The third trendspotter study on COVID-19 and drugs

Since early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the way we live, with European countries having to introduce unprecedented measures to protect public health. As with all areas of life, drug consumption, related harms and drug markets have been impacted, as have the services established to respond to drug-related problems. During the first weeks of the pandemic, the EMCDDA instigated two rapid assessment studies to identify the initial impact and implications of COVID-19.

The EMCDDA releases today the third in a series of rapid ‘trendspotter’ studies exploring the impact of COVID-19 on the drug situation and responses to it. Revisiting and reviewing findings from two studies in 2020 on the effects of the pandemic on drug use and services, the report identifies new trends and developments which may have implications for policy and practice.

The report explores the situation in the EU Member States from June 2020 to February 2021, particularly changes in drug markets, patterns of use, harms and drug services, both in the community and in prisons.

The EMCDDA’s trendspotter methodology examines emerging drug-related trends by rapidly collecting and triangulating data from a variety of sources to allow for timely assessments of topics of concern. Specifically, for this COVID-19 impact study, the methodology was adapted to suit online investigation, taking into account the national emergency restrictions on both the EMCDDA team and the study participants. The study was designed to be carried out in successive waves.

The new analysis draws on a range of sources, including: three online surveys, eight virtual facilitated groups, data and literature reviews.

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

 

The Balkans’ response to COVID-19

The #‎SoS_project offers the second in a series of “Response to COVID-19” events. On 27 April 27 2021, from 11:00 to 13:30 (CEST, UTC +2) or 12:00-14:30 (EEST, UTC +3), an online discussion will take place “The Balkans’ response to COVID-19: experience of #SoS_project partners”.

The Agenda includes following items:

  • Maintaining essential HIV services and introducing new ones in Covid-19 time – Andrej Senih, Executive Director Заедно посилни (North Macedonia)
  • Innovation in Covid-19 response – Aida Kurtović , LLB, MA, Executive Director of Partnerstvo za zdravlje / Partnerships in Health (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
  • COVID-19 case detection and vaccination – implementation strategy and challenges – Goran Radisavljević, CEO, Timočki Omladinski Centar (Serbia)
  • Access to HIV prevention, testing and treatment during COVID 19 epidemic – Sanja Šišovic, program director of NGO CAZAS (Montenegro)
  • Results of the study on the impact of COVID-19 on the sustainability of HIV and TB services (accent on Balkan) – Dr. Fifa_Rahman, principal researcher of the Matahari Global Solutions (United Kingdom)

To register for the COVID-19 online discussion follow this link>>>.

 

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>>>.

 

Voices of frontline workers

European harm reduction services needed to be innovative and adapt very rapidly in response to the fast-changing landscape of the pandemic and its associated national control measures. Preliminary research on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on drug services and PWUD has noted decreases in available harm reduction services.

Frontline harm reduction workers play a crucial role in public health response during COVID-19 and are instrumental in implementing these rapid-scale changes required to keep vital services operational.

Their experiences during the pandemic provide critical data to understanding the effect of the pandemic on the vulnerable population of PWUD and the health services they depend on.

This Correlation European Harm Reduction Network (C-EHRN) report on the impact of COVID-19 on vital harm reduction services seeks to bring these voices of front-line workers at drug consumption rooms (DCR’s), harm reduction outreach teams and PWUD themselves to highlight their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report includes sections on:

  • General Harm Reduction Response to COVID-19
  • Drug Consumption Rooms
  • Outreach services
  • Opioid Substitution Treatment (OST)
  • Government & municipality response
  • Drug Supply
  • Digital and other Innovations
  • User experiences in the streets
  • Homelessness
  • Social Isolation for PWUD

Our member organisations from Bosnia Herzegovina and Greece contributed to the report with their experience.

The briefing paper is available following this link>>>.

 

Impact of COVID-19 on drug use and drug services in Western Balkans

The Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia) registered the main waves of COVID-19 infections later than most of the EU countries, but containment strategies were implemented at the same time and with equal force as in the rest of Europe.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published Trendspotter briefing: Impact of COVID-19 on drug use and drug services in Western Balkans. This report provides the main results of studies conducted using the trendspotter methodology to explore the impact of the pandemic and associated measures on drug services and people who use drugs in the Western Balkan region.

DPNSEE and our member organisations contributed to the report with information and case studies from the ground.

The main findings are listed below.

  1. Use of alcohol, benzodiazepines, and cocaine was reported to have increased in some subpopulations of people who use drugs. Use of benzodiazepines in combination with opioids was among the common risk behaviours observed during the first weeks of lockdown.
  2. A number of harms were observed among marginalised and injecting drug users, who in some cases lacked resources to satisfy basic needs. Mental health problems were reported among both recreational and problem drug users.
  3. The provision of drug treatment was reduced during the first weeks of the pandemic, affecting mainly new admissions and services provided face to face.
  4. The number of people entering treatment declined between March and May 2020 in almost all countries in the Western Balkan region.
  5. Opioid substitution treatment (OST) centres and harm reduction services mainly remained operational, although under a restricted regime.
  6. The main adaptations to the new situation included use of telemedicine and a relaxation of OST distribution schemes.
  7. Personal protection measures became standard in all treatment and harm reduction facilities, and protective equipment was distributed to clients whenever possible.

The crisis highlighted the fragile position of some service providers and the reliance of harm reduction services on the support of international donors.

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

 

European Harm Reduction Sessions

Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network we held a day-long webinar of four major sessions in lieu of the 5th European Harm Reduction Conference which is recently postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are the links to all the session recordings

What can we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic?

COVID-19 and the impact on harm reduction in Europe

Watch here>>>

 

 

 


Special edition launch of the Harm Reduction Journal

Watch here>>>

 

 

 


Different approaches for decriminalisation – what works?

Watch here>>>

 

 

 


Engaging with policymakers and the public to promote ethical drug policy

Watch here>>>

The full length of the film “Putting UK Drug Policy into Focus” is available here>>>.

 

 

 

The next Harm Reduction Session Challenges and opportunities to monitor new drug trends by civil society organisations (CSOs) will be held on 16 December, 15:00 – 16:30 CET,

Registrations are now open. Find out more and register following this link>>>.

 

Prevention of COVID-19 among key populations

Healthy Options Project Skopje (HOPS) implements several activities in scope of the project “Prevention of COVID-19 among drug users, sex workers and their families” financially supported by the Government of the Republic of Northern Macedonia, through the Program for financing the program activities of associations and foundations for measures to deal with COVID -19 crisis. These include:

  • Material assistance for drug users, sex workers and their families
  • Distribution of informative-educational materials for prevention of COVID-19
  • Education among our users of COVID-19 protection services
  • Drugs – immunostimulants
  • Protective gear
  • Hygienic materials for smooth operation of the work in the drop-in centres of HOPS

In the past three months, 150 hygiene kits and food packages were provided and distributed, of which 135 to their service users and their families and 15 packages for homeless people or people who use drugs and sex workers who do not have a permanent place of residence.

In addition to providing material assistance, the HOPS team conducted 160 trainings for prevention of COVID-19 (141 trainings between PWUD and 59 trainings with SW) and distributed 462 informative printed materials containing tips for protection against corona virus.

Also, thanks to this project, the HOPS drop-in centres are equipped with hygienic materials and protective equipment for the staff who work in the centres and conduct field activities.

 

Global Fund COVID-19 Response Mechanism allocations in SEE

The Global Fund is providing immediate funding to help countries fight COVID-19, mitigate the impacts on lifesaving HIV, TB and malaria programs, and prevent fragile health systems from being overwhelmed, through grant flexibilities and the COVID-19 Response Mechanism.

Grant flexibilities allow countries with current grants to use up to 5% of their current grant value if there are savings, and/ reprogram up to 5% of the value of a grant to meet immediate COVID-19 response requirements. The COVID-19 Response Mechanism (C19RM) can be used across the three diseases and the health system, even if a country only has a single Global Fund grant for one component.

The Global Fund published the information about allocations so far on 27 October 2020. From the COVID-19 Response Mechanism a total of 592,493,744 USD was allocated for mitigating COVID-19 impact on HIV, TB and malaria programs, reinforcing national COVID-19 response (other response and COVID-19 diagnostic tests) and urgent improvements in health and community systems.

Out of this amount, four SEE countries and the Multi-country HIV East Europe and Central Asia #SOS_project received

In addition, from the Grant Flexibilities 216,092,754 USD was approved to 107 countries and multicountries out of which three countries and the Multi-country project received:

 

 

See better in the document we created following this link>>>.

 

Support to children and young people using drugs

As part of the project ′′Living with addiction – improving the mental health and quality of life of children and young people using drugs during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis′′ supported by the OSCE Mission to Skopje, HOPS (Healthy Options Project Skopje) shared hygiene and food packages to persons using their services. At the same time they shared information about the services available in their organization.

Children and young people up to 25 years old using drugs and their families in need for psychological support and counselling about COVID-19, can contact HOPS every working day from 10:00 to 15:00 pm on their phone number.

CIPHER Grant Programme

From the International AIDS Society website

The CIPHER Grant Programme directly supports the development of early-stage investigators, awarding up to US$150,000 for up to two years to address research gaps in paediatric and adolescent HIV in resource-limited settings. This is a unique “stepping up” opportunity, designed to give investigators the experience they need to compete for larger funding. The grants are resulting in personal and career development, capacity building on the ground, and research that informs policies and programmes.

Since 2013, CIPHER Grantees have been addressing key clinical and operational research gaps in paediatric and adolescent HIV. They are doing this where it is needed the most, in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs); in fact, recognizing the importance of building research capacity, CIPHER awards approximately 80% of funds to applicants from LMICs. The intention is to attract early-stage investigators – from inside and outside the field of HIV research – to address critical research questions while providing a unique opportunity for professional development.

CIPHER has partnered with the World Health Organization to develop global research agendas on HIV testing, treatment and service delivery for paediatric and adolescent populations. CIPHER implements these global research priorities as a funder through its grant and fellowship programmes.

The 2020/2021 round will focus on service delivery for HIV and related co-infections for paediatric and adolescent populations in resource-limited settings, including research on:

  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on HIV and related co-infections service delivery
  • Community interventions to improve outcomes along the HIV cascade.

As the COVID-19 crisis disrupts health systems and affects human health globally, gains made in accelerating the HIV response for children and adolescents living with or affected by HIV could be reversed. This recognizes the need to strengthen service delivery models to improve quality of care and sustain efforts to achieve the AIDS Free targets. CIPHER aims to support research projects that could inform HIV policies and programmes, thus accelerating the HIV response in grantees’ countries.

CIPHER is pleased to accept applications in both English and French. To encourage more applications from young investigators in West and Central Africa, 50% of funds will be awarded to francophone applicants.

The CIPHER Grant Programme is made possible with the generous support of Founding Sponsor ViiV Healthcare. Its content is guided by experts in paediatric and adolescent HIV convened by the International AIDS Society.

To apply for the Programme, follow this link>>>.