Amendments to the Law on the Production and Trafficking of Illicit Drugs without sufficient support

The legislative procedure for the proposal for an amendment to the Law on the Production and Trafficking of Illicit Drugs, which was submitted by part of the opposition, is coming to an end. The proposal was supported on the meeting of the parliamentary Health Committee on 17 February by eight members of the parliamentary committee on health, while one more was against.

The amendment was submitted to the legislative process by the parliamentary groups SD, Levica, LMŠ, SAB and NP. On behalf of the proponents, Dejan Židan (SD) and Violeta Tomić (PS Levica) explained today that they want to clearly define that the cannabis plant is a cultivated plant, which should be separated from cannabis as an illicit drug. According to them, this would correct the error resulting from the incorrect translation of the European Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which also led to the stigmatization and criminalization of the plant.

According to the proponents, the convention clearly defines the difference between cannabis and the cultivated cannabis plant, which is crucial for defining legal economic and amateur activities that do not require a drug control system, but only define the conditions of legal activities (agriculture, industry, horticulture, etc.).

The proposal would define the conditions under which the cannabis plant can be legally grown for industrial, food and horticultural purposes. As they explained, the goal is also to avoid monopolistic, especially French pressure on the Slovenian market, which eliminates old Slovenian varieties by setting 0.2 percent THC.

Although they emphasized that the proposal did not interfere in the field of medical or recreational use, and the proponents, following the opinion of the parliamentary legislative and legal service, also submitted several amendments, a number of concerns were heard at the meeting. State Secretary at the Ministry of Health Franc Vindišar explained that the proposal was not appropriate in the government’s opinion. They estimate that “the regulation does not only concern the agricultural production of industrial hemp, but also means deregulation, sometimes legalization, which will contribute to greater use of cannabis for recreational purposes”.

As he said, such important changes require an in-depth analysis in terms of potential benefits and, above all, negative health, social, security, financial and other consequences, which the proposal does not include. He assured that the terminology in Slovenian legislation is regulated in accordance with all conventions and European regulations, but at the level of the Ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs they will harmonize and ensure the translation of the convention, which was already proposed by the Health Committee. The Ministry of Health has also prepared a bill on the cultivation and trade of cannabis for medical purposes, which is currently in interdepartmental coordination.

He also criticized the proposal discussed today for being partial and for the new solutions not to be followed by a change in control and penal provisions. From the point of view of public health protection, according to him, the proposed limit of one percent THC in cannabis plants, which can be grown for seeds and fiber for industrial, food and horticultural purposes, is not particularly acceptable.

Several representatives of non-governmental organizations and institutions working in the field of health and addiction then presented their views. The proposal was largely opposed, described as ill-conceived and warned that it means liberalization in this area and leads to greater availability of cannabis, which means greater use and harmful consequences for public health, especially for children and adolescents.

The director of the National Institute of Public Health, Milan Krek, pointed out that “cannabis is the most commonly used drug in Slovenia today, ten times more used than other drugs”. However, the experience of other countries with cannabis liberalization is poor in terms of public health. According to him, the bill also “seriously interferes in the field of state security”, as it facilitates the work of organized crime in the production and trafficking of drugs in certain segments.

Robert Pavšič (LMŠ) pointed out that there are many plants whose use can have harmful consequences if misused, mentioning, among others, pears, plums, barley and poppies, as they can all be made into drugs – legally or illegally. Alcohol abuse can have dire consequences, but wine and beer are categorized as food, he added.

Like Tomić, he pointed out that today industrial hemp products sold in Slovenia mostly come from abroad. According to Tomić, Slovenian farmers are not competitive. Matjaž Grkman from the Ministry of Agriculture, on the other hand, said that Slovenian farmers, like others in the EU, could grow industrial hemp, but the problem was in the farmers’ organization itself.

 

Expert update on drug-related infectious diseases

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) gathered the Drug-related infectious diseases (DRID) expert network to share the latest developments on drug-related infectious diseases in Europe and to identify steps needed to improve the production, availability and use of public health-oriented information at the European level.

The DRID network brings together national experts nominated by national focal points of the EU Member States, Norway and Turkey, as well as institutional partners (ECDC, WHO, Correlation). The meeting also welcomed experts from the Western Balkans (IPA7 project), the European Neighbourhood Policy countries (EU4MD project), Georgia, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. Participating experts come from ministries of health, public health institutes, drugs agencies, health services, universities, research institutes and civil society.

The group held an online meeting on 26-27 October 2021, focusing on:

  • The direct impact of COVID-19 on people who use drugs and the COVID‑19 vaccination campaign among this group;
  • A review of recent HIV trends and outbreaks, as well as infectious endocarditis linked to injecting drug use with a focus on risk factors and control measures in place;
  • Country experiences in the elimination of viral hepatitis as a public health threat among people who inject drugs (PWID) and related EMCDDA projects, with a focus on harm reduction and the continuum of care.

The report section on Outbreaks includes some interesting information from South East Europe.

In 2011, an HIV outbreak among PWID was detected in Athens, Greece (Paraskevis et al., 2011). After a combination of prevention and ‘seek-test-treat’ interventions were implemented (including scaled-up NSP, testing, linkage to AOT and antiretroviral treatment (ART), HIV incidence declined (Sypsa et al., 2017) from 7.8/100 person-years in 2012 to 1.7/100 person-years in 2013. However, preliminary data from the latest round of the ARISTOTLE study, conducted in 2018-20 (Roussos et al., 2021) among 681 PWID who were included in previous rounds, suggest that HIV prevalence increased from 14.2 % (2012-13) to 22 % (2018-20). While incidence estimates never returned to their 2011-12 levels, they ranged from 1.52 to 2.04/100 person-years, indicating ongoing transmission. The prevalence of homelessness (25.6 %) and cocaine injecting (28.1 %) had increased over the period. Predictors of seroconversion included lower education, larger network size and daily drug use. The authors concluded that the current level of prevention and treatment services was below levels that would be required to bring transmission down to pre-outbreak levels. They also noted that the COVID‑19 pandemic has severely impacted HIV prevention services for PWID, which could increase the risk of HIV transmission in this population. The study team conducted a similar study in Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in the country, where 1 101 PWID were recruited during 2019-20. They found high HIV incidence among the study population, suggesting that an outbreak was occurring at a time when COVID‑19 controls measures were in place. The authors highlighted that immediate interventions were required to control transmission.

Following the DRID meeting, national experts from three additional EU countries have reported signals of increased HIV transmission among people who use drugs. In Sofia, Bulgaria, reports indicate that the pandemic seems to have worsened a situation that was already deteriorating with respect to harm reduction funding. According to data from the laboratory at the State Psychiatric Hospital for Treatment of Drug Addiction and Alcoholism in Sofia, reported by the national expert, the positivity rate for HIV infection among PWID in the capital of Bulgaria was significantly higher in 2019-20 (12.8-14.5 %) than in the previous years (when positivity rates were between 3-6 %). A parallel increase in HBV positivity (HBsAg) was also noted from 2019 (5.9 %) to 2020 (7.6 %). This comes after the Global Fund ended its financial support to harm reduction services in 2017. It consequently led to a disruption in needle and syringe programmes, and a reduction by more than half in the number of PWID being tested annually. The National Centre of Public Health and Analysis is organising a meeting with stakeholders and decision-makers to initiate legal changes in order to ensure sustainable financial support for harm reduction services.

The national expert from Slovenia reported that, by November 2021, four new HIV diagnoses among PWID were reported to the National Institute of Public Health among a total number of 28 reported new HIV diagnoses during 2021. This raised concerns that HIV infections might have started to spread more during the COVID‑19 pandemic among PWID in the country. Since 1986, when HIV reporting became mandatory in Slovenia, a total of 29 HIV infections among PWID have been reported, and such a high number of cases (four) were reported only once before, in 1996. The importance of reaching a good coverage of harm reduction services for PWID was re-emphasised.

To read full report from this meeting and get the information from expert update, follow this link>>>.

 

Services in Slovenia well organised

Drop-in centres in Slovenia have been closed by the decision of the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs since the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic.

In Ljubljana, the Association for Harm Reduction Stigma continues to distribute sterile injecting equipment. The mobile outreach service (a van) continues to operate in the central part of Slovenia.

Injecting drug users have access to sterile injecting equipment but security measures are introduced: clients and staff have to keep 1.5 m distance from each other. All other information and counselling are available via telephone or online.

Drug testing, performed by Association Drogart, is open, but in smaller scale as before and with more safety measures.

OST is working, users get their take home medicine for a week, some even for two or three weeks. OST delivery was organised in a very good way since the first indications that the epidemic can hit Europe appeared.

One of the problems is closure of public transportation, which means that some persons cannot reach the OST clinics. For some of them, Association for harm reduction Stigma can deliver their methadone.

The greatest challenge is to support homeless people because they have nowhere to go (all daily care programs are closed, as well as public toilettes, due to safety reasons). There are negotiations with local authorities and ministries on how to deal with this situation.

Night shelters and safe houses for women are still open. However, it is very problematic because staff and clients have no safety masks. The use of disinfectants is mandatory.

The shelter in Ljubljana, run by the organisation Krali ulice, received new furniture. A special shelter for homeless people who may be infected with coronavirus is ready if this happens.

Who is responsible for prosecuting cannabis in Slovenia?

There is still no official translation of the 1961 Convention, but the Ministry of Health is commissioning a study on other countries

In April, The National Assembly Health Committee called on the ministry to prepare the grounds for cannabis cultivation by the end of this year.

Where is the sticking point?

The Ministry of Health has announced a low-value study for analyzing the costs and benefits of regulating cannabis cultivation for medical purposes in Slovenia, while SD representative Bojana Muršič is asking Minister Minister Aleš Šabeder for the purpose, as all the explanations have been gathered in 2016. Members of Parliament have been misled for years.

The analysis should include an overview of cannabis cultivation regimes for medical purposes in the EU countries, identifying the varieties of cannabis that are most in demand on the market, as well as the presentation and dissemination of the results, which will take a year. It won’t be cheap; providers must prove they have completed at least two comparable health surveys worth at least € 25,000 in five years.

All these years, the officials of the ministry you lead ensure that the risks and costs outweigh the benefits that are minimal. In a public debate that has intensified in recent years, on a number of occasions from a number of different sources the ministry has been presented credible information, publicly and clearly, which they want to collect now through the public procurement and (re)use of public funds“, Muršič warns the minister and adds that in April, the National Assembly Health Committee called on the ministry to prepare the grounds for cannabis
cultivation by the end of this year.

cannabis
Photo: Voranc Vogel/Delo

The Convention does not classify hemp plants as illicit drugs; that is a Slovenian particularity that was added by an unofficial translation from ten years ago.

Confusion due to wrong translation

Even in the order, the ministry points out that the regulation on hemp use in our country is based on three UN conventions, first a single drug convention of 1961 and related protocols of 1972. “The basis for the classification of the cannabis plant as well as the resin in the illicit drug list is thus the Single Convention as well as the 1988 Convention on Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. The Single Convention allows the cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes under certain conditions”, the ministry writes.

But here’s the catch. The Convention does not classify hemp plants as llicit drugs; that is a Slovenian particularity that was added with an unofficial translation from ten years ago. Exactly three years ago, this translation of the convention was removed from the websites of all bodies, including the Ministry of Justice. Thus, Slovenia does not have an official translation of the convention, thus violating said convention. Even worse, this unofficial translation is still used by the courts and police in criminal proceedings.

cannabis
Photo: Roman Šipić/Delo

According to the Rules of Procedure, the Drugs Commission should operate in the Slovenian language, which is not easy when the Single convention is available in Serbian and French, since Slovenia succeeded it from Yugoslavia.

Who is responsible?

Responsibility for the professional preparation and coherence of the material, which appears everywhere from the government commission to the World Health Organization (WHO) regional organization, is in the Health promotion and control of chronic non-communicable diseases and conditions department of the Ministry of Health.

Author: Borut Tavčar, Delo

 

Third conference of the Slovenian NGO Alliance

ZvezaThe Alliance of Non Governmental Organisations for Drugs and Addictions in Slovenia holds its third conference on 19 November 2019 in Ljubljana under the headline “Unconditional shelter for all: Needs and housing for people with psychoactive substance disorder“.

Participation at the Conference is free. Deadline for applications is 31 October 2019. The application form is available following this link>>>

Have a look at the videos from the last year’s conference following this link>>>

5th Cannabis International Seminar

Research Nature Institute organizes 5th seminar in the Demystifying Cannabis cycle, Cannabis Now International Conference on October the 4th and 5th in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The seminar has been organised since 2014 in Ljubljana, Belgrade, Skopje and Zagreb.

During the seminar, the Slovenian and international top-level experts on cannabis will introduce us to the most recent insights into the medical use of cannabis in different countries around the world (Israel, Canada, USA, the Czech Republic, Spain). After their lecture, they will respond to your questions in a debate. The attenders and speakers at the Conference are experts in field of medicine, psychiatry, pharmacy, chemistry and biology: Dr. Jonathan Grunfeld, Dr. Lumír Ondřej Hanuš, Prof. Dr. David Neubauer, Dr. Sue Sisley, Doc. dr. Tanja Bagar, Dr. Dorothy H. Bray, Dr. Guillermo Velasco Díez, Dr. Paul Hornby, Prof. Dr. Tamara Lah Turnšek, Mag. Dušan Nolimal, Dr. Ilya Reznik, Dr. Roman Štukelj.

Research Nature Institute

Research Nature Institute is institute for research, development and quality assurance of nature remedies, with the goal to research the efficacy and safety of natural remedies that are currently available or are of limited access to persons in need. By setting standards for quality control and standardization, providing accreditation programs, and taking part in clinical trials, their aim is to ensure natural remedies are clean (free of contaminants) and effective at known dosages to the user. Their basic work is to educate the public, medical professionals and legislators of our findings based on sound scientific methodologies and principles.

To read more details about this event follow this link>>>

The International Overdose Day marked around SEE

On the occasion of the International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD), DPNSEE issued a press release underlining the importance of awareness and fighting stigma on overdose and presenting data about the issue worldwide and especially in Serbia. The release was published by the national Press agency Tanjug and several other media and portals.

The press release is downloadable following this link>>>

In Montenegro, NGO Juventas also issued a press release (supported by the NGO 4 Life) and held a press conference where Marija Mijović, coordinator of Programme of direct assistance to the people in risk of social exclusion presented situation in the country. A movie “Overdose”, directed by Mladen Vujović, outreach worker at the Drop-in Centre of NGO Juventas, Montenegro in cooperation with the Hungarian Drug reporters, was screened at the Green Montenegro International Film Festval.

Our colleagues from the Romanian Harm Reduction Network created a special video for this year’s IOAD campaign. Have a look at “Voices of the drug users. Episode 1”

Association AREAL and AREALTRIBE group from Slovenia organized a workshop dedicated to the International overdose awareness day on 1 September 2019 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Participants were educated how to respond if an individual finds himself or herself in that position.

Our colleagues from the Healthy Options Skopje (HOPS) promoted widely their webpages related to overdose and drugs

Thousands of people die each year from drug overdose and the fact is, overdose is an increasing global problem. Spreading the message that the tragedy of overdose and injury is preventable, International Overdose Awareness Day raise awareness of overdose and reduces the stigma associated with the drug-related death. Also, the day of awareness is providing support to families and loved ones of overdose victims, so that no one is forgotten.

Time to remember – time to act.

Research Publication on the Effectiveness of Cannabinoids on Glioblastoma

Slovenian National Institute of Biology and University Medical Centre Ljubljana, with MGC Pharma Research and Development Division, conducted the study about the treatment of high-grade brain tumours, i.e. glioblastoma with cannabinoids. The general aim of the research was to develop formulations to define the protocols for the treatment.

Study evaluated cannabinoid receptor proteins that may add to identify the most effective cytotoxic cannabinoids, known so far, e.g. CBD and THC ratios and further their possible synergistic effects with chemotherapeutic Temozolomide (‘TMZ’) with regards to the treatment of glioblastoma patients.

Conclusions of the study

Cannabinoids, especially at increasing THC concentrations, reduce the viability of glioblastoma cells.

Targeting glioblastoma stem cells (GSCs) that are more resistant to chemotherapy. GSC has so far proved to be more vulnerable to cannabinoids than were differentiated cell (publication in preparation).

At optimal concentration for each patient, the defined cannabinoids composition represents promising tool to reduce tumour burden.

Research collaboration is part of MGC Pharma’s strategy of partnering with leading research institutions to examine opportunities to develop new pharma products based on proven cannabinoid formulations in pre-and clinical studies.

The study results can be viewed on the Company’s website and will be presented by the National Institute of Biology at the 2nd International Annual Congress on Controversies on Cannabis-Based Medicines in Barcelona, Spain on 23-24 May 2019.

Youth Studies South East Europe

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) published reports on the experiences and aspirations of youth in Southeast Europe. The FES carried out a representative region-wide survey on a sample of more than 10.000 young people aged 14 – 29 from ten countries in Southeast Europe in early 2018.

“FES Youth Studies Southeast Europe 2018/2019” is an international youth research project carried out simultaneously in ten countries in Southeast Europe: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo*, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. The main objective of the surveys has been to identify, describe and analyse attitudes of young people and patterns of behaviour in contemporary society.

A broad range of issues were addressed, including young peoples’ experiences and aspirations in different realms of life, such as education, employment, political participation, family relationships, leisure and use of information and communications technology, but also their values, attitudes and beliefs.

Findings are presented in ten national and one regional study and its accompanying policy papers, which have been published in both English and the respective national languages.

The most important results are grouped under headlines:

  • A wish to belong to Europe
  • Migration and mobility do not have to be zero-sum
  • Fighting corruption as a crime, not as a concept
  • Employment discourse shifting towards the quality of work
  • A different kind of ‘political’…
  • …which has to do with ‘the social’
  • Give youth a say in Europeanisation

To download the regional study and its accompanying policy papers following this link>>>

You can read the national studies at this webpage.

62nd CND Session – Day 2

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:

Other events

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!