Civil Society Perspective on Harm Reduction in Europe

Europe represents one of the regions of the world with the greatest number of harm reduction services.

There is no other region in the world where more than 90% of the countries have at least one NSP or OST site, and more than 90% of the countries reference harm reduction in their national drug policies. Nevertheless, stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs continue to exist, and much is needed in terms of supporting and securing access to services and human rights to all different groups of people who use drugs.

More such data can be exclusively found in the second civil society-led monitoring of harm reduction report The Civil Society-led Monitoring of Harm Reduction in Europe 2020 published by the Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network. With more than one hundred contributors and Focal Points from 34 European countries involved, the report aims to make a necessary and useful contribution to the development of drug policy in the region.

Compared to 2019’s report, the information provided in 2020, brings to the forefront of the situation in particular cities or regions showing the experiences of harm reduction providers on the ground. It also bring direct perspectives of people who use drugs. This significant approach will hopefully provide an understanding of the successes and challenges of drug policy and harm reduction implementation.

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

Impact of COVID-19 on drug services

EMCDDA press release

In a new study published today Impact of COVID-19 on drug services and help-seeking in Europe the EMCDDA reports signs of a drop in the availability of drug services during the pandemic and in the numbers of those seeking help. But the study also provides insight into how services have adapted and innovated during the fast-changing crisis in ways that could be carried forward into the future.

The report is the first in a series of briefings resulting from an EMCDDA ‘trendspotter’ study, launched in April to explore the impact of COVID-19 on the drug situation and responses to it. The agency’s trendspotter methodology explores emerging drug-related trends by rapidly collecting and triangulating data from a variety of sources to allow for timely assessments of topics of concern. Due to national emergency restrictions, the method was adapted to suit online investigation and the study designed to be carried out in successive waves (1). The findings released today stem from the first wave of the investigation which focused on drug services.

Results highlight that COVID-19 and national lockdowns have led to reduced availability and provision of treatment and harm-reduction services in most European countries. Emerging evidence suggests that, like other healthcare providers, drug services are facing a range of challenges including: staffing shortages; access to personal protective equipment; and managing infected clients and staff vulnerability to infection.

Preliminary findings from the study show that drug services are adapting and innovating during COVID-19, with similar characteristics reported across Europe. With face-to-face counselling curtailed during containment, telemedicine by phone or video has been embraced as an alternative across European drug services. Providers of opioid substitution treatment (OST) have also acted rapidly to change the way in which they provide medication (e.g. mobile OST) and respond to new treatment demands (e.g. new induction procedures), while most countries have relaxed regulations on take-home OST for stable patients (e.g. prescribing for larger quantities or longer periods).

Harm-reduction services have also been swift to adapt, playing a key role in providing frontline support during the crisis. This includes: increasing outreach work and needle- and syringe-exchange activities; providing shelter management for homeless and marginalised groups; maintaining drug consumption room services (in situ or mobile) and moving some interventions online (e.g. drug checking).

The briefing presents a snapshot of how the demand for specialised treatment evolved between January 2020 and March 2020, providing a first insight on the impact of COVID-19 on help-seeking behaviour. Data show that there was some drop in demand for treatment services during this period for reasons including closure or restricted access to treatment centres and clients’ inability to reach centres due to confinement measures. But this was partially compensated by remote technology and modified interventions.

When questioned on the ‘new normal’ for drug services in Europe post-COVID-19, many of the experts surveyed were in favour of maintaining some of the service changes rapidly introduced in recent months. The use of telemedicine was the most cited example, being seen as a useful complement to face-to-face services in the future. Coordination between public, private and non-governmental actors during the crisis was also welcomed by respondents and seen as particularly beneficial for services users.

As confinement procedures are eased, drug services will be expected to maintain a broad range of health protection measures, adapt their routines and reinforce contingency planning in case of a second wave. Negative economic forecasts for national economies raise particular concerns over potential budget cuts for drug services and greater marginalisation of certain social groups. Nevertheless, many survey respondents remained hopeful that the innovation and collaboration seen in recent months would remain positive features of drug services in Europe in the foreseeable future.

To read the study follow this link>>>

Council of Europe’s recommendation on protection and promotion of the civil society space

At their 1330th meeting, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers adopted a Recommendation CM/Rec(2018)11 on the need to strengthen the protection and promotion of the civil society space in Europe and encouraged member States to continue their efforts in this respect.

The Recommendation calls on CoE member states to comply with the principles that it sets out, to ensure its wide dissemination among competent authorities and stakeholders and to examine its implementation five years after its adoption, within the Council of Ministers.

In particular, it sets out recommendations in four sections:

  1. National legal framework and political and public environment to protect and promote civil society space
  2. National measures to protect civil society space
  3. National measures to promote civil society space
  4. Support from Council of Europe bodies and institutions

The Council of Europe Recommends that the governments of member States:

  1. Ensure that the principles set out in the appendix to this Recommendation are complied with in relevant national legislation and practice, and evaluate the effectiveness of the measures taken;
  2. Ensure, by appropriate means and action – including, where appropriate, translation – a wide dissemination of this Recommendation among competent authorities and stakeholders;
  3. Examine, within the Committee of Ministers, the implementation of this Recommendation five years after its adoption.

To download the Recommendation, follow this link>>>>