“Step-by-Step Toolkit” preparing to work with children and young people who inject drugs. Harm Reduction International, Youth Rise, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and Save the Children at the start of 2016 issued a toolkit for working with children and young people who inject drugs entitled “Step-by-Step Toolkit, preparing to work with children and young people who inject drugs.” The tool was developed in response to the HRI research indicating to huge gaps in the support for injecting drug use among under 18s. Global research indicates that restrictive laws and organizational policies, and staff attitudes prevent children and young people who inject drugs from access to harm reduction services. Bearing in mind the vulnerability and needs of this group, the Toolkit contains directions for application of efficient measures for harm reduction services.
HOPS – Healthy Options Project Skopje issued a position regarding cannabis for medical purposes. At a press conference on 24.12.2015, HOPS – Healthy Options Project Skopje called the Macedonian Ministry of Health to work on a suitable law in response to the needs of all people with different health conditions planning to use cannabis. HOPS believes that Macedonia needs a separate law to regulate the cannabis for medical purposes in order to provide easy access to cheap medicaments, including cannabis oil, in pharmacies and specialized shops, as well as the possibility for individual cultivation for patients unable to buy medicaments or wish to grow their own medicine. The manners and forms of cannabis use differ depending on the type of illness or health condition, hence cannabis for medical purposes should be available in all forms, i.e. for smoking, vaporized delivery method, in capsules or in the form of cannabis oil. Furthermore, cannabis for medical purposes shouldn’t be restricted by conventional medical practises. Therefore, HOPS calls the competent institutions to open room for professional and public debate towards choosing the most appropriate model to regulate cannabis for medical purposes in Macedonia. HOPS’s representatives stated “being an organization that has monitored the state in Macedonia and the trends throughout the world for a long time, we are ready to make our contribution in the process with our experience and expertise.” (Source: HOPS)
Macedonia to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. The Macedonian Minister of Health Nikola Todorov on December 16th, 2015 announced legislation changes in order to provide use of cannabis for medical purposes in Macedonia from February 2016. The news resounded in all media causing another “storm” of polemics, particularly concerning the legislation changes. According to the announced terms, cannabis shall only be grown by legal entities that comply with the strict security and monitoring conditions, meaning a four-meter tall fence with three rows of barb wire and a 24-hour video surveillance, as well as a staff of at least one agronomist and a pharmacist with not less than three-years experience in the field. The criteria itself plainly indicates that the strict procedures are meant to monopolize cannabis cultivation and produce expensive medicine which will be unavailable for people who are financially challenged. The associations Green Alternative, the Cannabis Club and HOPS supported the Ministry’s initiative, emphasizing that there should be easy access to cheap medicine, as well as give the opportunity for people to produce their own cannabis for their personal health problems. They warned that the Ministry of Health should not independently and single-handedly introduce the projected legislative changes, but rather open a broad public debate to include all concerned parties.
Conference on Cannabis for Medical Purposes in Macedonia. On 27.11.2015 in Skopje, HOPS – Healthy Option Project Skopje and the Association of Toxicologists of Macedonia held the Conference “Advantages and Disadvantages in Cannabis for Medical Purposes”. More than 60 representatives from ministries and other state institution concerned with the issue participated at the conference, with lectures from Niko Bekjarovski, M.D. from the Association, Vlatko Dekov from HOPS and Valentina Bislimovska from the Public Prosecutor’s Office. They spoke on the history of the cannabis for medical purposes, the existing clinical trials, the legislative regulation and the possible models for cannabis use regulation, i.e. whether to introduce a model of strictly regulated registered medicines or a model that allows use of cannabis produced by individuals. It was concluded that Macedonian citizens do not benefit from the present inadequate regulation of cannabis for medical purposes. Specific immediate steps are required for adoption of a new law to regulate this issue and help people who wish cannabis treatment. (Source: HOPS)
Humane drug policies in Ireland as well. Next year Ireland is embarking on humane drug policies following the steps of many countries. The Irish Minister for New Communities, Culture and Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin announced that supervised injection rooms for drugs are to be opened in Dublin. Ireland believes that following along the positive experiences from Australia, Holland, Spain and Switzerland will help create controlled and safe support environment for hard-to-reach populations. Practices from other countries reveal that drug consumption rooms are particularly efficient in reducing risk behaviour during injection, especially for HIV or hepatitis C protection or opioid overdose. In his speech, Minister Ó Ríordáin announced plans for decriminalization of small quantities of drugs for personal consumption, including heroin, cocaine and cannabis, as part of a “radical cultural shift” towards more humane drug policies. Pointing to a distinction between legalization and decriminalization, he stated “it would remain a crime to sell, distribute or profit from illicit drugs, but it would not be a crime to be a drug user or addict. I am firmly of the view that there needs to be a cultural shift in how we regard substance misuse if we are to make a serious attempt to tackle drug and alcohol addiction.” (HOPS)
UN calls for people-centred drug policies. Before the United Nations General Assembly Special Session is held in April 2016 in New York, on October 22nd, 2015 in Geneva met several senior representatives of United Nations agencies. During the meeting they discussed the introduction of people-centred drug policies grounded on human rights and public health concerns. Switzerland’s Ambassador to the UN Alexander Fasel said that some countries have positive results from the introduction of more humane drug policies and practices and that this is a course all countries should follow. The Deputy Executive Director of the UNODC, Aldo Lalé-Demoz commented on the insufficient coverage of public health issues in drug policies. Particularly impressive were the statements of the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, who condemned criminalization of drugs and stressed the harm of such policies. Al-Hussein said that criminalization causes spread of HIV, while Sidibé confirmed the need for harm reduction programs and substitution therapy programs for drug addiction in HIV/AIDS prevention. The joint conclusion of all participants at the meeting was that we should find alternative strategies to enable sustainable livelihoods to reduce participation in organized crime, drug production and drug trafficking. (Source: UNAIDS)
International Harm Reduction Conference. The 24th International Harm Reduction Conference took place from 18th to 21st October, 2015 in Kuala Lumpur and was attended by 800 professionals and activists from 17 countries, among them a representative from HOPS as well. The “Kuala Lumpur Declaration” was adopted during the Conference proclaiming the next 10 years as the harm reduction decade. Harm reduction services were enhanced in the past decade in Macedonia as well with the funding of the Global Fund to Fight against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Unfortunately, the Global Fund decided to terminate funding middle-income countries, among them Macedonia, expecting that the national governments would be able to cover harm reduction programs, although governments demonstrated no political willingness to support these services central to the protection of the public health. Harm Reduction International launched the 10by20 Campaign calling the governments to redirect 10% currently spent on responses against drugs to harm reduction. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime intended to call all countries to decriminalize drug use with the promotion of a political document, however due to pressures from one country it had to withdraw it. The following day, however, the other participants asked UNODC to adopt the proposed document. (Source: HOPS)
Double discrimination against sex workers who use drugs. On October 18th, 2015, the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) issued a joint briefing paper to the public focusing on the double stigmatization, discrimination and criminalization against sex workers who use drugs. Due to society’s intolerance towards drugs as well as sex work, sex workers who use drugs are more often exposed to criminal prosecution, discrimination, social exclusion, violence and increased danger of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C and other sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections. In addition, instead of a better access to social, health and legal services, sex workers who use drugs more often face discrimination from these services or the services in place aren’t tailored to their needs. In order to improve the community’s quality of life and work, INPUD and NSWP insist on introducing the model Nothing About Us, Without Us. This implies that sex workers who use drugs should be involved in the planning and implementation of all services intended for them. (Source: NSWP)
Summer School for HIV prevention. At the beginning of October 2015, a five-day Summer School for HIV Prevention took place in Ohrid for participants from the borderlands of Macedonia and Kosovo. Zvonko Milenkovic, M.D., National HIV/AIDS Coordinator in Macedonia and professor of infective diseases held the introduction speech. Thirty students/seniors and graduated students in law, medicine, social work and social politics, psychology and security attended the Summer School. The event aimed at creating professional critical mass for support of the concerned communities, among them people who inject drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men, prisoners and people who live with HIV/AIDS. Through interactive work with professionals, the participants had the opportunity to acquire knowledge of HIV prevention, particularly among socially marginalized groups/communities. All participants were awarded with certificates for successful completion. (Source: HOPS)