8.30 – 10.30 BST

What can we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic? 
COVID-19 and the impact on harm reduction in Europe

Background

Since the beginning of 2020, European countries have experienced an unprecedented public health threat with the emergence of COVID-19. In response to the pandemic European countries have implemented a variety of virus containment strategies along with various service closures and reductions. People who use drugs are particularly susceptible to the changes wrought by this pandemic. Border closures cause major disruptions to drug supply chains and vital harm reduction services face potential closures and shortages of sterile supplies. PWUD can face additional risks of COVID-19 due to crowded living situations and unstable housing, sharing of drug equipment in addition to stigma and marginalization preventing health-seeking behaviors. In addition, PWUD in Europe often have underlying chronic medical conditions, such as Hepatitis C, placing them at further risk of severe respiratory illness should they fall ill with COVID-19.

In this session, we will discuss the lessons learnt and the way forward from a diversity of perspectives.


10.45 – 11.15 BST

Launch of the special edition of the Harm Reduction Journal

Harm Reduction in Europe is confronted with new developments and challenges. The provision of HR services is inadequate in many countries, especially in the eastern part and the situation is deteriorating in countries with traditionally good coverage. Combatting viral hepatitis remains to be one of the health priorities for PWIDs, requiring the involvement of HR services in the cascade of care. The number of overdose deaths continues to grow. Drug use and drug use patterns have changed: the use of cocaine, stimulants and synthetic drugs is increasing and HR services need to extend the focus on different groups: marginalised and recreational drug users, aging drug users, homeless people and adapt services accordingly.

This session will launch a thematic series in the Harm Reduction Journal , which seeks to examine where harm reduction is as philosophy, policy and practice in 2020 in the broader European regions. The collected articles cover a variety of topics, including the funding crisis for harm reduction in Central and Eastern Europe, the specific needs of women, Hepatitis C, prison-related needs and challenges, innovations in treatment, the role of civil society in policy development and monitoring, New Psychoactive Substance and the impact of Covid-19 on harm reduction services.

The session will provide an overview of the topics covered by the different articles and discuss specific challenges with dedicated experts in the field of harm reduction and drug policy.


12.30 – 14.30 BST

Different approaches for decriminalisation – what works?

Organised by EHRA

Many countries started slowly to adopt alternatives to punishment, abolishing criminal sanctions for use and possession of psychoactive substances and replacing them with the administrative measures, such as fine, compulsory or voluntary treatment and other social interventions. However, not in all cases these alternatives brought positive outcomes for people who use psychoactive substances and society at large.

Thus, we need to review new approaches or update old ones, to ensure that measures adopted by the state are proportionate and in line with human rights.

In this session we will discuss 5 different approaches to decriminalization, which are applied in 5 countries and their impact on lives of people who use psychoactive substances and society.


15.00 – 16.30 BST

Engaging with policymakers and the public to promote ethical drug policy

The war on drugs has failed – drug related deaths in many countries are at record levels, and the global drug market continues to increase in size. Without the burden of ideology framing its aims in terms of a moral impetus, any other field of public policy similarly marred by failure would be swiftly overhauled. Propagation of punitive drug policy may be driven directly by policymakers, or indirectly by the electorate as politicians try to avoid being seen as being ‘soft on drugs’ – this session will confront the question of how best to engage with both the decisionmakers, and the public who hold them to account in order to promote an ethical rationalisation of drug policy.

The session will start with the launch and partial screening of the short film Putting UK Drug Policy into Focus, produced by public health physician, Dr Adam Holland, which highlights the problems with UK drug policy as an example of a criminal justice approach to drugs. The film features contributions from UK and international experts.

Following this we will be joined by panellists who have experience engaging with policymakers and the public to discuss previous challenges and how best to move forward in the future with an opportunity for attendees to pose questions.


Register here for the event