The Drug Policy Network Southe East Europe organised a meeting dedicated to eliminating violence against women who use drugs on Friday 8 December 2023 in the Palace of Serbia, in Belgrade, with the support from the Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of Serbia. It was the opportunty to share thoughts and experiences in working on this important issue.
Participants came from several intitutions, including ministries on human and minority rights and social dialogue and health, the Institute for Public Health and UNODC representatives for South East Europe, and civil society organisations.
Ivana Joksimović, the Assistant Minister for human rights and social dialogue spoke about human rights of marginalised and discriminated communities. Milutin Milošević, the DPNSEE Executive Director presented the EVAWUD campaign to eliminate violence against women and gender diverse people who use drugs and presented some results from recent surveys published by DPNSEE.
Irena Molnar from ReGeneration shared about their program on improving the competencies of employees in social protection through examples of activities aimed at working with women who have survived violence and are drug users and young people at risk. Nebojša Djurasović from Prevent, the DPNSEE President, presented their experiences in working with the shelter for sex workers in Novi Sad.
The discussion showed a shared determination to continue fostering and protecting human rights of women and gender diverse people who use drugs in Serbia.
The content of the workshops was designed on the basis of the training accredited by the Chamber of Social Work, as well as many years of experience of the NGO Re Generacija in research and in the field, in Serbia and internationally.
The training placed a special focus on prevention of stigma and discrimination, prevention and response to gender-based violence, as well as co-dependency and trauma, to ensure greater awareness and understanding of comprehensive gender-sensitive services for women who use drugs, living with HIV, and/or are at risk of gender-based violence.
Thanks to support of the Office for Combating Drugs, the workshop was held in the Palace of Serbia. 16 representatives came from governmental institutions and civil society organisations. Trainers were Irena Molnar and Stefan Pejić from ReGeneration.
The workshop highlighted the unique reasons, risks, and effects of drug use among women, emphasizing the need for tailored approaches and non-punitive measures. The topics that were discussed at the workshop included:
Drug use. HIV and violence – the specificities of risk in women
The phenomenon of new psychoactive substances (NPS) started decades ago with the growth and production of drugs that replicate the effects of controlled drugs (such as amphetamines, cocaine, cannabis and heroin) but avoid legislative control based on different chemical structures.
In recent years, the increasing use of NPS has led to new threats for health of people who use drugs (PWUD) – including overdose, psychotic reactions, high HIV risks due to multiple injections and increased number of sexual contacts. However, in many countries service providers such as harm reduction, drug treatment programs and ambulance services are not prepared to provide PWUD with quality support and counselling to reduce risks of NPS.
In the Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (CEECA) region the situation with NPS is truly alarming and has become one of the major challenges for the national public health systems, local NGOs, communities PWUD.
The Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) in partnership with School of Law, Swansea University undertook the project “New Psychoactive Substance Use in Moldova, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and Serbia” to generate a more accurate picture of the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) and to assess harm reduction and law enforcement responses to the emerging issues related to use of NPS. Results from this project will supplement scarce international data on the use of NPS in these countries, present a more accurate picture of their use, and provide information to national civil society organizations (CSOs) for political advocacy.
Irena Molnar, a researcher from the non-governmental organization Re Generation (the only CSO that conducts activities aimed at dealing with NPS in Serbia, DPNSEE member organisation), prepared the report for Serbia, the only country involved in the project from South East Europe. Here is a brief overview of it:
The appearance of NPS in Serbia is not a new phenomenon, but their market share is very small. NPS have been talked about for a whole decade, although scientific research and answers to their appearance in the form of special services aimed at ensuring the health and well-being of users, but also the whole society, have not progressed at all.
Among other things, the report examines in detail the actions taken by the state in the context of this issue and formulates recommendations for improvement. For example, in order to improve the response to problems related to the emergence and use of NPS, greater state involvement is needed in terms of adapting to rapid market changes. This means not only putting substances on the banned list, for which Serbia is very up to date, but also improving the entire system.
Talas – Serbia based media portal “about politics, economy and ideas” published an article about effects of the coronavirus on people who use drugs in Serbia. The article is based on information published by DPNSEE and interviews with Milutin Milošević, our Executive Director, and Irena Molnar, the Executive Director of our member organisation Re Generacija.
Milutin emphasized that the civil society organisations from the region have done a good job before and during the first period of the outbreak. The result is that we haven’t noticed any infection among users of our services.
Irena emphasized that people who are on treatment are in an additional risk because they have to travel, sometimes daily, to get the treatment or social care.
On the occasion of 26 June, the United Nations’ International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the Global Day of Action of the Support Don’t Punish Campaign is organised in more than 150 cities in the world. The Drug Policy Network South East Europe for the second year coordinates activities of the campaign in South East Europe, where 10 of our member organizations are pushing actions in 9 countries and 11 cities. Activities that vary from the film screenings and street actions to public debates and dialogues with the different government bodies.
DPNSEE organised the “Kick-off event” to mark the start of the campaign in South East Europe. The event was held in the European Union Info Centre in Belgrade on 21 June. Executive director of the Network Milutin Milošević opened the event presenting the aims of the #SupportDontPunish campaign. He also briefly presented the current situation in the countries of South East Europe in the context of human rights and public health approach to drug policy.
Danilo Ćurčić, lawyer from the A11 – Economic and Social Rights Initiative addressed the need for actual space for civil society organizations and the lack of dialogue between the state and organizations addressing the issue. He specially emphasized adoption of laws through urgent procedures and without public hearings and poor implementation of laws that have been passed.
Dr Hajrija Mujović, vice president of the Association of Lawyers for Medical and Health Law of Serbia SUPRAM, presented the international and domestic laws and documents which are basis for fighting discrimination and safeguarding human right, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Joint United Nations statement on ending discrimination in health care settings issued in 2017.
Milutin Milošević presented the baseline research on “Documenting Drug Related Cases of Discrimination”, an activity within the project “Strengthening the capacity of civil society organizations in South-East Europe and promote drug policy based on respect for human rights and public health”. The most frequent cases of discrimination in SEE are related to stigmatization in various respects, the relationship between the police and the judicial system (including the right to information in criminal proceedings), the protection of personal data, basic and specific health care, social protection, the right to education, employment and many other areas of life which should be available to every person.
The 2nd European ChemSex Forum, organised by International HIV Partnerships, held in Berlin from 22nd to 24th of March, called for concrete actions at the local level to provide strategic resources to chemsex responders. The aim of the Forum was to develop a platform to engage in international, cross-sector, multi-disciplinary dialogue around ChemSex-defined by the use of specific drugs (“Chems”) in a sexual context – and facilitate coordinated responses to chemsex issues in locales where chemsex related harm is a problem, regardless of its size and impact.
Clear guiding principles for the 2nd Forum were that focus was on problematic chemsex, not drug use and sex per se. Problematic chemsex is defined, as such, by the individual in interaction with his peers and care providers. Conference planners recognized that various harms related to chemsex are occurring, including HIV, hepatitis and co-infections, STIs, drug overdoses, depressions, rapes and deaths and that our work should be to address those harms forthrightly, not make generalisations about drug use or sexual behavior. Forum programme focused on 3 key work areas: therapeutic responses, team building and information gathering.
The Forum offered a platform where different stakeholders, professional and individuals could have exchanged experiences and practices in order to better address the issues coming with this new emerging phenomenon. It took place over three days. The first day was the training day on drugs and sexual experiences, risk assessment, models of behavioral change and introduction to motivational counseling, emphasizing the importance of multi-sectoral approach, community engagement and cultural competency. The following days were data and evidence day and community mobilization day that featured the latest data on ChemSex and workshops on multidisciplinary team building and information gathering.
For South East Europe, ChemSex is quite a new phenomenon in comparison to other European regions. Drug Policy Network South East Europe was represented by Irena Molnar and two member organizations HOPS and Positive voice also had their representatives. It created a space for our dialogue to widen up with this interesting and challenging topic, where not only drugs use but also sexuality and gender are important.
Antonios Poulios, PhD(c) MSc Clinical Psychologist and psychoanalyst, also the Scientific coordinator of Red Umbrella Athens and Chemsex Project of Positive Voice Greece, for DPNSEE website said that “The 2nd European ChemSex Forum was a great opportunity to get informed, discuss and meet people from all over Europe concerning ChemSex, get to know current data as well as current interventions. The training was also very helpful giving the opportunity to exchange experiences and learn from others’ expertise”. He also stated that one of the most important conclusions was the emphasis on the affective aspects of the services as well as the balance between the professional and activist point of view.
“In Greece, Chemsex is becoming gradually more common. It is already an issue in the MSMgbtq community as far as problematic use is concerned. However, there are yet quite sparse data. Positive Voice and Athens Checkpoint, in collaboration with the National Kapodistrian University of Athens (2 pathology clinics of university hospitals and the department of psychology), is conducting a project which includes research (both quantitative and qualitative) in order to assess the epidemiology of the phenomenon and the needs of the population. Additionally, focus groups are run and T-groups, self-help groups as well as personal counseling sessions are programmed to be held,” he continued.
His observations regarding ChemSex in the region of South East Europe are in favor of starting the discussion as he claims“it is a not so rare practice however not talked about, and discourse can always ameliorate the problems of action, as psychoanalysis taught us. Given the fact that most countries of SEE face a severe socio-economic crisis, which differentiates the social bond and thus the way subject is related to pleasure and enjoyment, the practice of chemsex is quite representative of this differentiation of the way the contemporary subject is placed within the social bond.”
Ivica Cekovski, advocacy associate from our member organization Healthy Options Project Skopje mentions that “The 2nd European ChemSex Forum, was a tremendous learning opportunity about the successes and challenges of the response to problematic chemsex. It was, in my experience, one of the most interesting and resourceful events that offered crucial information about information gaps, as well as the health, social and legal dimensions around this rising phenomenon.”
For the situation in Macedonia and SEE, Ivica says that is apparent that the region is lacking behind in their response to chemsex. “We have very few, if any, information about the frequency of drug use in sexual context, let alone proper interventions to support people in need. This is despite the fact that anecdotal evidence suggests that the situation might not differ a lot from other European countries.It is, therefore, urgent that we start talking about chemsex in SEE and commence with an assessment of the needs which will help us design and conduct suitable and well-targeted programmes for the wellbeing of key populations.” Ivica said.