriminalisation in itself that is the decisive factor in the developments.

To read the report, please follow this link>>>.

 

Drug Decriminalisation: Progress or Political Red Herring?

From the INPUD website

Over the past decade there have been increasing claims that the world is moving towards a critical turning point in international drug policy, based on a growing recognition that governments must consider alternative approaches to drug policy which include decriminalisation. While this shift has been hailed as a sign of progress by many, INPUD believes there are still important and overlooked questions regarding the extent to which the needs and rights of people who use drugs are being prioritised in countries that have decriminalised drug use. In 2018, INPUD published a ground-breaking analysis of the Portuguese decriminalisation model – Is Decriminalisation Enough? Drug User Community Voices from Portugal – which for the first time assessed the impact of decriminalisation of Portugal from the perspectives of people who use drugs. The report noted how “interactions with the state and the police, and issues of violence, social exclusion, stigmatisation, and discrimination, are often entirely omitted from discussion and analysis of decriminalisation”.

INPUD is excited to present Drug Decriminalisation: Progress or Political Red Herring? This report, like our previous report on Portugal, is intended to open up the debate on decriminalisation and make clear the expectations people who use drugs have for future action on drug policy reform. Most importantly, it includes a call for full decriminalisation without sanctions as the new baseline for measuring progress on decriminalisation in the future.

Decriminalisation is often discussed as if there is only one model, leading to a view that decriminalisation anywhere equals progress. However, there are many different models of decriminalisation in operation, all with different impacts. This report was published because we believe current reforms have not gone far enough. This situation means that in the overwhelming majority of countries, people who use drugs continue to be criminalised, punished, and stigmatised despite decriminalisation. Furthermore, no existing reviews of decriminalisation models have specifically included the perspective of people who use drugs in their analysis, a glaring oversight which reflects the historical exclusion of the voices of people who use drugs within policy discussions.

INPUD believes it is time to disrupt the misconception that decriminalisation efforts unquestionably represent progress when they have been developed with little or no consultation with people who use drugs. This report amplifies the voices of people who use drugs through a series of interviews conducted with members of the community and their representatives in countries that have implemented various approaches to decriminalisation. Our hope is that this report can support peer-led advocacy efforts towards more inclusive, progressive, participatory and transparent drug policies which fully recognise the human dignity of all people who use drugs.

To read the report, please follow this link>>>.

 

Jamie Bridge re-elected as the VNGOC Chairperson

Jamie Bridge from the IDPC was re-elected as the Chairperson of the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs (VNGOC) through the electronic voting held 12 – 13 April 2021. Jamie has been on the VNGOC Board since March 2017, and the Chair since March 2018.

Out of 174 members in good standing 150 registered to vote and in the end 147 voters cast their ballots electronically. Jamie won 88 votes.

In his candidature, Jamie said that:

I started my career working in further education and drugs services in the UK, having graduated in psychology in 2002. I went on to gain a Masters in drug policy, and have also worked with Harm Reduction International (HRI) and the Global Fund in Geneva, before returning to the UK to join the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC). In addition to my roles at VNGOC, I have previously served on the Boards of Harm Reduction International and the UK National Needle Exchange Forum (NNEF). Throughout my career, I have gained invaluable experience at the UN level as well as in networking and diplomacy.

Despite the breadth of views that are represented within the VNGOC membership, we have worked hard to emphasise our commonalities and work together. The Board has demonstrated its commitment to balance and transparency, and I would like to thank all VNGOC members for their support and engagement over the past few years. I hope that I can continue to deliver all of these things as your Chair for the next two years as well.

Congratulations to our colleague Jamie!

 

CND 64 started today

H.E. Ambassador Dominika Krois from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Poland to the UNODC opened the 64th Meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) today in Vienna. In the next five days, the CND will consider and adopt a range of decisions and resolutions in a hybrid format (online/offline).

At the Opening of the General Debate, the CND64 adopted joint statement on the impact of COVID-19 on addressing and countering all aspects of the world drug problem.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres underlined that “COVID-19 crisis has shown us how much the world needs solidarity, shared responsibility and international cooperation to improve health coverage, protect our societies and recover better”.

The Vienna NGO Committee (VNGOC) has drafted a Guide for NGOs participating in the CND, available here>>>. VNGOC has also compiled a list of recommendations aimed at protecting the role of civil society engagement in the CND, available here>>>.

To follow the session, you can use the CND Blog>>> which provides near real-time updates on the plenary session, Committee of the Whole and selected side events. The CND Blog is a project of the International Drug Policy Consortium, in collaboration with NGO partners, which aims to ensure transparency and provide live records of the discussions taking place at the meeting. The CND Blog also covered UNGASS negotiations and proceedings.

You can also follow the CND webcast at YouTube following this link>>>. There, the formal sessions of the meeting will be streamed.

 

Taking stock of half a decade of drug policy

From the IDPC press release

Today, the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) released a new report Taking stock of half a decade of drug policy – An evaluation of UNGASS implementation revealing the widening chasm between UN commitments on health and human rights, and the devastation brought about by punitive drug policies on the ground.

As the annual meeting of the UN CND opens with a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the legal foundation of the international drug control regime, IDPC’s report shows that there is little cause for celebration. Using wide-ranging data from UN, academic and civil society sources, the report illustrates the horrific human toll of the ‘war on drugs’ over the past five years, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • 585,000 preventable drug use related deaths were recorded in 2017, the highest figure on record.
  • A staggering 2.5 million people worldwide are in prison for a drug offence, of which at least 475,000 are incarcerated for personal drug use only. Hundreds of thousands more are detained against their will in forced ‘treatment’.
  • From ‘stop and search’ and mass incarceration to the death penalty, drug law enforcement disproportionately targets women, racial and ethnic minorities, and other marginalised communities, fuelling poverty and inequality.
  • Globally, only 1 in 8 people living with drug dependence have access to treatment, while the availability of life-saving harm reduction services is severely restricted.
  • Subsistence farmers of crops like cannabis or coca leaf continue to be subject to violent forced eradication campaigns that deprive them and their families of their livelihoods.
  • 5 billion people worldwide live with limited or no access to pain relief and palliative care due to repressive drug laws.

 

April 2021 also marks the 5th anniversary of the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs, where all countries in the world committed to adopt a public health, rights-based, and development-oriented approach to drug policy. By comparing these commitments with evidence from the ground, the new IDPC report reveals a widening gap between rhetoric and reality.

The 60th anniversary of the global drug regime gives us little cause for celebration’ said Ann Fordham, Executive Director at IDPC. ‘In the past five years, some progress has been made, as countries moved to adopt welcome initiatives on the decriminalisation of people who use drugs, and the legal regulation of cannabis. However, in most parts of the world, governments remain wedded to draconian policies that have had a catastrophic impact on communities, and have resoundingly failed in their stated purpose of eradicating drug markets, or reducing illegal drug use.

Marie Nougier, Head of Research and Communications at IDPC, said: ‘With this report, we wanted to give a voice to those most affected by punitive drug policies. What communities tell us through our research is that they continue to face criminalisation, extrajudicial killings, the death penalty, acts of torture and ill-treatment, stigma and discrimination, and are systematically denied access to life-saving health services. We cannot wait for another 60 years to align drug policies with health, human rights and development.

The report is available following this link>>>.

 

EU crime threat assessment

From the Europol webpage

The EU Serious and organised crime threat assessment (SOCTA) 2021 is the outcome of a detailed analysis of the threat of serious and organised crime facing the EU, providing information for practitioners, decision-makers and the wider public. As a threat assessment, the SOCTA is a forward-looking document that assesses shifts in the serious and organised crime landscape.

The SOCTA 2021 sets out current and anticipated developments across the spectrum of serious and organised crime, identifies the key criminal groups and individuals involved in criminal activities across the EU and describes the factors in the wider environment that shape serious and organised crime in the EU.

The SOCTA 2021 provides an overview of the current state of knowledge on criminal networks and their operations based on data provided to Europol by Member States and partners and data collected specifically for the SOCTA 2021. In trying to overcome the established, and limiting, conceptualisation of organised crime groups, this assessment focuses on the roles of criminals within criminal processes and outlines how a better understanding of those roles allows for a more targeted operational approach in the fight against serious and organised crime.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Close to 40% of the criminal networks active in the EU are involved in the trade in illegal drugs.
  • Around 60 % of the criminal networks active in the EU use violence as part of their criminal businesses.
  • The use of corruption and the abuse of legal business structures are key features of serious and organised crime in Europe. Two thirds of criminals use corruption on a regular basis. More than 80 % of the criminal networks use legal business structures.

A whole section of the report is dedicated to The trade in illegal drugs in the EU.

Europol is the EU’s law enforcement agency and it assists the Member States in their fight against serious international crime and terrorism. Established in 2000, Europol is at the heart of the European security architecture and offers a unique range of services. Europol is a support centre for law enforcement operations, a hub for information on criminal activities, and a focal point for law enforcement expertise. Analysis is central to Europol’s activities. To give its partners deeper insights into the crimes they are tackling, Europol produces regular assessments offering comprehensive, forward-looking analyses of crime and terrorism in the EU.

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

 

Open call for project participants

Partners of the project “No Risk, no borders for young people” invite young people aged 18 – 28 from the Western Balkans to send their application for participate in the project.

The project is coordinated by the Drug Policy Network South East Europe (DPNSEE) together with the project partners Aksion Plus (Albania), Margina  (Bosnia Herzegovina), Juventas (Montenegro), Prevent and Re Generation (Serbia) and supported by the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) within its 4th Open Call co-financed by the European Union.

More about the project is available following this link>>>.

Participants profile:

  • 25 activists, youth leader and youth workers, preferably members of civil society organisations
  • Aged 18 to 28
  • Young people from or those working with the youth from groups at increased risk
  • Interested in learning how to cooperate in multicultural settings
  • Able to communicate and write in English
  • Willing to work as multipliers of experience and results through visibility and dissemination activities, before, during the project actitivies, including the reporting phase, and after the project
  • A participants group with an appropriate geographic, gender, national and balance of members from or working with various groups of youth at risk

What we expect from the participants:

  • Complete pre-tasks and participate in the follow-up activities of the project
  • Attend all sessions and activities during the both Workshops
  • Agree and understand that the project partners are responsible and coordinators for this project and will not challenge or create any issues that will influence its flow
  • Bring along personal items as requested by the organisers of the activities (i.e. clothes, shoes, medicins in case of health issues, etc.)
  • Participate in promoting visibility of the project
  • Participate in the production of the deliverables of the project
  • Be active on dissemination of the results as a multiplier of new experiences, info and knowledge
  • Provide all necessary documents (invoices, visa expenses, travel reservations, ID copies, boarding passes, etc)

The structure of the project workshops is highly intensive and demanding, plus requires full attendance and participation. The workshops starts at 9:30 am and will end around 8:00 pm with regular breaks for refreshments, meals and personal needs. Therefore, youths who will attend as participants need to show responsibility commitment during their participation. The topic of the project is related to many indoor activities and less outdoor. Any extra hours for touring around besides the free time as they are mentioned in the timetable are not eligible.

If the protection measures in the countries where the activities are held prohibit gatherings of large groups, the Workshops 1 and 2 will be provided online.

Also, work with youth from groups at increased risk during the project may be challenging, but the project partners will provide support from experienced staff.

If interested, the Open Call is available following this link>>>. Please, share this information as wide as possible around the region.

The application forms is available at the web pages and social media of the project partners. Each project partner is eligible to select up to 5 participants in the project.

 

Entry into force of the EU4Health programme

The new EU for Health program (EU4Health 2021-2027) is the new a vision for a healthier European Union. It is EU’s response to COVID-19, which has had a major impact on medical and healthcare staff, patients and health systems in Europe. EU4Health will make a significant contribution to the post-COVID-19 recovery by making the EU population healthier, supporting the fight against cross-border health threats and boosting the EU’s preparedness and capability to respond effectively to future health crisis, as part of a future strong European Health Union.

By investing €5.1 billion, therefore becoming the largest health programme ever in monetary terms, EU4Health will provide funding to EU countries, health organisations and NGOs

Today’s entry into force of the EU4Health programme follows the Council adoption on 17 March and the vote on the programme by the European Parliament on 9 March.

The EU4Health Programme is an ambitious and dedicated funding programme for 2021-2027 to ensure a high level of human health protection in all Union policies and activities in keeping with the One Health approach. The Programme, proposed by the Commission on 28 May 2020, is the EU’s response to COVID-19, which has had a major impact on medical and healthcare staff, patients and health systems in the EU.  EU4Health is the largest EU health programme ever in monetary terms and will provide funding to EU countries, health organisations and NGOs.

EU4Health aims to:

  • Improve and foster health in the Union;
  • Protect people in the Union from serious cross-border threats to health;
  • Enhance the availability, accessibility and affordability of medicinal products, medical devices and crisis-relevant products;
  • Strengthen health systems, their resilience and resource efficiency.

One of the specific objectives of the program defines that:
in synergy with other relevant Union actions, supporting actions for disease prevention, for health promotion and for addressing health determinants, including through the reduction of damage to health resulting from illicit drug use and addiction, supporting actions to address inequalities in health, to improve health literacy, to improve patient rights, patient safety, quality of care and cross-border healthcare, and supporting actions for the improvement of the surveillance, diagnosis and treatment of communicable and non-communicable diseases, in particular cancer and paediatric cancer, as well as supporting actions to improve mental health, with special attention given to new care models and the challenges of long term care, in order to strengthen the resilience of the health systems in the Union.

Also, actions meeting the objectives include:

Supporting actions to complement measures of Member States in reducing damage to health due to illicit drug use and addiction, including information and prevention.

The first work programme for 2021 will be adopted and rolled out by the Commission following consultation with Member States in the EU4Health Steering Group as set out in the EU4Health Regulation. The programme will be implemented by a new executive agency, the Health and Digital Executive Agency.

The EU for Health program is available in all languages of the EU member countries following this link>>>.

 

New global AIDS strategy

From the UNAIDS press release

The UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) has adopted by consensus a new Global AIDS Strategy 2021–2026 to get every country and every community on track to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. The strategy was adopted by the PCB during a special session, chaired by the Minister of Health of Namibia, held on 24 and 25 March 2021.

The Global AIDS Strategy 2021–2026, End Inequalities, End AIDS, uses an inequalities lens to close the gaps preventing progress to end AIDS and sets out bold new targets and polices to be reached by 2025 to propel new energy and commitment to ending AIDS. The UNAIDS Secretariat and its 11 Cosponsors worked to develop the new strategy, which received inputs from more than 10 000 stakeholders from 160 countries.

The strategy puts people at the centre and aims to unite all countries, communities and partners across and beyond the HIV response to take prioritized action to transform health and life outcomes for people living with and affected by HIV. The three strategic priorities are to:

  1. Maximize equitable and equal access to comprehensive people-centred HIV services;
  2. Break down legal and societal barriers to achieving HIV outcomes; and
  3. Fully resource and sustain HIV responses and integrate them into systems for health, social protection and humanitarian settings.

If the targets and commitments in the strategy are achieved, the number of people who newly acquire HIV will decrease from 1.7 million in 2019 to less than 370 000 by 2025 and the number of people dying from AIDS-related illnesses will decrease from 690 000 in 2019 to less than 250 000 in 2025. The goal of eliminating new HIV infections among children will see the number of new HIV infections drop from 150 000 in 2019 to less than 22 000 in 2025.

HIV prevention for key and priority populations receives unprecedented urgency and focus in the strategy, which calls on countries to utilize the full potential of HIV prevention tools, especially for adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa, sex workers, people who inject drugs, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people and people in prison settings.

The strategy is based on human rights, gender equality and dignity, free from stigma and discrimination for all people living with and affected by HIV, and is the result of extensive analysis of HIV data and an inclusive process of consultation with countries, communities and partners.

Achieving the goals and targets of the new strategy will require annual HIV investments in low- and middle-income countries to rise to a peak of US$ 29 billion by 2025. The total resource needs for lower-income- and lower-middle-income countries is around US$ 13.7 billion. Donor resources are mainly needed for low-income and lower-middle-income countries, while in upper-middle-income countries, which account for 53% of the investments needed, domestic resources are the predominant source of funding.

The priority actions for Eastern Europe and central Asia include:

  1. Urgently expand access to combination HIV prevention, including PrEP and harm reduction. This calls for focused steps to ensure a sound, seamless and sustainable transition of prevention programmes from donor to domestic funding. Gender-responsive harm reduction programmes for people (including adolescents and young people) who use stimulant drugs or other new psychoactive substances must be introduced and scaled up.
  2. Close gaps in the testing and treatment cascade by rolling out the treat-all approach fully, with particular attention to linkages to care and rapid initiation of treatment for all people with new or previous HIV diagnosis. Testing and treatment scale-up for key populations must be prioritized.
  3. Institutionalize community-led services into national health care and HIV prevention systems, ensuring that community-led services account for at least 30% of HIV service delivery.
  4. Remove discriminatory and punitive laws, policies and structural barriers (HIV transmission, exposure, barriers to treatment for migrants, laws criminalizing key populations, including adolescents and young people), strengthen the capacity of the judiciary to promote and protect human rights in the context of HIV, and reduce stigma in medical settings, legislative and educational institutions, and law enforcement practices.
  5. Transform harmful gender norms and reduce gender-based violence, including through the use of digital technologies to improve access to services for all in need.

To read the Strategy, please follow this link>>>.