In June 2016, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launch a series of joint activities in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Tajikistan aimed at fostering partnerships between home affairs personnel and non-governmental organisations working in the harm reduction field.
Over the years, harm reduction programs had been implemented in many countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) without (or with insufficient) support from national governments. These programs heavily relied on international assistance, while national home offices were rather reluctant (if not directly opposed) to support needle and syringe exchanges and opioid substitution therapy programs. This was caused mostly by the unavailability of evidence-based information on harm reduction to police personnel, as well as the lack of open discussions between the police and harm reduction staff on how to organize the law enforcement work in a way that it would not hinder but rather encourage HIV prevention activities to enable people who use drugs to access essential medical and social services without a delay.
The newly launched series of activities is based on the training modules on HIV and harm reduction services developed by the UNODC for law enforcement personnel. Training will be offered to drug control senior staff and operational personnel, as well as to faculty members of the national police training centres to ensure that harm reduction issues can be embedded within standard police service training curricula.
The role of EHRN and national partners within these training programs is to host two-day meetings involving Home Affairs officers, harm reduction program staff and communities of people who use drugs. The involvement of concerned stakeholders will give police officers the opportunity to ask questions directly to harm reduction service providers and recipients and help identify “areas for improvement” in cooperation between police and harm reduction to plan concrete steps to improve the situation. The first of these meeting took place in Minsk earlier in June, and next meetings are going to be held in Almaty, Tbilisi, and Dushanbe.
One of the expected outcomes will be a discussion of opportunities to pilot programs in EECA aimed at developing police referral schemes to refer drug users to harm reduction services as opposed to repressive drug policy measures.
These activities are part of the regional program “Harm Reduction Works—Fund It!”.