This report presents a complex picture of the achievements and challenges of drug treatment systems in the Western Balkans, a politically defined region comprising the Balkan states yet to become members of the European Union (EU): Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and the territory of Kosovo.

The region has experienced considerable political and social change since the early 1990s as a result of the break-up of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This period has been marked by a shift towards the independence of most former Yugoslav republics, which has entailed political reconstruction, armed conflicts, intraregional migration and the displacement of large populations through a process that is not yet fully consolidated. A transition of such scale, and the challenges that the region has experienced as a result, can generate structural conditions conducive to a high-risk environment in the context of illicit drug use. This is true in particular with regard to drug use disorders and related health and social consequences.

Furthermore, one of the most established international distribution routes for illicit drugs, the ‘Balkan route’, which links Afghanistan to the large markets of Russia and western Europe, passes through the Western Balkans. It is a particularly important route not only for the heroin trade but also for cocaine and cannabis (EMCDDA and Europol, 2016; UNODC, 2018a). As far as responses to the drug phenomenon are concerned, alignment with the EU has brought new challenges related to the transposition of the EU acquis into the countries’ national legislation, especially in the area of justice and home affairs. However, it has also created new opportunities for cooperation and for discussions on approaches addressing illicit drug use, associated health and social harms, and responses. This report is an example of such collaboration, presenting the outcomes of joint work between the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Western Balkan states to obtain an updated overview of the countries’ national drug treatment systems.

The EMCDDA works with EU Member States to develop a comprehensive drug monitoring framework. It monitors developments in the EU drug situation through a variety of methods, including a set of key epidemiological indicators and data collection on the provision of, access to and the availability of drug treatment in EU Member States, as well as on drug markets and supply. Over the past decade, the EMCDDA has expanded and consolidated its cooperation with national drug authorities in candidate and potential candidate countries to the EU in the Western Balkan states — Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and the territory of Kosovo. This collaboration aims to align the drug monitoring systems of these countries and Kosovo with the comprehensive EU drug monitoring framework. This has been possible owing to funding made available to the EMCDDA through the Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation programme and the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA), under which several consecutive projects have been carried out since 2008. The work to support the region in further consolidating their drug information systems and producing reliable data on the current drug situation is continuing under the EMCDDA IPA 6 project ‘Stepwise integration of the IPA beneficiaries in the activities of the EMCDDA activities and the REITOX network’, initiated in July 2017.

The UNODC collects, analyses and reports data on the extent of, patterns in and trends in drug use and its health consequences through the Annual Report Questionnaire (ARQ) (UNODC, 2018b). The data collected through the ARQ enable the monitoring of and biennial reporting to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on the implementation by Member States of the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem. In addition, the UNODC supports the UN Member States in their efforts to set up, improve and maintain effective data collection systems on drug use and service planning, with a view to reducing drug demand. It does this through global, regional and national projects, such as the UNODC-WHO Programme on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care (UNODC, 2018c).

Since 2010, the UNODC in collaboration with the WHO has provided technical assistance to the region of South Eastern Europe in five countries — Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia — in collaboration with the relevant ministries. This initiative has been carried out through the Programme on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care (GLOK32). The project aims to promote policies that strike the right balance in terms of reducing drug supply and demand, and incorporate science-based drug prevention and dependence treatment.