On June 20th, 2017 in Brussels, the European Popular Party group (EPP) in collaboration with the Polish Drug Policy Network, organized an expert panel entitled “Public safety and public health: municipal drug policies in the EU Member States“ in the European Parliament.
Both interdisciplinarity and trans-partisanship were credit to the panel, where representatives of civil society advocacy organization, ground workers and policymakers openly exchanged views on good practices for local policies that can easily apply or experiment scientific-based prevention campaigns or health and social programs, when national authorities too often suffer from political inertia preventing them to adapt policies to the current scientific knowledge.
MEP Michał Boni from the EPP group, moderated the debate between panelists and with the audience, after having recalled the Warsaw Declaration on Urban Drug Policies as a document that should be applied at the municipal level, and an excellent tool that can serve both as an indicator of good urban practices, and as a starting point for a debate on minimum standards that should be spread in the broader European Union municipal drug strategies.
The panel was composed by:
- Pr. Richard Muscat (Horizontal Working Party on Drugs, Council of the European Union)
- Danilo Ballotta (European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction)
- Ute Stiegel (Organized Crime and Drug Policy Unit, European Commission)
- Agnieszka Sieniawska (Polish Drug Policy Network)
- Marcus Keane (European Civil Society Forum on Drugs)
- Nanna Gotfredsen (NGO Danish Street Lawyers)
- Anna Dovbakh (Eurasian Harm Reduction Network)
The recent history of European cities is rich of many good examples and innovative pathways, such as Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Lisbon but also Geneva in the EU border. Among the diverse successful local initiatives that have bettered the health and welfare of people who use drugs and the broader affected communities and populations, almost all arise from grassroots initiatives, rather than national guidelines.
Therefore, conclusions that can be taken include respecting and monitoring the initiatives arising from the ground, while acknowledging from above the diverse effective local policies that have been experimented here and there, and starting to establish minimum standards that would apply to all European Union Member States, and that could progressively get enriched by new local experiences.
This implies an enhanced dialogue between civil society and local institutions, and between cities and national institutions, and these attempts of dialogue should receive more interest and investment from the relevant European institutions such as the EMCDDA (European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction) or the Committee of the Regions, to encourage, guide, monitor and evaluate cities initiatives.
The Warsaw Declaration is a statement from representatives of municipal and national governments, decision makers, law enforcement, civil society, people who use drugs, harm reduction and treatment providers, and academics. It builds on the seven key principles set out in the 2010 Prague Declaration, one which followed the first international meeting focused on substance use in the urban environment and the exchange of experiences in implementing evidence-informed policies to best mitigate its harms. This declaration was also built as a meaningful contribution to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs held in April 2016, and to the broader drug policy debate beyond this event.
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Read the Warsaw Declaration in English
Illicit drug use presents an on-going challenge for public health in the urban context and demands the development of effective and evidence-informed policies. Focusing on harm reduction, the treatment of drug dependence and addiction where needed, and drug prevention and education over enforcement-led approaches has enormous potential to improve not only the lives of people who use drugs, but public health for society as a whole. In recognition of the urban environment serving as a microcosm of the broader dynamics of the illicit drugs market, such evidence-informed interventions must be continually monitored and evaluated so as to inform policy from the municipal to the regional, national and international levels.
The deleterious effects of criminalising people who use drugs and denying targeted health interventions are irrefutable and have led to countless negative consequences, including the spread of blood-borne viruses and other infectious diseases, and the restriction of people’s access to employment and education opportunities, among others. Policies addressing the use of drugs that are grounded in human rights, evidence and compassion vastly improve public health and secure the safety of communities.
To reiterate the Prague Declaration, a drug-free world is unrealistic as a concept. The use of drugs has existed within societies for millennia and is here to stay, with both negative and positive aspects. Devising ways to minimise the adverse effects of drug trafficking and use is a more realistic and pragmatic approach.
We, the signatories of the Warsaw Declaration, hereby call for the following:
- The roles and responsibilities of local government agencies should be clearly defined when developing and implementing evidence-informed drug policies and programmes at the local level. Regular and formal consultations should take place with all relevant local stakeholders throughout the development of specific forums and implementation phases. This will ensure that effective partnerships exist between local authorities, community and faith groups, professionals working in related fields, service providers, civil society organisations, and affected communities such as people who use drugs. A local official or entity with relevant experience should be charged with coordinating this process.
- Municipalities should continue to take the lead in experimenting with innovative and evidence-informed drug policies, programmes and services that respond pragmatically to the needs of the local population. Experiences from Frankfurt, Zurich, Lisbon and Vancouver, among other cities, highlight the enormous benefits that innovative programmes – for example, harm reduction centres – can provide to broader public health and public safety. Policy innovation at local, national and international levels should be informed by all relevant stakeholders, including, though not limited to, local officials and law enforcement, health and service providers, civil society, affected communities, and academia.
- Police and other law enforcement agencies should not target people who use drugs for simple possession of small amounts of drugs intended for personal use. Indicators of policing success should be reviewed in order to deprioritise the policing of low-level drug offenders, and to improve public health outcomes, recognising that this in turn will improve public safety. This should be clearly defined through guidelines on policing best practice for law enforcement agencies, and effective cooperation mechanisms should be established between law enforcement agencies and health and social service providers. Law enforcement officials should be adequately trained and sensitised as to how best to respond to drug use and/or drug dependence and addiction, and be properly informed as to the availability of prevention and education programmes, harm reduction services, treatment and social services for people who use drugs, should they be required.
- Mechanisms should be put in place at the local level to safeguard the human rights of people who use drugs, in particular through existing mechanisms such as the Ombudsman’s office. These rights include, though are not restricted to, the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, the right to privacy, the right to be free from discrimination, the right to be free from torture, the right to a fair trial, and the right to not be arbitrarily detained.
- A comprehensive menu of health and social services – within which are included harm reduction programmes – should be available to address the different characteristics, needs, preferences and circumstances of people who use drugs. Treatment must be provided strictly on a voluntary basis, and any prevention initiatives should be evidence-informed. These programmes should be developed in accordance with human rights principles and the EU minimum quality standards for demand reduction. Local governments should effectively combat the stigma and discrimination faced by people who use drugs when accessing social and health programmes, and mechanisms should be developed to ensure that these individuals have uninterrupted access to different services as and when their circumstances change. In addition to accessibility, programmes should respond to the specific needs of different age groups, women, ethnic minorities, migrants, sex workers and LGBTQ people. The provision of information should avoid fear mongering and stigmatisation, be based on the dignity of the person and, among other initiatives, utilise peer-to-peer education.
- Municipalities should create regulations and guidelines to improve the safety of drug use in nightlife and recreational settings, and help facilitate cooperation among private sector actors, civil society, the local authorities, people who use drugs and the police. These regulations and guidelines should ensure that the owners of clubs and organisers of local parties, festivals and other events are able to offer a comprehensive package of services to prevent and reduce harms and ensure safety; for example, drug checking, peer-based interventions, information on safer use and access to cold drinking water. Club owners and event organisers should work to provide trainings for relevant staff members on how to work with people who use drugs in these settings.
- Municipal governments should commit to allocating sustainable funding for harm reduction services and programmes, treatment, re-integration initiatives, evidence-informed drug prevention and education programmes, and for the training of local officials on best practice as it pertains to addressing drug use. Incorporated into the aforementioned should be services that work with affected communities and the families of people who use drugs. Recognising the current emphasis on law enforcement-led approaches, funding should be distributed in a more balanced way between law enforcement and social and health services, and should be based on a solid needs assessment. This funding should be allocated in a transparent manner and in consultation with civil society.
- Municipalities should work to sensitise and educate local communities in order to reduce the stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs, and inform them of the societal benefits of harm reduction programmes and evidence-informed drug treatment. Forums should also be provided that promote dialogue between service providers, neighbourhoods, law enforcement and affected groups so as to address any potential conflicts.
- Municipalities should establish mechanisms for the monitoring and evaluation of all local policies, services and programmes as they relate to drugs. This should be carried out by an independent monitoring group comprised of experts working in consultation with civil society, affected groups, and in partnership with academia. The evaluation should take into account the local context and the impact that these policies have had on public health, human rights and public safety, among others. Monitoring and evaluation should be an integral part of the budget plans of municipalities.
- Systematic partnerships and networks should be established among municipalities at the regional, national and international levels to facilitate the exchange and sharing of best practice and successful evidence-informed drug policies.