Peter Sarosi from Rights Reporter Foundation spoke about the crisis of harm reduction in Central and Eastern Europe at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs intersessional meeting in Vienna on 8 November, 2018. 

Good afternoon! I would like to thank you, Madame Chair, and the Civil Society Task Force, for giving me this opportunity to take stock of the drug-related crisis faced by society in my region, Central-Eastern Europe. This crisis is not caused by drug use itself. It is driven by bad drug policies, based on a faulty assumption that we can make our societies drug-free by punishing people who use drugs, instead of supporting them to stay healthy and alive.

In most of the countries of the region, the majority of injecting drug users belong to deprived and marginalised communities. It is important to understand that for them, harm reduction services, such as needle and syringe programs, are not only about reducing the negative consequences of drug use, such as infections and overdoses. For them, harm reduction is not just an extra option on the menu, not just the first step to recovery. For them, harm reduction programs offer the only opportunity to be treated as a human being – and sometimes the only chance to stay alive. During the early years of this century, thanks to international assistance from the Global Fund, Central-Eastern Europe made huge progress in building up a harm reduction system of care and support.