INCB mission to Kosovo

From 23 to 27 June 2019, The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) conducted a mission to Pristina, Kosovo to review the drug control situation there with a view of facilitating access to controlled substances while preventing their diversion.

INCB is an independent, quasi-judicial expert body established by the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 for monitoring member states’ implementation of the UN drug control treaties. It has 13 members, each elected by the Economic and Social Council for a period of five years.

The mission was led by Ambassador (ret.) David Johnson, Member of the Board, supported by Mr. Nodirjon Ibragimov of the INCB secretariat. The mission was facilitated by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMiK).

The delegation met with the representatives of Kosovo agencies involved in pharmaceutical regulation; the administration of justice, including prosecutorial services and the judiciary; law-enforcement, customs and forensics; and public health, addiction treatment and rehabilitation.

The INCB delegation also met with leaders of the international community supporting local institutions, including the EU Office in Pristina, EULEX, the OSCE Mission, UNDP, UNODC, and UNMiK. In addition, meetings were held with officials from the NGO “Labyrinth”, a DPNSEE member organisation, which provides opioid substitution treatment and other elements of a comprehensive treatment and reintegration programme and with the leader of the NGO Community Development Fund, which supports “Labyrinth”.

INCB Board Member delegation meets Mr. Safet Blakaj, Executive Director, and other representatives of the NGO Labyrinth

EHRA representatives visit

As the DPNSEE project Budget Advocacy and Monitoring in countries of South East Europe funded by Open Society Foundations (OSF) through Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) is about to come to an end in April this year, EHRA Financial Director Tatiana Fomicheva and Sustainability and Transition Adviser Ivan Varentsov visited DPNSEE on 17 and 18 April 2019. The purposes of the visit were to make an oversight of the project related documents and provide support with regard to the development of the final financial report.

EHRA representatives had an opportunity to meet with representatives of the national coordinator organisations MarginaJuventas and Prevent and get to know better their achievements and challenges while implementing the project. It was also interesting to discuss lessons learnt, possible next steps and follow up actions. All three indicated that the main issue they faced was lack of information or very slow response to provide them by the authorities. Understanding this obstacle, an agreement was made that DPNSEE and partner organisations will propose to extend the project by September 2019.

Our guests presented us the EHRA activities in the scope of the Global Fund HIV multi-country project, content of the workshop on human rights issues for the Balkan region planned for autumn this year and the Global Fund Community, Rights and Gender Technical Assistance Program. For this occasion, we also invited our colleagues from Serbian partner and member organisations DugaGAJPTimok Youth Centre and Čovekoljublje.

For our guests, we also arranged meetings with Dr Jasmina Tanasić, Head of the Department for Social Affairs at the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities and Primarius Dr Danijela Simić, Head of Department for HIV infection, STI, viral hepatitis and tuberculosis, Centre for Prevention and Control of Diseases, at the Institute of Public Health of Serbia “Dr Milan Jovanović Batut”.

The visit will help to better document the approach, process and results of our project as well as the lessons learnt. Documenting this our joint experience as a regional best practice and example of small grants to NGOs in recently transitioned of transitioning countries to support their sustainability and transition related advocacy activities can be of benefit to the Sustainability Bridge Funding that is about to be created by a group of international donors led by the OSF.

Situation in Romania full of challenges

Delegation of the Drug Policy Network South East Europe with Nebojša Đurasović, Vice-President, Denis Dedajić, Secretary of the Board, and Milutin Milošević, Executive Director, visited Romania on 19 November 2018. It was one of the two remaining in the serial of visits aimed to present DPNSEE to the society, build strong relationships with the authorities, institutions and services and explore opportunities for partnerships.

The situation in the country is far from good with no harm reduction services available outside Bucharest, no support for MSM services and no HIV strategy and strategic plan (a proposed document is in the Ministry of Health for one year but not approved). Opioid Substitution Therapy funding is a nightmare (procedurally), therefore hospitals do not want to engage in that, and Harm Reduction is in a survival mode. State institutions and civil society organisations have different data on key populations, with number of drug users ranging from 9.000 to 19.000.

At the meeting with Sorin Oprea, Director of the Agency for Combating Drugs, in a friendly atmosphere created through recent contacts, we discussed about the potential to raise drug policy higher on political agenda during the Romanian presidency over EU starting in January. We were informed about forthcoming purchase of 900.000 syringes for harm reduction services, the data collecting system that operates well in Romania and will be offered to Turkey, a 3 Million Euro programme that is planned for civil society organisations and plans to develop a system of alternative sanctions. Our interest in protection of personal data of drug users was replied with assurance that the problem was solved and that anonymity is guaranteed. The optimistic situation presented by the Agency was questioned by our civil society colleagues during the next meetings.

Discussion with our colleague Dragoş Roşca, director of the Romanian Harm Reduction Network, presented a bit different and challenging situation in the country. Among others, Dragoş gave us a good insight in functioning of country coordinating mechanism after departure of Global Fund. RHRN mainly functions as a watchdog for state institutions. He informed us that out of 15.500 people living with HIV, 14.000 are on treatment.

Dan Popescu from our member organisation ARAS took us to two methadone centres where they serve almost 500 people. The most vulnerable 100 of them get the service for free, while other can choose to pay 3 Euro for a daily service or 120 Euro for monthly package. We instantly commented that the country should provide the services for free – otherwise people’s basic right for health is not respected! In the centre situated in a large hospital, 11 committed activists work from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM, supported by a doctor, nurse and social worker. This service operates for 12 years already.

We also had an opportunity to see one of two their outreach team and their van which cruises the streets of Bucharest and provides service on the spot.

The visit was really good opportunity to learn about a variety of issues related to drug policy in this complex and segmented country.

Focus on transition

Delegation of the project “Strengthening NGO capacity and promoting public Health and human rights oriented Drug Policy in South East Europe ” visits Bulgaria from 29 to 30 May. The visit is part of the efforts for the enlargement of the Network as an essential prerequisite for making it a strong and reliable partner.

The main aims of the visit are to: (a) present DPNSEE to the Bulgarian society, (b) build strong relationships, enhance contacts and improve drug policy dialogue with the relevant authorities, state institutions, policy makers and NGOs, (c) explore opportunities for partnerships and collaboration and (d) discuss possible applications of local civil society organizations for membership in DPNSEE. The experiences from Bulgaria, country that is in transition from communist to EU member state, are of interest, especially because it will hold the EU presidency in the first half of 2018.

The delegation consists of 3 people: Marios Atzemis, DPNSEE Board member, Milutin Milošević, Executive director and Sofia Galinaki, Advocacy Officer, Diogenis (DPNSEE member organisation).

The first day of the visit, the delegation had an interesting exchange with Dr Vyara Georgieva, the Chief Expert in the Ministry of Health for the programmes financed by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Petar Tsintsarski, Consultant for the program Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS. The key learning points from this meeting are that the HIV/AIDS problem should be seen from various angles besides medical: cultural, social etc. and that financing services should be concentrated on the level of local communities.

During the meeting in the National Centre for Addiction with Momtchil Vassilev, Director of the National Focal Point on Drugs and Drug Addictions and Nikolay Butorin, Expert on Training Programmes, the delegation got a lot of data about drugs in the country. Improvement of Early Warning System for new psychoactive substances was an issue of joint interest.

Meeting in the National Centre for Addiction

For the second day of the visit, meetings were first scheduled with two civil society organisations: Initiative for Health Foundation and Centre for humane policy. Our colleagues gave us a realistic and open vies on the situation in the country, especially in the light of termination of the Global Fund support that will cause closing of services to drug users.

Dr Tsvetelina Raicheva, who recently directed the National Addiction Centre provided more statistics about the situation. At the Centre for the Study of Democracy the representatives of the network had a meeting with Mr. Dimitar Markov (Senior Analyst and Project Director, Law Program) and Mr. Atanas Rusev (Senior Analyst, Security Program). The Security program implements criminology research, actively contributes to the Bulgaria’s policy debate on organized crime and participates in projects on crime and security issues. The issues of inadequate funding and bureaucracy in the field of drugs were highlighted in this meeting as one of the biggest barriers at policy level. Moreover, the need for more action in the issue of immigration and its connection to drug use through several routes has to be identified and addressed.

With our friends from Initiative for Health Foundation and Centre for humane policy

Learning about the good experiences and challenges in Croatia

Representatives of the Drug Policy Network in South East Europe (DPNSEE) visited Croatia from 22 to 24 March 2017. This activity is part of a series of country visits within the framework of the project “Strengthening NGO capacity and promoting public Health and human rights oriented Drug Policy in South East Europe” as described within the work plan for 2017 and it was undertaken by NGO “Diogenis Drug Policy Dialogue” – the lead organization of the project – in close cooperation with DPNSEE. The delegation – consisting of Nebojša Đurasović, Deputy Treasurer and DPNSEE Board member, Milutin Milošević, DPNSEE Executive director and Sofia Galinaki, Diogenis Advocacy Officer – visited local authorities, institutions and NGOs working in the field of drugs based in the capital Zagreb and the cities of Split and Rijeka.

With Nena from the NGO Help

The visit was part of the efforts for the enlargement of the Network as an essential prerequisite for making it a strong and reliable partner. The main aims of the visit were to: (a) present DPNSEE to the Croatian society, (b) build strong relationships, enhance contacts and improve drug policy dialogue with the relevant authorities, state institutions, policy makers and NGOs, (c) explore opportunities for partnerships and collaboration and (d) discuss possible applications of local civil society organizations for membership in DPNSEE. More specifically, the delegation came in contact, discussed and exchange important information and experiences with: representatives from the Office for Combating Drugs Abuse of the Republic of Croatia,  Mr. Ranko Ostojić  – recent vice Prime minister and Minister of Interior, currently Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Domestic Policy and National Security,  representatives from the NGOs ‘LET’ – based in Zagreb, ‘HELP’ – based in Split, ‘TERRA’, ‘VIDA’, and ‘OASA’ – based in Rijeka and representatives from the Educational Institute for Public Health of the Split – Dalmatia county.

Ilinka and Dejan hosted us in Terra

The most important observation the delegation gained was that the governmental institutions operate in a very effective way, using an interdisciplinary approach. There is a well-organized and structured system in place, which covers the entire range of needs related to drug use. The system is decentralised, so that each of the 21 counties (županije) has its own tasks and responsibilities. Further on, local authorities and institutions take their own part and that is usually very well coordinated at county level. Moreover, the strong and ongoing cooperation between the competent state agencies and local Civil Society organizations significantly contributes in the overall implementation of the Croatian drug policy in a consistent way.

More detailed information regarding the: programme and preparation of the visit, structure of the Croatian drug policy system, important projects implemented within the 10-year Croatian Drug Strategy (2007-2017), harm reduction field, drug law reform, role of civil society in the implementation of drug policy, areas of improvement and the potential of future cooperation can be found in the full report available on request from the DPNSEE Office.

A warm welcome in NGO Vida

Dana Beal visited DPNSEE

On the 22nd February Dana Beal, an American social and political activist, best known for his efforts to legalize marijuana and to promote the benefits of Ibogaine as an addiction treatment, visited office of DPNSEE. The main topics discussed was use of Ibogain in treatment off the addiction but also Parkinson disease. Through the discussion Dana presented the ibogain as the only substance-abuse treatment that regenerates neuron damaged by drugs and several other benefits of it, underlining that there is no potential for abuse of it.

We discussed the issue of difficulties for introducing this treatment in Serbia, since the Ibogaine is being on the list of Illicit and controlled substances in Republic of Serbia as psychotropic substance that can cause severe damage of the health of the people. The discussion led to explanation that the certain private clinic in Serbia that treat addictions are using the Ibogaine method as a treatment. We closely looked at the law and what concluded that there is inconsistencies in the interpretations of the law that gives space for the treatment.

Visit to Turkey opened door for future cooperation

Long waited visit to Turkey happened the last few days of 2016. MIlutin Milošević, Executive director DPNSEE and Thanasis Apostolou, director of Diogenis, visited Istanbul from 27 to 30 December. Unfortunately, there were no time to visit other cities, especially Gaziantep and Izmir which are known for their work in the field of addiction.

Thanks to the excellent co-operation with the Green Crescent of Turkey and the dedicated assistance of Ms Rukiye Deniz staff member responsible for foreign affairs we set up a programme for 3 days. We also got support from the TACSO Turkey team in establishing contacts with few local civil society organisations.

DPNSEE and Diogenis representatives with Mr. Gökhan Dinç

Our first meeting was with Mr. Gökhan Dinç director of Project department of the Green Crescent. This organisation has a leading role in Drug Policy making in the country and has 40 branches (even outside of Turkey) and 101 representative agencies in Turkey, engaging more than 30.000 volunteers. Drug issue came high on the list of priorities since 2014 when the new Strategy and Action Plan were adopted.

Treatment of addiction is a responsibility of the ministry of health and is provided through the Alcohol-Substance Addiction Research, Therapy and Education Centres (AMATEMs) and psychiatric clinics of public hospitals. Opioid substitution treatment (OST) exist since 2010. Harm reduction services are non-existent, but they claim that if the numbers keep growing, they will turn more to harm reduction services.

Drug possession is crime. Those who violated the law can choose to go to prison or treatment. In 2014, number of imprisoned persons in Turkey was 167.308, and estimation for 2016 are that it will raise to more than 180.000 people. Green Crescent advocates that possession will no longer be a crime.

AMATAM creative workshop

In one of the Amatams, we met with Dr. Rabia Bilici explained that they are treating in their centre a variety of patients: children, adolescents and adults. Opiate users are often probation clients. Staff includes doctors, psychologists, nurses, social workers, professional orientation, all equally involved in work. They use suboxone in their treatments.

The Counselling centre (YEDAM) is a Green Crescent institution in a neighbourhood of Istanbul. The centre provides information and social and psychological support to individuals and families who face problems with alcohol and drugs. The centre is a new established institution that started working in 2015. A second centre was opened in 2016. Ms Gülsüm Melike Şimşek director of the centre informed us about their work. The centre fulfills an essential task in preventive and protecting services. The modern facilities of the centre, the information leaflets and the professional approach to drug use and addiction make a very good impression.

BEMEV (Bağımlılığı Engelleme Mücadele ve Eğitim Vakfı) is an initiative of scholars and professionals in the field of Alcohol and drugs who are working as volunteers for the aims of the foundation. The foundation is focusing on preventive activities, organises lectures and open public discussions, publishes brochures with information and is advocating for a consistent national strategy. Their main concern is the youth. They are promoting the idea that education about addictive substances in schools is necessary and contributes essentially in preventing young people to use drugs.

We had an interesting discussion with a number of young men and women of the Narcotics Anonymous group in Istanbul. NA have 18 different meeting points in the city. They pointed out that one of the main problems they face is the communication with the police and the bad experience they have with police approach of drug users. Another important issue that they face is the lack of recognition of their group by the responsible authorities; they have ideas how to deal with addiction, but are not consulted. They stressed the importance of the self- support, the free choice and the personal responsibility of their members.

BAYEV started in 2014 as a rehabilitation initiative in one of the municipalities of Istanbul. We met in their office with Ms Nurşah Alagöz and a staff member. They are helping people with drug addiction problems. In our discussion, they pointed out that the issue of drug use and addiction is only recently recognized as a social problem. They claim that 600 people died from overdose in 2016 and that number of users raised to 2 million. Drugs are problem of the young generation.

With young activists of Bayder

BAYDER is an organisation that conducts faith-based prevention and rehabilitation activities. We met with Dr Mustafa Kemal Özsoy the leader of the organisation and had afterwards a discussion with the coordinator of the project and members of the group that is in treatment. The initiative started 3 years ago. The treatment they receive is free and strongly based on mutual support and the good relationship with the family. The recovery program is an essential part of the activities.

The Human resource and development Foundation is a leading non-profit, non- governmental organization in Turkey established in 1988. The aim of the foundation is to promote reproductive health and family planning education, information, training and services as well as the empowerment of the human resource. They have, during the past period, developed and implemented projects including Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV/AIDS. The attitude of the Turkish government towards the work in the field of STI’s, HIV and AIDS is rather reserved. The National HIV Committee haven’t had a meeting for 8 years! Turkey has transitioned from Global Fund support to a government-supported program. Number of infected grows – in 2015 there were 2.500 new cases registered. Unfortunately the Human resource and development Foundation is not any more involved in the field, of HIV/AIDS and drugs, but is open to contacts with our organisations and willing to help with advice where they can.

Social Policies, Gender Sexual orientation studies Association (SPoD) is a national non-governmental LGBT organization in Turkey, founded in 2011. The Association works for equality and human rights (economic, legal, political) for LGBT people. Although the Association does refer to drugs as an area of their work we met with Neçip Varan who is very well informed about drugs, drug dependence and Harm reduction. Naçip has a rich experience in the field of drugs due to work that he has done in several countries. Drugs and HIV/AIDS is also an issue in the LGBT population and SPoD is interested in this this field. SPoD participates in the regional project of the EU that is developing and implementing a similar initiative of co-operation of organisations in SEE like our Drug Policy Network SEE.

The visit of December was a good start of our relationship with Turkish institutions and non-governmental organisation. These were three very interesting days establishing contacts and speaking with people with whom we can co-operate in the future.