Drug policy should be based on combatting drug trafficking not punishing the addicts – Ukraine’s State Drug Control Service


International authorities and NGO experts emphasize the needs of drug addicts in custody. Best practices of medical assistance and inter-agency cooperation are in focus.

Kyiv, April 26, 2016. Human rights and freedoms need to be at the basis of the drug policy. It is crucial to focus efforts on combatting drug trafficking not on punishing drug addicts, said Oleg Dzisyak, acting head of the State Drug Control Service of Ukraine. “International drug policy is being rearranged one of its key tasks is to get rid of the punitive and repressive methods that were directed against the drug users. Instead law enforcement agencies need to focus on combatting organized drug trafficking,” explained Dzisyak. He said Ukraine is demonstrating positive results that derive from introduction of the program on harm reduction – replacement and maintenance therapy. For patients these voluntary programs mean stability of health, for the state it is a tool to hold the situation under control.

Anna Dovbakh, program director of the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network, noted that the need for medical assistance and understanding is highest among the drug users in case of detention. In such situations police needs to demonstrate humane attitude to these people. To ensure that the state needs to change the attitude towards drug addicts, said the program director of the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network. “Police in all countries of the world needs to fulfill the function of assistance. […] In our region it is unfortunately not working everywhere,” said Dovbakh. She said ways to resolve the situation are being currently discussed among representatives of law enforcement agencies, the drug control service, medics and civic activists. Steps towards further humanization of the drug policy as well as towards alternatives to imprisonment need to be agreed.

In Austria in case drug addicts are detained police is cooperating with the Healthcare Ministry and the Ministry of Justice, said Albert Grasel, chief inspector at the Austrian Federal Ministry of Interior. All expenses are borne by the state. “Persons detained by the police immediately get medical assistance. Starting from the moment of the person’s detention representatives of civil society organizations have access to the temporary detention facility. They also take care of the person after the liberation,” explained Grasel. Psychiatrist and medical head of the Austrian NGO Dialogue Walter North noted that persons dependent on drugs usually have one main mental disorder and often have adjacent diseases. That’s why according to the doctor they need mandatory medical escort and treatment.

Anton Basenko, specialist at the Alliance for Public Health, patient of replacement therapy said that in Ukraine 8,5 thousand people were able to return to their families from the criminal world thanks to such approach. “Last year the harm reduction program covered 212 thousand drug users. […] Over the years when such programs have been implemented the rate of HIV infection prevalence was decreased more than twice in the drug users environment: from 41 to 19 percent,” said Basenko. Substitution therapy programs are being implemented by non-government organizations only. They are only available to those drug addicts who are not in custody.