As a result of the Ukrainian Ministry of Health Resolution No. 634 which has recently entered into force, the level of criminalisation of users has been increased 20-fold.

From now on, illicit possession of acetylated opium is liable for criminal prosecution in Ukraine for an amount of 0.005 g, compared to 0.5 g in neighboring Russian Federation.

Judicial practice in Ukraine proves that even traces of this drug in a used syringe may sometimes be enough for a person to be criminally liable under p. 309 of the Criminal Code, and sent to prison for up to 3 years.

Concerns about the issue have been expressed by Andriy Klepikov, Chief Executive of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine, and Yevhen Bystrytsky, Chief Executive of the International Renaissance Foundation.

Injecting drug use is currently the key driver of the HIV (58% of all officially registered cases) and hepatitis C epidemics in Ukraine. Increasing the level of criminal responsibility will not lower the level of drug usage by drug addicts. They will continue to use drugs but they will do it in a more dangerous way. Syringe exchange programmes implemented by NGOs and departments of the State Social Service in accordance with the National HIV/AIDS Programme will be paralysed: millions of syringes will be thrown around playgrounds, in front of porches and near houses. This may turn into a splash of HIV infections in Ukraine”,  commented Andriy Klepikov.

The problem directly concerns at least 59,800 people, representing 76% of all individuals officially registered by the Ukrainian MoH as patients suffering from chronic opiate dependence. This proportion is even higher if one considers those that have not been registered by the MoH.

We are very much concerned about the repressive nature of the new policy concerning drug dependent people. The efficiency of counteracting organised drug crime has not been increased. Instead of eradicating corruption among law enforcement officers responsible for fighting illicit drugs, the government chooses the easiest way —prosecuting sick drug dependent people. It is not logical, and only pushes sick people underground, it drives them to a blind corner, and simultaneously threatens the wellbeing of millions of people, who will face an increased danger of getting infected with HIV ”, declared Yevhen Bystrytsky.

Drug dependency is virtually considered equal to a crime”, explained Pavlo Kutsev, Director of CF “Drop In Center”. “We should realise that already high corruption levels among law enforcement officers will grow even more, as from now on they will demand money even if they seize a sick person with a used syringe”.

We have to admit that the criminalisation of drug users in Ukraine takes place at a time when inverse processes have been observed in many other countries. Following the results of the XVIII International AIDS Conference held in July 2010 in Vienna (Austria), more than 17,000 people signed the Vienna Declaration, calling for global decriminalisation of drug dependent people.

Attention should be given to other disturbing changes in the national drug policy which have recently occurred. In spite of the fact that drug dependency is defined as a chronic disease in the laws of Ukraine, the Decree of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine No. 1038, which will come into effect in the near future, provides that the MoH will no longer be involved in the National Council on Drug Abuse. Similarly, a new Concept of Drug Policy for 2010-2015 approved in September 2010 does not include any measures related to the treatment of drug dependency.

The Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria which provides financial support to HIV prevention services reaching more than 170,000 injecting drug users (IDUs) in Ukraine, is about to pass a decision concerning the proposal submitted by Ukraine for the following five-year funding round for an amount of up to USD 300 million. Activities aimed to prevent HIV transmission among IDUs, including support for syringe exchange programmes, is one of key prevention areas of the future project which is currently under threat.

A special meeting of the National Security and Defense Council dedicated to solving problems of HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis and other infection diseases and chaired by the President of Ukraine will be held on 26 November 2010. On  November 17, the National HIV/AIDS Conference “For Every Life Together” organised with the support of the Ukrainian Government and international organisations will be opened in Kyiv.

On the eve of these important events, and taking into account World AIDS Day which will be commemorated all over the world on 1 December, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine and the International Renaissance Foundation appeal to the Ukrainian Government together with other NGOs and international organisations to immediately revise recent destructive resolutions in the drug policy area, to consider people living with drug dependency and/or HIV.