This year’s meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) featured a side event on quality standards. The event was a joint initiative of the European Union, the Government of Latvia, the African Union Commission, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the UNODC Drug Prevention and Health Branch, and the Prevention Standards Partnership (represented by Liverpool John Moores University, UK).
The event was opened by Ambassador Györgyi Martin Zanathy, Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the International Organisations in Vienna. Ambassador Zanathy emphasised that promotion of quality in the field of drug demand reduction is a priority for the European Union, with three projects funded to this effect – the “Study on the Development of an EU Framework for Minimum quality standards and benchmarks in drug demand reduction” (EQUS) (see our related activities page) and, specifically in the area of prevention, the EDPQS Phase I and Phase II projects. She further praised the efforts of the Civil Society Forum on Drugs (CSF) in this regard, referring also to the CSF’s recent submission of a Thematic Paper on EU minimum quality standards for drug demand reduction to the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs (HDG).
The event was chaired by Ambassador Bahtijors Hasans, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Latvia to the UN, OSCE and Other International Organizations in Vienna. In his introductory statement, Ambassador Hasans stressed how projects to promote quality standards encourage different stakeholders from government and civil society to come to the negotiation table and to work together towards an evidence-based approach to addressing drug-related needs.
These opening remarks were followed by four presentations to introduce ongoing efforts in this area from different parts of the world.
Dr Gilberto Gerra, Chief of the Drug Prevention and Health Branch at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), used examples from the medical field to highlight the importance of quality standards. He argued that few people would agree to medical treatment by a doctor who refuses to follow an evidence-based protocol to treat their condition, preferring instead to follow intuition. This, however, was the reality for many activities in drug demand reduction. Dr Gerra argued that the evidence is clear on what doesn’t work to address drug-related needs, but that this knowledge does not sufficiently inform policy and practice. The UNODC has published, and is continuing to develop, standards and guidelines for prevention and treatment. Yet the challenge remains to make these documents widely known and used in different contexts.
Ambassador Dr Olawale Maiyegun, Director of Social Affairs at the African Union Commission (AUC), presented work undertaken by the African Union to raise the quality of treatment for drug dependence. Activities by the AUC include training the workforce, for example as part of the UNODC’s Treatnet projects or using the Universal Treatment Curriculum (UTC). Differences in countries’ public health care systems, along with cultural and socio-economic factors, were one of the challenges which the AUC faces in this process. However, according to Ambassador Maiyegun, the major challenge for the African continent lies in the over-reliance on supply reduction and criminal justice approaches. He commented that treatment was virtually non-existent in some countries, and where it did, treatment practices could be of such a poor standard that they led to greater harm than drug use itself. In this context, promoting quality standards offered an opportunity to redress the balance between supply and demand reduction, and to advocate for greater investment in treatment.
Next up was Mr Jānis Bekmanis, President of the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs (HDG) during the Latvian Presidency at the Council of the European Union. Mr Bekmanis embedded the projects to promote quality standards within the EU’s wider activities to support high quality drug demand reduction, referring also to the EMCDDA’s Best Practice Portal. Mr Bekmanis was unable to share details with the plenum about the EU minimum quality standards in drug demand reduction, as these standards are still under discussion by the EU Member States. He did disclose that they would include standards for prevention, risk and harm reduction, as well as treatment and rehabilitation. Across these three areas, the standards would reflect common principles oriented toward human rights, monitoring and evaluation, and target population needs. Once the standards have been agreed on by Member States, Mr Bekmanis suggested that further work would be required to support and monitor implementation of the standards.
Finally, Prof Harry Sumnall, Professor in Substance Use at Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, spoke on behalf of the Prevention Standards Partnership. Prof Sumnall highlighted that promoting quality in European prevention required collaboration with many partners. This included not only the members of the Prevention Standards Partnership but also other projects and organisations committed to high-quality drug prevention, such as the Three Cities project in Sweden or COPOLAD. A major challenge in promoting quality was how to support the prevention workforce to use and implement quality standards. Prof Sumnall argued that for a true improvement in professional practice, it is not sufficient to influence prevention providers as individuals and organisations, but that policy-makers must create the structures necessary to promote quality. He cited examples from the Czech Republic and Croatia, where the quality of preventive activities is considered when selecting projects for governmental funding. Across Europe, these examples represented the exception rather than the rule. The outputs from the EDPQS Phase II project would therefore include a guide for decision-makers to help revise funding and commissioning systems toward a greater emphasis on quality.
The side event was attended by around 50 participants, and several delegates approached Prof Sumnall over the course of the CND to discuss the role of standards in improving the quality of drug demand reduction activities, including representatives from the Australian Drug Foundation and the New Zealand Drug Foundation.
– Angelina Brotherhood