HIV epidemic among injecting drug users in Greece

After the early HIV epidemics during the 1980s through the 1990s in Western Europe and North America, combined prevention and care interventions – such as needle and syringe (NSP) and opioid agonist treatment (OAT) programs, HIV testing and linkage to antiretroviral treatment (ART) – were introduced and scaled-up. This approach allowed to control the epidemics among PWID. Disruptions in service delivery due to economic crisis, complacency towards maintaining low HIV incidence in this population or other health threats, such as pandemics, may have a detrimental effect on what has been achieved so far in many countries. The largest of these recent epidemics occurred in Athens, Greece, where HIV prevalence in this population increased from less than 1% in 2010 to 16.5% in 2013.

During 2019–2021, and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a community-based intervention offering testing and linkage to care for HCV and HIV infections to PWID was implemented in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece (ALEXANDROS program). During the intervention implemented in 2019–2021 in Thessaloniki, an increasing number of HIV cases was documented.

The article on the HIV epidemic among injecting drug users in Thessaloniki (second largest city of Greece) has just been published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. The aim of this analysis is to describe this new HIV outbreak among PWID (prevalence, incidence, risk factors for HIV seroconversion) that was documented through this intervention during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research paper “A new outbreak of HIV infection among people who inject drugs during the COVID-19 pandemic in Greece” was published by the International Journal of Drug Policy, Volume 117. It is available following this link>>>.


Streetwork Project in Athens and Thessaloniki

The “Streetwork Project” – an initiative of the two clubs “Checkpoint” and “Red Umbrella Athens” and “ARISTOTLE” – was created in 2013 and over the years has approached vulnerable groups such as users of psychoactive substances, refugees, immigrants, sex workers, men who have sex with men and the homeless. The project implements actions in central parts of Athens and Thessaloniki and provides information services, harm reduction, referral to other agencies and organizations. It also intervenes to promote prevention, regular screening and safer sex and distributes leaflets, condoms and synergies for safer use for intravenous users.

The Streetwork Project addressed the additional needs that emerged in the field during the pandemic, due to the restrictive measures. At the same time, the partial suspension of organizations and agencies providing support services to vulnerable populations has exacerbated the situation, as many of their homeless fellow citizens are already facing severe food problems. That’s why they adjusted their actions, extended our working hours and days.

On Tuesday, March 31, 2020, through the websites and social media of the clubs, they issued the first call to the public to strengthen this effort. The response was very moving.

On Monday, April 27, 2020, due to the growing needs, they started a crowdfunding campaign to raise more food, bottled water, juices, snacks, protective medical material (masks, gloves, antiseptics) and personal hygiene items.

If you want to make a cash donation, crowdfunding campaign can be found here>>>. It will be available until May 30, 2020.

So far, they have collected:

  • 1,600 kit of sanitary material for injectable use
  • 6,000 disposable gloves
  • 4,500 protective masks
  • 50 antiseptic wipes
  • 25 sleeping bags
  • 14,000 bottles of bottled water
  • 2,500 juices
  • 3,500 croissants
  • 2,500 snacks (breadsticks, nuts cookies, etc.)
  • 2,500 portions of food

From March 31 until today, they have made the following available to vulnerable groups:

  • 400 kit of sanitary material for injectable use
  • 100 disposable gloves
  • 100 protective masks
  • 50 antiseptic wipes
  • 15 sleeping bags
  • 3,500 meals (portions of food, toast, sandwiches, croissants, etc.)
  • 3,000 juices and water


Socio-political developments and drug policy in SEE

The annual drug policy Regional Conference in South East Europe, “Socio-political developments and drug policy in SEE” was organised from 7 to 9 June 2017 in Thessaloniki, Greece. The conference is part of the regional project “Strengthening NGO capacity and promoting public health and human rights oriented drug policy in South East Europe”, supported financially by the European Commission and the Open Society Foundations. The organiser was Diogenis – Drug Policy Dialogue.

The conference aimed to bring together civil society organisations, policy makers, researchers and lawyers working on the drug issue in the region of South East Europe, but also people active in the field related to cultural change and young people. The meeting was organized in order to discuss drug policy developments and trends, exchange experiences and best practices in the region, Europe and the United Nations.

This year, topics covered recent emerging situations, reflecting the most important areas at the moment, including:

  • Refugees, migrants and Drugs, the policy of the competent authorities and the involvement of NGOs. How do the competent authorities address the issue? Which are problematic aspects and how NGOs can contribute to a fair and effective policy? Harm reduction services and Refugees and migrants in countries of South East Europe.
  • Youth culture, festivals, drug use and harm reduction in South East Europe: Policy implications for authorities, the festival and party organisers and harm reduction services. Difficulties and legal barriers to implementing harm reduction services. Suggestions for measures to prevent unintended risks. Policy aspects of Youth and festivals and Health protection.
  • The evaluation of the Political Declaration 2009 – 2019 and its relation to the UNGASS outcome document. Main issues of discussion and the contribution of NGOs.
  • The Follow up of the Harm reduction project in South East Europe. Latest data analysis from the research. Cost-effectiveness analysis of harm reduction services. Approaching local authorities and increase their engagement in the area of HR, including funding opportunities. Budget advocacy and monitoring for harm reduction. Accreditation of the services provided by the civil society organisations.
  • Information about Current topics of importance – the regional project “Strengthening NGO capacity and promoting public health and human rights oriented drug policy in South Eastern Europe”, DPNSEE developments, activities of importance for drug policy in the region of SEE.

The general conclusion from the conference is that a new definition of harm reduction is needed to reflect the current situation and change in drug use, including type and the patterns of drug use.

Other conclusions were proposed on specific issues such as drug checking as potential integrated harm reduction measure in nightlife, which needs to be supported and systematically implemented from the side of the all stakeholders (as the Slovenian case showed its success), designing and implementing specific harm reduction services for immigrants and refugees, etc.

Sustainability of the project on the table

The second partners meeting of the project “Strengthening NGO capacity and promoting public health and human rights oriented drug policy in South Eastern Europe” in 2018 was held on 7 of June in Thessaloniki. Greece.

The discussion of the meeting was oriented around the topics that included reporting from the partner organisation about the implementation of the Action plan 2018 and partners activities. This was of special importance since this is the last year of the project implementation.

The partners used the opportunity to discuss the situation of drug policy and harm reduction in their respective countries, as well as development over the course of last 4 years when the project was implemented. The project partners also internally evaluated the project activities so far and discussed about the way forward regarding the content and the funding of the future actions to be undertaken.

Annual Drug Policy Conference

The Annual Regional Conference in South East Europe was organised in Thessaloniki from 8 to 10 June 2017. The conference aimed to bring together NGOs, policy makers and researchers active in the drugs field in the region of South East Europe, in order to discuss drug policy developments and trends, exchange experiences and best practices in the region, Europe and the United Nations.

The conference is part of the regional project “Strengthening NGO capacity and promoting public health and human rights oriented drug policy in South East Europe”, supported financially by the European Commission and the Open Society Foundations. The organiser was Diogenis, Drug Policy Dialogue.

National drug coordinators from Romania and Croatia

The Conference agenda included a large number of interesting issues:

  • The Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and drug policy. Priority issues, the role of UN agencies, expected commitments from the member states and role of NGOs. Presenter was Jo Dedeyne-Amann, Chief Secretariat to the Governing Bodies, Division for Treaty Affairs, UNODC. Nikos Stergiou, Communication and public relations Officer, Diogenis, presented experience of two local meetings.
  • Initiatives undertaken in the countries of our region related to implementation of the outcomes of the UNGASS and the role of NGOs. National drug coordinators presented work in their countries: drug co-ordinators: Sorin Oprea (Romania), Milan Pekić (Serbia), Željko Petković (Croatia) and Manina Terzidou, head of the Greek Monitoring Centre for Drugs (EKTEPN) (Greece)
  • Women and Drugs. Facts and Special Characteristics for Girls and Women who use drugs was the presentation from Meni Malliori, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Athens, while Georgia Aslanidou, Psychologist, OKANA Thessaloniki presented about Addicted mothers and the journey of therapy
  • Drugs and internet: experiences, opportunities and concerns in the use of online counselling tools presented by Ilias Paraskevopoulos, Consultant for addictions at KETHEA ITHAKI
  • The Harm reduction project in South East Europe. Developments and next steps presented by Sofia Galinaki, Advocacy Officer, Diogenis and Peers’ involvement in harm reduction, with introduction from Christos Anastasiou, Peer Network of Users of Psychoactive Substances (PENUPS).
  • Irena Molnar and Bojan Arsenijević from the NGO Re Generation, Serbia provided valuable insight into Changing culture in drug use including new psychoactive substances
  • Developments in the discussion about cannabis policy in countries of SEE
Irena Molnar presenting about Changing culture in drug use including new psychoactive substances

Representatives from 14 DPNSEE member organisations, 3 Board members and all 5 Staff were at the Conference. We presented the Network, strategic priorities and plans for the future. Our two volunteers talked about their work on the Glossary and Resource Pool.

Marios Atzemis, DPNSEE Board member, making an intervention

The Conference was a very good opportunity to share and learn about interesting ideas and make plans for the future.

Partners Coordination Meeting

Representatives of all 6 partners in the EU funded project “Strengthening NGO capacity and promoting public health and human rights oriented drug policy in South Eastern Europe” met in Thessaloniki, Greece, on 8 June 2017.

Partners adopted the Minutes of the Project Partners Skype meeting  held on Friday 10 February 2017 with some additions proposed by DPNSEE. Diogenis informed about successful audit for 2016 and announced  the EC initiated Audit of the Financial report 2015.

Partner organisations presented their short reports about the implementation of the Action plan 2017. Reports from visits to Croatia (written) and Bulgaria (oral, the visit happened just before the meeting) were received, with the comment that more information are needed about the work of civil society organisations. The visit to Slovenia is planned for September.

Agreements were made for preparations of the interim report and action plan 2018 (if possible, they will be done on partners meeting at the end of August/beginning of September). Partners are invited to send their proposals by 20 July.

2nd DPNSEE Board Meeting

The second Board meeting of the Drug Policy Network South East Europe was held in Thessaloniki, Greece on the 2nd of June 2016 just before the Conference “Drug policy after the UNGASS 2016” organised by our member organisation Diogenis.

The Board welcomed three organisations and proposes to the General Assembly to recognise them as full members of the Network: Aktion Plus from Albania, Juventas from Montenegro and Centre for Life from Greece. The Board also welcomed staff members of the newly established office in Belgrade who presented themself to the members of the Board.


The meeting then continued towards ways the Code of Conduct, that will define management policies and procedures in DPNSEE will be designed. The Staff will prepare the draft of the document that will be adopted at the Third Board Meeting. In addition, the Board was discussing Strategy of the Network for the period 2016 – 2019. The working meeting of the Board will be organised in late August in FYRO Macedonia where the Strategy will be shaped in detail.

Members of the Board alongside with Staff discussed and updated the Action plan for 2016 and agreed on the timeframe of the country visits that are planned for this year. The Board also brainstormed possibilities of fundraising needed for the future activities of the Network. Organisation of the General Assembly, planned for late autumn will be at the agenda of the next Board Meeting in August.