NGO coalition “With respect to human dignity”: Ukraine should develop compassionate and effective anti-drug policy


Kyiv, December 27, 2015. Human rights activists, charities, organizations of patients, representatives of professional organizations and former members of security forces, churches and religious organizations form a broad coalition “With respect to human dignity” in order to start a large-scale discussion on streamlining and reforming Ukrainian anti-drug policy. “We have united to implement effective and compassionate anti- drug policy in Ukraine,” said Anastasia Bezverkha, Media Coordinator of Public Health Program Initiative, International Renaissance Foundation, at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. According to the coalition representatives, the new strategy should be based on the principles of prioritizing human rights, humanity and non-discrimination against drug addicted patients who need pain relief or mental health care, and people who use drugs. “We want to find such a form of cooperation between NGOs and state institutions that would allow realizing the strategy objectives,” said Volodymyr Tymoshenko, President of NGO “Institute for the Study of Drug Policy, Addictions Problems and Narcotic Situation Monitoring”. According to him, it is unlikely to achieve significant changes without involving civil society in this process.
Discussion of this topic is becoming particularly important, since Ukraine will participate in the thematic session of the UN General Assembly in April this year. During the session, the country has to make a statement on its future policy in this area, considering the principle of non-discrimination rights. “Debates on the liberalization of drug policy are conducted at the global level. Ukraine could become a leader in the whole region for debates on this issue,” said Olena Kucheruk, Public Health Program Initiative Acting Director, International Renaissance Foundation. Currently, the situation in this area is problematic and unbalanced, according to coalition members. Although some advanced acts have been adopted recently, “their effectiveness was either minimal, or zero,” said Mr. Tymoshenko.
One of the most painful problems is lack of access to drugs containing controlled substances for patients with severe diseases who need palliative care. “As of today, there are 500, 000 such patients in Ukraine and 17, 500 of them are children,” said Larysa Lavreniuk, Head of Ukrainian Pediatric Palliative Care Network, Charity Foundation “Crab” Assisting Children with Cancer. Although Resolution №333 slightly improved the situation at the legislative level, there is no liberalization in real life, says Larysa Matiukha, Head of Ukrainian Family Medicine Association, Chief Specialist of Ministry of Healthcare of Ukraine on General Practice & Family Medicine. “This decision is difficult to implement, as some people worry that such methods of drugs distribution may be used for other purposes,” she said. “The biggest problem for family physicians [dealing with terminally ill patients] is to come to a mutual understanding with the Interior Ministry authorities at the local level in order to obtain permits to use certain drugs. “For the same reason, added Ms. Matiukha, pharmacies are afraid to buy drugs. Under these circumstances, cancer patients (20-30% of which suffer from severe pain even at early stages) have almost no opportunity to receive painkillers if they are not in hospital. Given the fact that most patients in the last stages of life are discharged from hospital, this is a real problem, said Ms. Lavreniuk. In some cases, it is impossible to get medication, for example, “strong painkillers for babies up to 2 years old are not registered in Ukraine,” said the expert. “Public institutions should carry out a significant share of drug policy adjustment. We only call for prudential regulation, so that palliative patients should not suffer, especially palliative children,” said Ms. Lavreniuk. For this purpose, said Ms. Matiukha, it is necessary to give more specific instructions on the application of Resolution №333.
Another sensitive issue is “over-criminalization of people whose only violation is storing a small amount of drugs for personal consumption,” stressed Ms. Kucheruk. “It is necessary to amend the legislation, including the Criminal Code, so that drug addicts do not become “patients” in prisons, but patients in rehabilitation centers,” said Mr. Tymoshenko. Oleksandra Bratsiun, Medicine Program Manager, Ukrainian Charity Foundation “Sobornist”, drew attention to the need to develop effective methods of prevention and outreach because it is also a very important element of the solution.
Coalition members plan to start discussing these issues in the nearest future. “In February we plan to start an open public dialogue with the corresponding ministries, especially the State Service for Drug Control, the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Healthcare, in order to discuss the position of the state, which will be presented to the UN General Assembly. It is important to understand the agreed position of state bodies, because now their vision is different,” said Ms. Kucheruk. In addition, a series of meetings will be held in the regions in February to discuss the drug policy “with a human face” on local levels. In March, another event will be held involving experts, representatives of government and the public for finalizing the position, which Ukraine will present in New York.