The City of Skopje adopted a Local Strategy for HIV Protection

On 7th July, 2016, during its 68th the City Council unanimously adopted the Local Strategy for HIV Protection of the City of Skopje for 2016-2020, along with an Action Plan for the Implementation of the Strategy for 2016 and 2017. The Strategy was developed during a six-month period, a process led by Healthy Options Project Skopje - HOPS in a previous agreement with the City of Skopje. The Local Strategy and the Action Plan resulted from the Expert Working Group’s activities, a group comprised by representatives from the: City of Skopje, Public Health Centre, Institute for Public Health, Inter-municipal Centre for Social Work, PHI Psychiatric Hospital “Skopje” – Skopje, Ministry of Interior, i.e. Sector of Interior, Prevention Department and the organizations Healthy Options Project Skopje – HOPS, Stronger Together – Association for Support of People Living with HIV, HERA – Health Education and Research Association, STAR-STAR and Doverba. According to Eleonora Pančevska Nikolovska, Head of the Unit for Social Security, Child and Health Protection within the Public Activities Department of the City of Skopje, “The City of Skopje is aware of the potential HIV risks and is a responsible participant in the national efforts for protection of the population’s health and wellbeing. The efforts for HIV protection of the population are part of many strategic documents of the City, which has organized and participated in several activities for HIV protection, such as campaigns for raising HIV awareness and has supported the Day Harm Reduction Centre for Use of Psychoactive Substances. Past efforts aside, considering the current circumstances and the citizens’ needs, the City of Skopje opted to additionally prioritize HIV protection with the Strategy.” Hristijan Jankuloski, HOPS’s executive director, expressed appreciation to the City of Skopje and the City Council for the support during the Strategy development and adoption, as well as assurance regarding the consistent implementation of the Strategy’s objectives.

UN Creates Policies by Excluding Those Most Concerned. During the UN Summit held in New York, USA, from 8th to 10th June, 2016, 22 organizations – representatives of the people who use drugs and LGBT communities were blocked. More than 50 member states of the UN, including Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt insisted on banning these groups from participating. No explanation was offered regarding this action, however the countries exposed themselves and the UN to harsh criticism. Several participants walked out in protest. In a gesture of support for those blocked from the Summit, UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé stated that if we want to end the AIDS epidemic, the voices of those most concerned must be heard. The participating organizations and some UN member states believe that the resolution adopted during the Summit, with the exception of several paragraphs, further complicates and restrains the efforts for dealing with HIV. Although the document is not legally binding for UN member states, it is still used as a tool by activists, particularly in developing countries, to pressure the creators of public policies towards more active and organized efforts to end the HIV epidemics. (Source: Together Stronger)

Third Seminar on Demystification of cannabis in Macedonia. Another seminar for demystification of cannabis was held on 28th and 29th May in Skopje. The topic of the seminar was medical cannabis- theory and practice, with lecturers from Israel, the Czech Republic, Spain, Canada and guests from neighbouring countries. According to the organizer, the organization Green Alternative, their goal is to educate health workers and the Macedonian citizens who are increasingly turning towards cannabis oil treatment on the correct use of cannabis. “Considering the more frequent illnesses of our relatives, friends and acquaintances, it is our opinion that the number of people in need of cannabis oil for prevention and treatment of many illnesses and disorders in this modern age is increasing,” a statement posted on the Association’s website. Their dedication is proven in the success of the third seminar on cannabis treatment and the distinguished lecturers, among whom: Lumír Ondřej Hanuš, Ph.D., Paul Hornby, Ph.D, Robert J. Melamede, Ph.D., Ilija Reznik, Ph.D., José Carlos Bouso, Ph.D. and Pavel Pachta, Ph.D.

Fentanyl, a Larger Threat than Heroin in Vancouver. People in Vancouver, Canada who use drugs are more likely to get fentanyl than heroin. According to the Police, dealers trick users into believing they buy heroin instead of fentanyl. However, fentanyl is more lethal than heroin. In 2015, in British Columbia, Canada there were 470 fentanyl-related deaths. Fentanyl has a similar effect to heroin, but it is easier to produce and smuggle, hence it is the dealers’ favourite. People who use drugs say there is hardly any real heroin left in Vancouver to purchase. Experts compare the situation with alcohol prohibition in the United States when criminals brewed and sold stronger and more toxic ethanol for less money, explaining that drugs criminalization and persecution of people who use drugs has led to this. It is yet another argument for drug policy reformists who called for a change in drugs legislation. In the meantime, harm reduction activists are teaching people never to inject opiates/opioids alone and always carry larger doses of naloxone because larger doses of naloxone are needed to reverse the effects of fentanyl overdose than that of heroin. (Source: The Fix)

Death Sentences for People Convicted of Drug Use in Indonesia. A third round of drug convict executions will take place in Indonesia since Joko „Jokowi“ Widodo took over the presidency. Ten foreigners and five Indonesians are expected to be executed. Despite constant international pressures for abolition of the death sentence for drug use-related crimes, President Jokowi insists on the so-called “shock therapy” necessary to end drug use. While preparations are made for the executions, human rights groups are also protesting. Amnesty International Crisis Campaign Coordinator Diana Sayed beliefs that death penalty is the cruellest, most inhuman and degrading punishment “that has no place in today’s justice system”. (Source: The Diplomat)

Disappointment at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS). Despite the optimistic expectations, at the session held from 19th to 21st April, 2016, UNGASS adopted a watered-down document on international drug policies without any debate. The document fails to provide clear guidance on harm reduction, death penalty, criminalization of people who use drugs or regulation of drug markets. The lack of clear goals prevents future implementation of the document until at least the next session scheduled for 2019. Despite the UNGASS’s ambivalent position, some governments announced certain concessions from the prescribed international drug policies. Canada plans to legalize cannabis, while the Czech Minister of Health pointed that international drug policies that favours repression and criminalization fail to protect public health and security. (Source: Drug Reporter)

Canada to Legalize Cannabis Next Year. The Canadian Minister of Health Jane Philpott at a Special Session of the General Assembly on international drug policy, during a three-day conference held in New York shared details on the reform efforts to legalize cannabis in Canada. In the current circumstances, the UN member-countries that are planning to legalize cannabis will violate international drugs agreements. There has been certain pressure from the international community such as Canada, USA and other countries that have allowed separate states and provinces to experiment with legalization of cannabis. According to Philpott, the legalization of cannabis in Canada on national level “has challenged the status quo in many countries”, and the reforms are part of the country’s efforts to “modernize” their drug policies and emphasize treatment and harm reduction as opposed to punitive and repressive measures. Cannabis legalization advocates are already celebrating the decision. (Source: HOPS)

USA to Support Harm Reduction Programs. On 29th March, 2016 the United States announced changing their drug policy approach towards supporting harm reduction programs. The policy change implies federal funding for free needle exchange and distribution of naloxone to people who inject drugs. Federal funding shall be directed towards harm reduction training and programs for addiction treatment with substitution therapy. The decision was welcomed by harm reduction policy advocates, who also expressed their disappointment in the White House for the support of persecution policies and criminalization, which leads towards further human rights violation of people who use drugs. Harm reduction policy advocates called President Obama’s administration to shift resources from persecution and incarceration toward public health protection, and treat drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal one. (Source: DPA)

A Call for Global Drug Decriminalization. An international commission of medical experts called for global drug decriminalization. The Commission, founded by the Lancet Medical Journal and John Hopkins University in the United States, is comprised of world-renowned doctors, scientists and health and human rights experts. They believe that current policies lead to violence, death and spread diseases and violate health and human rights. According to them, harsh drug laws have led to misery, failed to stop drug use, caused violent crimes and helped spread the epidemics of HIV and hepatitis C with unsterile drug injecting equipment. The Commission called the UN to support the decriminalization of minor, non-violent drug offences related to use, possession and sale of small quantities. It is necessary to abandon use of military force against drug networks, and the police should direct its attention towards violent and armed criminals. The Commission’s report reveals the weaknesses of restrictive drug policies, and the efficiency of humanizing drug policies implemented in certain countries like Portugal and the Czech Republic. (Source: Coalition “Sexual and Health Rights of Marginalized Communities”)