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.
The 62nd CND is running full steam on the third day. Besides plenary work with national delegations discussing and voting on formal decision, a variety of side events present interesting experiences, projects, results and challenges from around the globe.
Decriminalizing drug use and possession: A cross-national perspective on lessons learned and best practices
Organized by the Czech Republic, the Drug Policy Alliance, Release and the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy. Niamh Eastwood from Release (UK) reminded that UN agencies estimate that 83% of all drug offenses globally are related to possession and use of drugs. Tough sanctions don’t deter people from using drugs. Decriminalisation is not a new option – some countries use it since seventies of the last century. No country that recently decriminalised experiences increase in drug use! It is time to start exploring new models of decriminalisation. An argument against is that “we need to protect kids”, but the majority of those who are under criminal justice systems are young people up to 24 years of age. For young people, we should work on preventing long-term problematic drug use. Caitlin Hughes from the National Drugs and Alcohol Research Centre (Australia) presented results of several studies on decriminalisation. Barbara Janikova and Viktor Mravčik from the Czech National Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addictions presented successes their country achieved adopting decriminalisation. After they criminalised drug use and possession in 1999, use of cannabis was growing; on contrary, when they decriminalised it in 2010, the cannabis use dropped significantly. There is a national consensus that there is benefit of decriminalisation for public health and general wellbeing. Same way, Dagflin Hessen Paust from the Norwegian Association for Safer Drug Policies (Norway) presented their change of approach, which included a large national debate. Finally, there is the proposal for decriminalisation in process now, evidence based and proposed by the ruling conservative party. Supply issue is the elephant in the room when discussing decriminalisation. Theshia Naidoo from the Drug Policy Alliance (USA) had a large discussion where the three main issues were: How to define the conduct that is decriminalised? Who are the optimal decision makers? Appropriate response to drug use and possession? Decriminalisation should be followed by large investment in social services to people who use drugs. Blog notes from this side event are available following this link>>>.
Aligning data collection with UNGASS implementation and the Sustainable Development Goals: Recommendations for a review of the Annual Report Questionnaire
Women, incarceration and drug policy: Special vulnerabilities that call for focused responses
This side event gathered various representatives that agreed that women that are drug users face various obstacles and are much more vulnerable in prison settings and their human rights. Ms Ivana Radačić from OHCHR pointed out the fact that in general more women than men are serving drug use related sentences and that there are significant obstacles for them to be provided with fair trial. Project officer in Eurasian Harm Reduction Association Ms Eliza Kurčević presented the results of the research conducted by EHRA and said that “33,6% out of total number of prisoners in Russia are women, while 19.628 of them are sentenced for drug related offences. They face many challenges relate to human rights violations, family rights and other justice related problems.” These challenges remain one of the key priorities that should be addressed through both drugs and justice policies.
Launch of UNODC-VNGOC civil society guide on UNGASS outcome document and SDGs
Organized by the Sweden, UNODC, Civil Society Team and the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs. Jamie Bridge, Chairman of VNGOC, emphasised that more than 85% of the civil society organisations replied that they contributed to at least one SGD, while a quarter of them said they contributed to all 17 SGDs. HE Mikaela Ruth, the Ambassador of Sweden, presented the key features of the guide for NGOs “Working together: Drugs and the Sustainable Development Goals“. The UNODC representative Billy Batware underlined how the UNGASS outcome document and SDGs are connected and presented the structure and content of the guide. Dayana Vincent from Fourth Wave Foundation working in India, Wangari Kimemia from Médecins du monde France in Kenya and Heloisa Broggiato Mater from International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care about their workshops on Availability and Access to Opioid Medications in Latin American Countries presented their experiences in working on programmes related to sustainability development goals.
The Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs held an Informal Dialogue with the UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov. NGOs had an opportunity to propose questions and 11 of them were selected for Mr Fedotov to reply to. Participants of the dialogue touch upon topics like prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, alternative development, healthcare, opioid crisis, prevalence of drug use, Listen first and Strong families programmes and research and analysing new trends. One of the questions was asked by Janko Belin, about if UNODC have programmes related to drugs and migrants.
Another Informal Dialogue was held with with the INCB President Viroj Sumyai. Blog notes from this dialogue are available following this link>>>.
The second day of the 62th CND was full of side events and sharing with participants.
An overviews of the side events we participated in today includes:
Psychoactive substances and the Sustainable Development Goals – Towards a comprehensive approach in the era of the 2030 Agenda
Organized by the Government of Slovenia, Utrip Institute for Research and Development, the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe and IOGT International. Jože Hren started his presentation reminding that for 20 years already the approach in Slovenia is that drug use is primarily a health problem and that possession of small quantities is a misdemeanour also since 1999. Those who are caught in possession of drugs get a fine of 40 Euro, but there is a process to change it to an oral warning or referral to treatment in more complex situations. Representative of the Pompidou Group spoke about the bi-annual prize the Group awards to innovative prevention programmes created by young people for young people. Another Slovenian representative presented their work emphasizing the need to invest in mental health programmes for adolescents. Cost of mental health disorders in Europe take 3 to 5 percent of GDP. There is a need for a reallocation of resources for more sustainable and impactful outcomes in tackling harmful substances and behaviours. Medical help is not enough – it has to be combined with comprehensive and long lasting prevention. They have a programme called “This is me”, which is in line with the Goal 3 of the SDGs. Kristina Sperkova, president of the IOGT International (international network of Templar organisations) works on prevention of alcohol and other drugs harm world-wide. Sanela from Utrip Institute advocated for a community approach to prevention. Notes from the side event are available at the CND Blog following this address>>>.
Leaving no one behind: People at the centre of a harm reduction, human rights and public health approach to drug use
Organized by the Netherlands and Norway, UNODC, UNDP, UNAIDS, WHO, IDPC, AFEW International, Harm Reduction International, INPUD, Open Society Foundations, Aidsfonds and Frontline AIDS. Ann Fordham from IDPC highlighted that the new UNADIS report indicates that 99% of people who use drugs doesn’t have a proper access to health services. WHO representative reminded that half a million people worldwide die of drug related deaths, mainly overdose and blood borne diseases HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. People also suffer because they can’t access the medicines they need. The Netherlands has “put people first” in their approach to harm reduction. The right to health is fundamental to all people irrespective of whether they are using drugs. Drug policies should seek to reduce violence, promote the rule of law, support the most marginalized and vulnerable, lift up human rights. Prohibition and criminalization means a continuation of armed conflict supported by disproportionate spending. Naomi Burke-Shyne from HRI reminded that funding for harm reduction has flat lined from 2007 to 2016, which stands in shocking contrast to the estimated funding need by UNAIDS: existing funding represents only 13% of this estimated need. Judy Chang from INPUD stated that “Existing drug policies threaten security, democracy and the well-being of all, especially those most marginalized and vulnerable. The war on drugs and drug-free agenda undermines the SDG agenda.” Zaved Mahmood from UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that People who use drugs are not just left behind, they are kept out. The right to life includes the obligation to take measures where peoples’ lives might be threatened, including in relation to the use of drugs and HIV and hepatitis.
Drug prevention approaches that make a difference
Organized by the Governments of Iceland and Serbia, and the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe. Serbian representative to the OSC made an introduction speech. The same like the Minister of Health on Thursday 14 at the Ministerial Segment, he said that the Drug Strategy has 5 chapters instead of 7, avoiding to say that Harm Reduction is one of them. Jelena Janković from the Ministry of Health presented the latest developments, including information about overdose deaths in 2018 and creation of the Ministerial Commission (for fighting narcomania in schools). She also presented the project the Ministry did with experiences and support from Israel. Iceland presented their project with are seen as the flagship project on prevention. Almost 2% of the alcohol and tobacco taxes go to prevention programmes! They see as the main risks and protective factors family factors, peer group effect, general well-being and extra-curricular activities and sports. Their learning is that the multidisciplinary collaboration is the key to success. The change thy achieved is different attitude of parents and society – don’t buy alcohol for children. It is not OK for adolescents to be drunk in public. It is not the amount of time that parents spend with their children – it is the quality of time. There are no unsupervised parties. Pompidou Group emphasised the role of police in prevention. Interventions from the floor were on offering more than just sports and having campaigns that cover illicit but also legal substances.
Other side events held today that may be of interest are:
The Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs (VNGOC) held regular Annual General Assembly. The Committee welcomed new members, reviewed and approved the VNGOC annual report and reflected on activities for 2018/19 including those of the Civil Society Task Force (CSTF), got information about the annual accounts for 2018, the latest financial status and audited accounts for 2018, Strategic Plan 2019-21 and Budget for 2019 and Voluntary Code of Conduct for NGOs at the CND and received an update on developments within UNODC. The Committee discussed the future organisation of the VNGOC, based on the background paper presented by the Board.
Following a governance review process undertaken in 2017, VNGOC agreed to stagger the elections for the VNGOC Board to ensure greater stability and continuity. In order to do this, three of the positions elected last year were given one-year terms, the other three positions were given the standard two-year terms. This year, the following three positions were up for re-election: Chairperson, Deputy Treasurer, Deputy Secretary. Our friend fro International Drug Policy Consortium Jamie Bridge was re-elected for the Chairperson. Congratulations!
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), a functional Commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), is the principal policy-making body within the UN system on drug control issues and, as such, is the governing body of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in the area of drugs. It analyses the world drug situation and develops proposals to strengthen the international drug control system to combat the world drug problem. The Sixty-second session of the CND will be held in Vienna, Austria from 18 to 22 March 2019.
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs was established in 1946 as a functional Commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The history of CND is presented in the clip presenting its timeline.
In 2019, an extra two days have been added to the usual CND meeting, for a high-level Ministerial Segment. This is because it has been ten years since the adoption of the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem. The Ministerial Segment will include a general debate as well as two interactive, multistakeholder round tables and will precede the CND on 14 and 15 March 2019.
The International Drug Policy Consortium streamed a webinar on CND 2019 live on 1 Mar 2019. This webinar shed light on the key controversies that are likely to structure the debates, discussed tabled resolutions and opportunities for engagement and showcased the experience of IDPC network members in navigating and leveraging this forum for political advocacy. Presenters were Jamie Bridge (IDPC), Olga Belyaeva (Eurasian Harm Reduction Association – EHRA) and Nazlee Maghsoudi (Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation – CDPE).
The event “got up steam” these two days. Here are some reflections and information.
Wednesday 14 March
Impact of life skills education programmes on prevention in schools: experience in southeast Europe and Latin America
Gilberto Gerra, Chief of Drug Prevention and Health Branch of UNODC welcomed participants, including diplomatic representatives from Bosnia Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. He underlined importance of civil society role and the success of the programme and thanked Lions Clubs International.
Matthew Kiefer, Manager of the Lions Quest Skills for Adolescence Programme presented the programme which is based on social and emotional learning. It incorporates the community and family through activities such as service learning. Since 2014 piloting was undertaken in Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro. In 2017 Bosnia Herzegovina was added and plans for this year are to start in Guatemala and Albania.
Miloš Stojanović, UNODC Regional DDR Officer for South East Europe emphasized the importance of collaboration between UNODC and Lions Club which gives excellent results. So far, more than 4.500 adolescents were involved in the programme. UNODC plans scaling up of programme results in SEE in 2018 and 2019. Melva Ramirez, UNODC Regional DDR Officer for Central America and Caribbean, presented the initial results of the programme in Guatemala. Wadih Maalouf, UNODC Global Programme Coordinator, presented impact among adolescent on prevention and substance use (specifically alcohol, tobacco and marijuana).
Representatives of Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina presented results of the work in their countries.
The urgent need for harm reduction funding: Scaling-up evidence-based interventions for people who use drugs
This event was organised by the Strategic Advisory Group to the UN on HIV and Drug Use, with the aim to highlight the latest evidence on the state of the harm reduction response around the world and explore challenges related to increasing financial and political support for harm reduction and the strategies to overcome them.
Chair of the event was Anne Skjelmerud, NORAD, Norway. Speakers were Dr. Gilberto Gerra, Chief, Drug Prevention and Health Branch, UNODC, Dr. Monica Beg, Chief, HIV/AIDS Section, UNODC, Aljona Kurbatova, National Institute for Health Development, Estonia, Valentin Simionov, International Network of People who Use Drugs and Fionnuala Murphy, Harm Reduction International.
Interesting points from the presentations include:
Anne Skjelmerud opened the event and presented Norwegian experiences with harm reduction. Today in Norway, HIV is not the key problem but HR is still an issue and programmes exist.
Anne Frodham from IDPC talked about the work of the Strategic Advisory Group to the UN on HIV and Drug Use which is comprised of various stakeholders coming from both governmental and civil society sectors.
Dr. Monica Beg presented facts about HIV and drug connection. Globally, PWID account for 8% of all new HIV infections. In EECA, they account for 65% of HIV cases. Average 33 needle-syringes are distributed per person a month, which is far lower than needed (200). UNODC supports some countries, none in SEE.
Aljona Kurbatova talked about harm reduction in Estonia.
Valentin Simionov presented history, aims and mission of INPUD. Death Penalty is still imposed in 32 countries. But, around 8 out of 10 drug related offences are for drug possession only. Only 8% of people in need get harm reduction services. 70.000 – 100.000 people die of opioid overdose annually. Stigma and discrimination are direct result of discrimination of drugs and drug users.
Fionnuala Murphy: overdoses kill more people than murders and traffic accidents together. Situation is critical due to donors withdrawal and lack of national funding.
The future of drug prevention: How to personalize your strategy to be more effective
The event was organized by the Government of the Netherlands, UNODC, Treatment and Rehabilitation Section, and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
Speakers were Victor Sannes, Dr Lonneke van Leeuwen, Trimbos Institute, Dr Sandra Bukman, University of Applied Siencies, Utrecht, Gilberto Gerra, UNODC and Danilo Ballotta, EMCDDA.
Project run by the Institute and the University to understand the types of young people to be able to prepare personalised prevention. Which substance use-related subgroups of young adults were identified in earlier studies? Five groups were identified: no substance; alcohol; plus tobacco and marijuana; plus ecstasy, cocaine, amphetamine and hallucinogens; plus prescriptive medicines. The same research was done interviewing young people. This led to identifying 14 subgroups varying on preferred substance, reasons for use, context of use and intention to reduce or quit.
Gilberto Gerra: Personalisation of prevention is important because we need to see people as persons, not as a statistic number.
Danilo Ballotta: Especially for young people, effective prevention interventions cannot ignore personality traits and environmental context. EU adopted the approach that prevention is not substance focused. EU doesn’t have a programme for nightlife setting.
Other side events
Notes about some interesting side events are available:
The criminal justice role in the implementation of drug policies in a human rights perspective
The event, organized by the Brazilian Harm Reduction and Human Rights Network presented a model of alternative measures offered to people who use drugs.
We heard about the project “REDES” – Social inclusion in crime and drug use prevention – which is a response to harsh situation in Brazil. Law enforcement structures launched “Custody Hearings Project” which ensures a quick presentation to the judge, a maximum 24 hours after the arrest. The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation was part of the partnerships that developed the project. It provides a support network: health, social assistance, human rights, personal identification documents, housing, work and others. Those who are charged for drug use pass through the process and are granted liberty. They are addressed to the social services providers. One of the most important results is improved sensibility of the judges.
Special event: Strengthening the global prevention response: International standards for drug use prevention – second edition, listen first campaign and stronger families programme
This special event was organized by the Governments of France, Norway and the United States of America, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Drug Prevention and Health Branch, and the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs.
The high-level representatives of organising institutions from France, USA, Norway and Mexico spoke about the role of evidence-based prevention in strengthening the global response and the role of civil society in supporting evidence based prevention.
Giovanna Campello, Officer in Charge, Prevention Treatment and Rehabilitation Section, presented the UNODC and WHO Second Updated Edition of the International Standards on drug prevention (LINK NA http://vngoc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Concept-note-2017-International-Standards-Update.pdf). Dr Virginia Molgaard and Dr Alaa Al Khani presented “Strong Families” – a new UNODC programme for families in low- and middle income families, including refugee families (LINK NA https://www.unodc.org/ropan/en/DrugDemandReduction/strong-families.html). The first 2018 video the “Listen First” campaign was released.
HIV prevention, treatment care and support for people who use stimulants
This event was organized by the Government of Romania and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime HIV/AIDS Section.
Romania showcased their experience with stimulants, which they simply call new psychoactive substances. We think that it is not quite good connection. Other speakers, Monica Beg, Chief of the HIV/AIDS Section, UNODC, Judy Chang, Executive Director, INPUD, Brun Gonzales, Mexico and Ukrainian activist spoke more about actual new substances.
The right to science and freedom of research with scheduled substances
This interesting side event dealt with conventions and the current barriers regarding research with scheduled substances, as well as present cutting edge scientific research on the therapeutic use of scheduled substances, such as cannabis, MDMA, psilocybin and ibogaine, as treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and problematic substance use. The full video of the side event is bellow.
Other side events
Notes about some interesting side events are available:
The Vienna Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Committee on Drugs (VNGOC) held its General Assembly on 15 March. A new Board was elected, with our good friend Jamie Bridge serving as the Chairperson. DPNSEE paid the membership fee and hope to complete the membership process soon.
The 61st session, chaired by Ambassador Alicia Buenrostro Massieu of Mexico, agreed 11 resolutions on various topics among them enhancing international cooperation to combat the synthetic opioid crisis, removing stigma as a barrier to the availability and delivery of health, care and social services for people who use drugs, and on preparations for the planned ministerial segment at the 2019 session. The first ever resolution of stigma and discrimination of people who use drugs is a great step forward!
“Ministerial segment” refers to high level meeting of ministers – a very important meeting that will be held as part of the CND next year. Some very important fights and decisions are expected. This CND indicated that there will be a lot of disagreements between those who still believe in rigid repressive approach and those who think that modern and innovative solutions are needed. Civil society organisations were very active in promoting the later, working hard around the meeting to promote it.
The Commission also agreed to schedule six analogues of fentanyl, including carfentanil, under the international drug control conventions. Abuse of fentanyl, which is 100 times more potent than morphine, has led to thousands of overdose deaths around the world.
More than 1.500 participants from Member States, inter-governmental organizations, academia, civil society and the private sector took part in the session.
The CND was an excellent opportunity to meet with colleagues and partners. We used it to share with Alexis Goosdeel, Director of the EMCDDA, Daniel Wolfe, director of International Harm Reduction Development and Matthew Wilson, Global Drug Policy Program, Open society Foundations, Marie Nougier, Head of Research and Communications and Juan Fernandez Ochoa, Campaigns and Communications Officer, IDPC, Jose Queiros, Executive Director APDES, Portugal, Thomas Bridgen, Grants Coordinator, Elton John AIDS Foundation, Richard Elliott, Executive Director, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Framework, John-Peter Kools and Daan van der Gouwe, Trimbos Instituut, Dr Claire Mawditt, Secretary of Women and Harm Reduction International Network (WHRIN) and Matej Košir from Institute for Research and Development “Utrip”, Slovenia.
Interesting and important exchange was held with heads of national agencies responsible for drugs: Milan Pekić from Serbia, Željko Petković from Croatia, Ognjen Zekić from Bosnia Herzegovina and Catalin Negoi-Nita from Romania.
With our colleagues from Diogenis Thanasis Apostolou, Sofia Galinaki and Olga Pateraki, we had very good information share and some concrete agreements for future events.