Home » Side event: Empowering voices: Civil society’s role in monitoring and evaluation of drug policy

Side event: Empowering voices: Civil society’s role in monitoring and evaluation of drug policy

Organised by the Fédération bruxelloise des institutions pour toxicomanes with the support of Belgium, Finland, the Asociación Bienestar y Desarrollo, the De Regenboog Groep, Harm Reduction International and Forum Droghe

Stephane Leclercq, FEDA BXL. Thank you for joining us and for the organisers, Finland and Belgium for co-sponsoring the event. I am from FEDA BXL. Our organisations are all part of the EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs and the VNGOC. CSOs are critical partners in decision making, implementing and evaluating drug policies. I recommend you also have a look at the CSFD website on specific topics and how to develop and implement works with civil society at national level.

Iga Jeziorska, Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network. My presentation will be general on how data collection and monitoring can work. I will focus on our experiences as Correlation-EHRN on how we conduct our annual monitoring work. We’re a network established in 2004 in Amsterdam, we have more than 360 organisations and individuals working on harm reduction. Our monitoring started in 2018, developing a framework with a network of focal points of service providers will good connections at local level. We focus on harm reduction, HCV responses and new drug trends. We have 42 focal points, and on average 35 participating every year. I want to discuss how data collected by civil society is different from that collected by government and international organisations. NGOs are independent from governments and businesses. With these monitoring efforts, we try to keep governments accountable for implementing drug policies. We also work in partnership with policy makers who contribute to our work. And finally, we connect between service providers and decision makers, and most importantly between the communities of PWUD and policy makers. This is one of our core goals and activities. The data collected by Correlation is collected at city level (different form national data usually collected by governments) and it is direct data collection, there is no intermediary. What this means is that we have hands-on experience, service providers have deep connections and compassion with, and knowledge of the communities they serve. This contributes to the unique type of data collection we conduct. The data is qualitative and in-depth and it is importantly contextualised. The data is reliable because there is a high level of trust between communities and service providers and Correlation. It is also real-time data, we see it from service providers at all times. And it’s timely. We report within 6 months to 1 year, it’s faster than more bureaucratic contexts. And it is complementary to the data produced by governments and other sources.

Mireia Ventura, Drug checking services coordinator. Here I want to explain why drug checking services is very useful for monitoring. These services are tailored to the needs of PWUD. But also since 2011, we have developed a network of drug checking services that collect data throughout Europe. We use different techniques but the goal is the same. We have the trust of people. The data they send/the samples they send, are shared with their full trust. They are concerned about the contents of the drugs. We recently published the report Euroepan Drug Chekcing Trends 2018-2023. There, you can see a comparison of samples of MDMA over time, and we can compare this with new trends in cocaine as well. We detect substances, but also figure out the composition of the market. This is thanks to the connections we have developed with the clients. And they trust in the results that we are giving them. This is an example of a big queue for a drug checking services in a festival in Portugal. People waited for 3 hours to get their results, this shows how relevant the service was for them. The type of information we give them helps them take decisions on whether and how to use the substance in their possession. This is another example of a drug checking service in a festival. The person in charge of the emergency department told us that once the programme was launched, the emergency room ended up being empty! We also have a warning system: every warning we prepare is based on the dangerous nature of the substance and we also assess where and to whom the warning is circulated (among the party goers, or more massively if the substance is highly dangerous). Harm reduction services were able to transmit and adapt our warning and the deaths stopped. So the information and how to share it is very important. We now need to go further when the spread of synthetic drugs. A lot of things we identify in the field helps us prepare for the future, we adapt our message and the types of responses. I would recommend a publication we launched with EMCDDA on ‘Health risk communication strategies for drug checking services’. Drug checking services are very good tools for monitoring drug markets, for public health since we can reach these communities (for those people general prevention may not be working). They are also very well respected by our target group. Warnings are extremely useful for identifying and removing highly dangerous substances. We are at a critical moment so we need to understand the current situation around synthetic drugs, and we need to adapt to the current realities and help develop the message and prevention tools.

Susanna Ronconi, Forum Droghe. I want to share with you the 15 years of experience of our White Paper we present each year on 26th June to our Parliament as a counter-voice of our government report on drugs – as part of the Support. Don’t Punish campaign. We started with this initiative in 2009, just looking at the data the government produced every year about the new law approved in 2006 which was a counter-reform, focused on sanctions. Each year, the government published data on its implementation. After 3 years, we realised the government was trying to show that the law worked, while we could see the disastrous impact of the new law on PWUD and our community. We realised we had the possibility and necessity to reinterpret the data. The characteristic of this data was not to invent new sources but to make a different analysis and go beyond the numbers of government-produced data. Every year, we reinterpret the data. In 2014, we were successful because the law was abrogated by the High Court. We realised that this kind of monitoring can be useful. We decided to go on since we still needed to reform the law that was in place prior to the reform. We showed the evidence of the impacts of the law, and it was useful for advocacy actions. We learned that the processed data were not enough when presented in a bureaucratic ways. Numbers are not neutral, they must be interpreted from a different perspective. The plurality of analysis approaches and perspectives is important. We worked in partnership with other NGOs, including those working in prison sectors. We started only with two partners: Antigone and Forum Droghe. Now we are nine civil society organisations. We wanted to involve as many perspectives as possible on drugs. We realised that an active protagonist role of those involved was essential for an assessment of the drug law. Numbers are not neutral, they are not objective. They needed to be seen in their context to have a meaning. They also need to be compared and integrated, and that is what we did with our work. We stressed evidence with our work on how the government report forgot to say key things from their own data. Comparing data on criminalisation and the trend on drug use, we saw no decrease in drug use and markets. We stressed that our prisons were overcrowded with small fish. The law did not affect the great traffickers who only represented 3% of the prison population. Those in prison for drugs represent 30% of the total prison population. The minor dealers are the most affected from criminal sanctions, this means many PWUD are inside prisons since many minor dealers are PWUD. Another interesting number is the attitudes of judges towards people accused of drug offenses. 7 out of 10 trialled for drug offences ended up being sentenced (compared to 1 in 10 for other crimes). Criminal sanctions mostly affected young people. 75% of administrative sanctions focused on cannabis users. Our question is: can we draw evident conclusions about our drug policy? And our answer is yes, we can from a reform perspective. In the second part of our white book, we focus on specific topics that are on the agenda of the national debate on drugs, and we give a voice to local research and reports to broaden the source of knowledge. To conclude, we think that it’s important to go on because around the publication of this shadow report there is now a strong network of organisations. It is a useful tool for advocacy actions for the movement. There are also challenges, the most important of which is the dialogue between policy makers and evidence. We know that we adopt a very rational, reasonable language, but it’s not always clear whether it is understood by policy makers. But we think we should continue because evidence is the most important and we can use it.

Danilo Ballotta, EMCDDA. It’s a pleasure to talk about data collection and monitoring from a civil society perspective at the CND, because the mandate of the agency has been changed from a monitoring centre to a fully fledged drug agency: EU Drugs Agency. Before, the regulation mentioned civil society only once. The new one mentions CSOs 15 times, and there is a whole article about it, calling to maintain cooperation with civil society. It calls for the establishment of a steady mechanism to consult with civil society. It requires the EUDA to have a single contact point under the directorate as a liaison with civil society, and as a platform to exchange information. There is an important condition: it should maximise efficiency in monitoring, evaluating and supporting effective responses to the drug phenomenon. So everything needs to respond to this maximisation. If we are together, we should be better than when we are separated. The agency needs to be more performant and be more equipped to evaluate the drug phenomenon. It is not to say we’re not already doing some of this work. But we are now integrating the most solid and robust information. We have the Escape project (about analysing syringe residues), and many others. We have to integrate this into the new system and we will start working on this from July. By the end of the year, we will have structures to understand how we want to collaborate. There are many questions, including: who is civil society? The European Commission has the EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs, but it is a technical body. We need to understand what civil society means for us. It also need to cover civil society working on the mandate of the EUDA, and it also includes people who use drugs, and that is new. We must find systematic ways to integrate people who use drugs in maximising what we do. The mechanism does not stop at the EU, international organisations are also included. We also need to consider the resources we have to deploy. So it’s very exciting, it’s also very difficult. All sorts of civil society working in the political area might find it less attractive to work with us. We are very clear that we are moving in a field that does not belong to us, but to Member States. We are there to help, support, promote, improve, but not to make policy on behalf of Member States. We’ve never stepped out of our role. At the moment, I am in charge of transmitting this, until my director decides to transfer this to somebody else. So I am very lucky, and we will be in touch soon to ensure a transparent, clear and open conversation about this. We can listen to anything, accept all sorts of proposals, and we will then be asked to decide according to what the regulation has said. But for us, it is a revolution, it’s a needed one.


Question: Energy Control and Youth RISE: How can we use these resources to empower youth-led initiatives to evaluate drug policies and initiatives in a way that is sustainable and takes advantage of our position in reaching out to young people?

Iga. There are collaborations in place between organisations like Youth RISE and organisations that are not exclusively focused on youth. One of the ways to find connections is enhancing empowerment would lie in collaborations on longer term projects where young people could on one hand get funding for their activities, and on the other exchange their experiences in the field with those who have been working on drugs for longer. At Correlation, we have an advisory committee to our network and there are 8 individuals with at least 1 young person who represents youth. We will hopefully have more after our elections in the next few weeks.

Question: IDPC: Are there plans to expand the network of drug checking services globally?

Mireia. There are some efforts to do this, but for now, there are joint structures to harmonise the database we use for drug checking services. So this is sometimes difficult to manage since each country has their own language, indicators and monitoring strategies. Sharing the same way of monitoring is the first step, but harmonising that is not easy. We will need budget to do this, and time. We must have a person responsible for harmonising the tool.

Question: Federation Addiction: Once you produce the report, what do you do for communication and dissemination to reach to policy makers, and share conclusions?

Iga. We have executive summaries in various languages. This is one of the channels of dissemination. We organise webinars to discuss the results, and consequences for advocacy and policy making. We attend conferences to share the results. The question you’re asking has been asked by our focal points. In this year’s work plan, we will also have part of the project dedicated to providing advocacy support, guidance and training to selected organisations to equip them with skills that would allow them to use the publications at local and national level to influence policy making. But that is a challenge: how to transform our recommendations with concrete change.

Susanna. We have good collaborations with NGOs, trade unions, lawyers, judges associations, and social civil society networks. We spread our publication and organise many events in different contexts and that’s effective to present ourselves as the counter-voice of the government starting from the same data. This is very strong and effective. On the other side we send copies to each parliament member as they are very important targets. And of course we share via social media and websites. But it’s important to meet different groups.

Katrin. The follow up to preparing these reports is really important and also the most difficult one for civil society. You produce data and evidence but if you don’t reach policy makers or politicians, you may not have the desired impact. We need to focus on specific situations in the country or city to decide what we can push for. We also need to realise that most of our focal points and members are focal points of service providers that don’t have advocacy as their main activity. There are many good experiences on developing these kinds of research with people who are not necessarily researchers, and that’s a good thing. We should use our networks.

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