Social stigma is a heavy form of social disapproval of personal traits or perceptions which are contrary to cultural norms. A stigma can influence the person using drugs and who realizes that drug use is stigmatized to be ashamed and not seek health and social support.
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is an internet service for drug users and is based on a scientifically proven identification test for drug use induced disturbances called DUDIT. With this test, drug users can discover how risky their own use practice is. DUDIT offers a thoroughgoing assessment of drug use-related possible problems and negative aspects, and by doing the test themselves users, acquire information about where they could find support and help in case they want to reduce or stop using drugs.Drughelp.еu
At the same time, today many young people use the internet and spend many hours a day on the internet. Because of this, the idea was born among many experts from the region, along with representatives of the Pompidou Group, to develop an internet tool covering younger people who use drugs, people for whom the existing programmes for prevention and treatment of drug abuse and addiction and other psychoactive substances are not sufficiently attractive.
No one, not to mention younger people who use drugs, especially when they do not have serious health or social problems, wants to be stigmatized and discriminated against, which is a reason not to visit the rigorous health programmes for drug treatment. Female drug users avoid them, or a small number of them visit these programmes which are created for men and experience them as dangerous and non-secure spaces.
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However, it is important to note that the information contained at the webpage drughelp.eu, as well as the test results, are not intended as, nor are considered to be replacement of professional medical advice – they serve for a better understanding of drug use risks.
This internet tool’s database primary results reveal that by the end of March 2018, the page was visited 211 times, of which 134 (63.5%) page visits were by males, and 77 (36.5%) by females (Figure 1). For the sake of comparison, in the strict health systems, i.e., in programmes for prevention and treatment of drug abuse and addiction and other psychoactive substances, which are mainly designed for males, the percentage of females included in those treatments is about 15%, and in some towns in the country’s provinces even less than that. With respect to age, this webpage is visited by younger people (average age 27.4), in comparison to people in addiction treatment programmes (average age 38), and most of those who took the test have never been part of any programme for drug use treatment (Figure 2).
This reveals that internet interventions are attractive for those people who do not join the programmes for prevention and treatment of drug use, people to whom we did not have access previously.
For the group that has mostly visited this website the main drug of choice is marijuana – cannabis, followed by alcohol, opiates, amphetamines, but some of the page visitors have also used cocaine, hallucinogens, new psychoactive substances (NPS), prescription drugs and other types of drugs. Some of the webpage visitors did not mention which is their main drug of use, for some of them this was the case because they did not use drugs, and for others due to other reasons (Figure 3).
A small percentage of the webpage visitors have experienced health, legal and financial problems or problems at school or in the work environment. A much larger number of them are employed or are students, unlike the clients who are part of the programmes for drug addiction treatment. According to the test results data, for 24.6% of males and 26% of females there is no risk; for 59% of males and 67.5% of females the drug use is harmful, which means they have not yet developed an addiction from the drug they use; and for only 16.4 % of the males and 6.5% of the females can we speak about probable addiction (Figure 4).
These results show that, with the help of internet intervention – a drug use risk self-assessment tool – we can “reach” another group of people who use drugs, people that are for the most part using substances on a temporary basis, who still have not developed addictions and serious health and social problems as a consequence of drug use. This tool will make possible early detection and early intervention. With this new method of risk assessment, as well as the internet advice tools, one can avoid stigma and discrimination which are, I would dare say, in myopinion the main reasons for seeking help in the case of substance use at a late stage. Testing and test results with a recommendation and information for an eventual “face to face” counselling are anonymous and trustful, which makes it possible for us to have access to people who have been using drugs temporarily and still have no serious health and social problems as a result of the substance use, to have access to the female and the younger population which uses substances, and to intervene much earlier if those visiting the webpage wish so. Developing this tool and the first results thereof encouraged the group of experts to continue working on developing other internet interventions such as internet based advice, with the aim of developing specific programme for younger people, relevant to their needs.
Visit the webpage www.drughelp.eu and assess your drug use risk!
Prof. Liljana Ignjatova is the head of the Centre for Prevention and Treatment of Drug Abuse and Abuse of Other Psychoactive Substances at the Skopje Psychiatric Hospital, Macedonia, and works as docent teaching the subject Psychiatry and Medical Psychology at the Medical faculty within the St. Cyril and Methodius University Skopje. Prof. Ignjatova is the founder and member of the Board of Directors of the South Eastern European Adriatic Addiction Treatment Network (SEEAN), as well as a member and founder of the World Federation for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence (WFTOD). She is a permanent correspondent for the Pompidou Group at the Council of Europe and the winner of the 2015 SEE net Reflection Award.