Iveta Chovencová is the director of Odyesus, a harm reduction NGO based in Bratislava, Slovakia. We interviewed her about trends in drug policies in her country.

Drugreporter: Odyseus is the leading harm reduction organisation in Slovakia. What kind of services do you provide for drug users and sex workers?

Iveta Chovencová: We do our best to support them through the most comprehensive services possible given Slovakia’s scarce conditions. Starting with needle and syringes programme through outreach services and a newly opened drop-in centre, social assistance, counselling, online and outreach services for young people who use drugs, ending with the only advocacy programme for sex workers run by a consultant from the community in the country. However, almost all the services are completely dependent on year-round unpredictable project funding that causes interruptions and hinders much needed development.

How would you describe trends in drug use and related harms in Slovakia? What are the main trends and challenges affecting your work the most?

The main challenge is the lack of evidence-informed care and continuous national support for potentially harmful interventions masked as prevention. Young people experience sniffer dogs at schools for detection and “just say no to drugs“ campaigns that have never been proven to be effective. We are over the average in the European context for cannabis, meth and ecstasy use among young people, but fall behind in any useful support for them. The lack of systematic funding has caused the trend of closing harm reduction organisations. Although our work was evaluated as highly cost-effective even by the Institute for Financial Policy at the Slovak Ministry of Finance, we are still fighting for services that have to be of a certain standard, if we want to protect public health and human rights.

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