NPS use in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Throughout the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region, the use and variety of NPS are relevant issues, although the nature and extent differ among the EECA countries and subregions, with better awareness of their presence among health professionals and people who use drugs. Synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones are predominant groups of NPS and widely available, whereas synthetic opioids seem to be more present in Estonia and Lithuania. Among people who use NPS, there are two key populations: those who have more experience with use of drugs, who have shifted to the use of NPS for a variety of reasons, and young people with no previous history of drug use. Drivers for use of NPS include the unavailability of drugs of choice, context-driven motives, as many NPS are not detected in blood and urine, and the aggressive marketing of NPS throughout the EECA region. NPS are marketed on social media channels, but also on public walls in many cities. A main risk of NPS is the absence of (chemical) analysis: that is, you do not know what you are actually consuming. Other health-related risks include mental health issues and increased risk of transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) caused by unsafe use (mainly by injections), often combined with unsafe sex. So far, in the EECA region, no specific treatments are available for people with NPS dependency issues, as the focus has remained on traditional drugs, in particular opioid use. Similarly, harm reduction services are mostly not equipped to address the need of people who use NPS. In the EECA region, data-driven and science-based publications on NPS are almost non-existent.

Regional report on NPS use in EECA countries draws on a study conducted by the School of Law, Swansea University, in collaboration with the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA). Within the framework of this project, 8 country reports were drafted, targeting the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Moldova, and Serbia.

Read the report

General and Regional meetings of EHRA members to elect Steering Committee members

On 6 – 19 September, 2021 Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) conducts:

  • General meeting of its members to elect 2 representatives from the community of people who use drugs, and
  • Regional meetings from the particular regions: Central Europe, Ukraine-Moldova-Belarus, Caucasus, Central Asia.

ATTENTION! Regional meetings in the Central Europe (Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia), Ukraine-Moldova-Belarus regions will not be held, according to the Regulations of the Steering Committee of Eurasian Harm Reduction Association. Article 8.7. of the Regulations states: “However, if a sole nominee is entering the second term of Steering Committee membership, he/she is appointed without the elections”. In each of above-mentioned regions, EHRA received per one application from current Steering Committee members: Dominika Jasekova (representing Central Europe region) and Ala Iatco (representing Ukraine-Moldova-Belarus region). In this case, both candidates are appointed to be Steering Committee members without elections.

The same rule is applied to the General meeting to elect representatives from the community of people who use drugs. As there are 2 seats in the Steering Committee from the community of people who use drugs and EHRA received 2 applications from which one is from the current Steering Committee member – Vitalii Rabinciuc, he is appointed to be Steering Committee member without elections.

All EHRA members (individual and organizational), who are from the regions, where elections are taking place and who are approved by the Steering Committee, have a right to vote in the Regional meetings. All members who identify themselves as members of the community of people who use drugs have a right to vote in the General meeting to elect Steering Committee member from the community of people who use drugs.

If you have any questions, please contact Secretary of the Regional meetings – Eliza Kurcevič members@harmreductioneurasia.org

GENERAL MEETING

Community of people who use drugs

​ 

Aydana Fedosik

Russia

Know your candidate
CV
Motivation letter   
Recommendation letter

REGIONAL MEETINGS

Caucasus

Irma Kirtadze

Georgia

Know your candidate
CV
Motivation letter

 

Ashot Gevorgyan

Armenia

Know your candidate
CV
Motivation letter

Central Asia

​ 

Pulod Dzhamolov

Tajikistan

Know your candidate
CV
Motivation letter

Announcement of EHRA members online General and Regional meetings to elect Steering Committee members

Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) (Eurazijos žalos mažinimo asociacija), registered at Gedimino pr. 45-4, Vilnius 01109, Lithuania (actual address Verkių g. 34B-701, Vilnius) announces the convocation of the members general meeting to elect 2 representatives from the community of people who use drugs and regional meetings from the particular regions: Central Europe, Ukraine-Moldova-Belarus, Caucasus, Central Asia.

List of all current Steering Committee members.

A list of Steering Committee members subject to rotation in the Regional meetings:

  1. Dominika Jasekova (Central Europe)
  2. Ala Iatco (Ukraine-Moldova-Belarus)
  3. Marina Chokheli (Caucasus)
  4. Aibar Sultangaziev (Central Asia)

A list of Steering Committee members subject to rotation in the General meeting:

  1. Alexander Levin (community of PWUD)
  2. Vitalii Rabinciuc (community of PWUD)

Schedule of elections:

  • From 2nd to 29th August 2021 – nomination process (4 weeks). Candidates are submitting their applications to participate in the Steering Committee elections.
  • From 6th to 19th September 2021 – online voting to elect Steering Committee members in four above-mentioned regions and from the community of PWUD.
  • 20th September 2021 – announcement of the results.

We are inviting all EHRA members from the above-mentioned regions to submit applications to become a member of the Steering Committee until 19th August 2021. Candidates’ applications are filled in online: https://forms.gle/jtZJrm4vkZANjCzU9

The requirements for the candidates are: 

    1. be a member of EHRA;
    2. demonstrate readiness and ability to work responsibly and actively as a Steering Committee member;
    3. follow the principles listed in the Association Steering Committee Regulations ;
    4. in case of the regional representative elections – to reside within a region participating in the current elections;
    5. in case of representative elections from the community of people who use drugs – to live within Association geographical region and to be an individual who is a former or current person who use drugs and can represent interests of the community of people who use drugs;
    6. to avoid a potential conflict of interests, candidates cannot be representatives of Association’s donor organizations.

ATTENTION! According EHRA Regulations, a country represented in a particular region may have only one representative in the Steering Committee who is elected in the Regional meeting. Therefore, EHRA members from Czechia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan cannot submit their candidacies, as these countries are already represented at EHRA Steering Committee.

Representatives of the community of people who use drugs represent the Association’s whole geographical area and should be from different countries. So we are inviting all EHRA members, who represent community of PWUD to apply to SC elections, to represent community of PWUD.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate Secretary of the Regional meetings Eliza Kurcevic, on e-mail: members@harmreductioneurasia.org

Terms of Reference for the EECA Regional Platform National Focal Points to help generating requests for the Global Fund’s CRG Technical Assistance in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia

EHRA is looking for the experts to serve as the EECA Regional Platform National Focal Points in the following 3 countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia.

Key tasks to be conducted by the experts.

Each expert selected to become the EECA Platform CRG TA National Focal Point is expected to assist the civil society and communities’ representatives in relevant country in development and submission of at least 1 successful request for the CRG TA per country in 2021.

The CRG TA Request to be considered as successful if it is approved by the Global Fund’s CRG Department for TA provision.

In particular, the EECA Platform CRG TA National Focal Points are expected to:

  • Initiate a dialogue with the civil society and communities’ representatives involved into the Global Fund related processes in each selected county about the opportunities available within the CRG TA Program.
  • Provide the civil society and communities’ representatives with all relevant information about the Global Fund CRG TA Program if needed.
  • Help the civil society and communities’ representatives to identify their needs for such TA, including identification of the potential problems which may need to be addressed, formulation of the objectives of such CRG TA in the context of the identified problems, as well as identification of the activities needed to be implemented as a part of the TA to address the identified problems and reach the set objectives.
  • Help to ensure the coordination of the content of the TA Requests among the key national civil society stakeholders, CCM and Fund Portfolio Manager before its submission.
  • Review the content of the draft TA Requests before the submission, help with its finalization if needed.
  • Help to follow up with the GF Secretariat CRG Department on the results of the TA Request consideration (if needed).

Online training on the key aspects of the CRG TA Program will be provided for the selected consultants by EHRA.

Cost of services and payment order

Payments will be done for each successful CRG TA request being generated with support of the EECA Platform CRG TA National Focal Point – 700 USD per TA request (not more than 1 request per country in 2021). Of this amount 350 USD will be paid after the fact of the submission of the TA request is confirmed, and other 350 USD will be paid after the request is accepted and approved for TA provision by Global Fund CRG Department. In case the TA request is rejected by Global Fund CRG Department – the second half of the 700 USD will not be paid to the Focal Point.

Also, 300 USD to be paid after the submission of the result of mapping of CSOs and CBOs – PRs, SRs and SSRs of the Global Fund grants in each of 3 countries.

Payment should be executed for the completed services after receiving invoice and act of service rendered.

The total contract cost for the work of one consultant under this ToR in 2021 should not exceed 1 000 USD (including all taxes).

How to apply

The individual consultants are invited to submit their CV and the Letter of Interest (LoI) by e-mail referenced under title “EECA Platform CRG TA Focal Point for [name of the country you are interested to work with]” to ivan@harmreductioneurasia.org by COB 19 July 2021 24:00 EET.

For more information please refer to the attached document.

Terms of Reference for the consultants to conduct the assessment of the fulfillment of HIV related sustainability commitments given by the national governments in the context of country transition from the Global Fund’s support to national funding in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Background

Being a partner of the Alliance for Public Health, the All-Ukrainian Network of PLWH 100% Life and other regional and national partners in the implementation of the Global Fund funded regional HIV project “Sustainability of services for key populations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia”, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) is aimed at the improving the financial sustainability and allocative efficiency of HIV programs in EECA countries.

To contribute to this objective, EHRA is planning to conduct the assessment of the fulfillment of HIV related sustainability commitments given by the governments of 10 EECA countries in the context of their transition from the Global Fund‘s support to national funding, including Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is expected that based on the results of such assessment the key civil society regional and national partners working in those selected countries, will be able to adjust their advocacy efforts and actions to improve the financial sustainability and allocative efficiency of HIV national programs.

For that purposes in 2020 EHRA has developed a methodology and tools to conduct such assessment on a periodic basis.

EHRA is looking for a national consultant to help with conducting such assessment in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The assessment will be conducted retrospectively, taking into account that the implementation of the last Global Fund HIV grant ended in this country few years ago.

 Key tasks to be conducted by the consultant.

 The consultant is expected to organize the national assessment process in accordance with the Assessment Guide “Benchmarking Sustainability of the HIV Response in the Context of Transition from Donor Funding” to be provided by EHRA. The assessment process should include the next stages:

  1. Scoping: Identify and collect a set of strategic and programmatic documents, including national laws and regulations relevant to the transition process through desk review and interviews with key stakeholders.
  2. Conduct a review of those documents with the purpose to identify the government’s commitments with regards to transition; formulate and group commitments per the guidance provided by EHRA. Consultant should also identify where public/government’s commitments are deficient to properly address transition challenges or to be monitored.
  3. Coordinate and work with the national reference group to be composed of community representatives and national experts and engage them in (i) selecting priority commitments for the monitoring; (ii) define formulation of commitments if those are not sufficiently elaborated in public documents; and (iii) elaborate additional commitments if considered absolutely nessesary for transition process monitoring.
  4. Collect data through desk research and/or key informant interviews aimed to measure progress for the selected set of commitments.
  5. Input selected indicators into the Transition Monitoring Tool to calculate the score; and,
  6. Write an analytical report to summarize the findings.

A Sample Outline of the National Report is provided in Annex 5 to the Assessment Guide. The report should include contextual sections, findings and conclusions for each of the assessed commitment as well as general conclusions and recommendations for key national stakeholders.

Deliverables:

1.A. Repository and mapping of documents relevant to transition process (placeholders) and containing the government’s obligations with regards to transition (intentional or officially approved).

1.B. Repository of commitments, which the country (relevant public/governmental agencies) has committed to implement in support of transition of HIV response.

2. Filled in Transition Monitoring Tool.

3. Analytical Report on the results of the assessment of the fulfillment of HIV related sustainability commitments given by the national government in the context of country transition from the Global Fund’s support to national funding.

The language of the resulted documents should be English.

Also, the consultant is expected to take part in the national webinar to be organizer by EHRA to present on the results of the assessment.

Methodology, Instruments, Training and Technical Support

An Assessment Guide “Benchmarking Sustainability of the HIV Response in the Context of Transition from Donor Funding” together with the Transition Monitoring Tool in Excel format will be provided to the consultant by EHRA in English.

An online training on the assessment framework, methodology and tools will be organized by EHRA for the selected consultant to help better understand the methodology requirements and approach, assessment process and the expected results.

EHRA will also provide online mentorship and support to the national expert during the process of the assessment through the regular conference calls and by periodic review of the assessment outputs.

Consultant is expected to be available for a by-weekly calls with EHRA assigned staff/experts to discuss the progress/challenges with the completion of the assessment.

Timeframe

  • The online training on the methodology and instruments will be organized by EHRA for the selected consultant by end of July.
  • The first 3 of the above-mentioned stages of the assessment process should be completed by 31.08.2021. The report outline, instruments for structuring information and interview guide should be agreed with EHRA in case they are changed\adjusted. List of the National Reference Group members should be agreed with EHRA as well by that date.
  • Stages 4 and 5 should be completed by 23.09.2021.
  • The draft report should be provided to the EHRA colleagues for the review and feedback by 10.10.2021.
  • The final report and all other deliverables should be submitted by 30.10.2021.

Cost of services

The total contract cost for the work of one consultant under this ToR should not exceed 3,000 USD (including all taxes).

Evaluation Criteria

An evaluation panel will assess the extent to which proposals submitted in response to this announcement meet the evaluation criteria below.

The minimum technical score is 90. Only candidates with a minimum score of 90 points out of a maximum of 100 are considered eligible for the assignment. Consultants with proven work experience in the community organization would be given a priority.

The candidates with the highest technical score that meets the requirement will be invited for negotiation of the agreement.

A consultant under this assignment is a person who carries overall responsibility for planning and conducting the study and in drafting the report. Given the essential role of this individual, she/he should possess the following knowledge and experience:

Criteria Weighting
Excellent understanding of the national HIV service delivery and funding systems as well as of the Global Fund related processes at the national level 20 points
Access to the documents containing HIV related sustainability commitments given by the national government in the context of country’s transition from the Global Fund’s support to national funding in Bosnia and Herzegovina 20 points
Knowledge of, and access to, relevant stakeholders to be interviewed, including government officials, community members, and other experts 20 points
Experience of undertaking similar assessments and a strong record of adherence to evidenced-based approaches 20 points
Good understanding and access to the most recent national HIV epidemiological data 10 points
Proven set of skills for interviewing, conducting a literature review, and writing (including in English) 10 points
Total 100 points


Additionally, the consultants should have:

  • No conflict of interest (should be declared in the Letter of Interest);
  • Fluent English and national language.

How to apply

The individual consultants are invited to submit their CV and the Letter of Interest by e-mail referenced under title “Consultant to conduct the assessment of transition related commitments in B&H” to ivan@harmreductioneurasia.org by COB 19 of July 2021 24:00 EET.

 

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Results of the EHRA General and Regional meetings to elect new Steering Committee members

During May 24 – June 6, 2021 Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) conducted online General and Regional members’ meetings in Russia and South-Eastern Europe. Quorum for the General and Regional meetings to elect new Steering Committee members needed no less than one third of the members for General meeting and no less than one third of the members from the particular region.

GENERAL MEETING. EHRA has 316 organizational and individual members, who were eligible to vote. From 316 members – 132 participated in the General meeting. It means, that quorum was met, because 41,77% of members participated in it.

The results of approval of EHRA financial report for 2020 year:

  • 123 members confirmed EHRA financial report for 2020;
  • 9 members abstained;
  • 0 members did not confirm.

EHRA financial report for 2020 year is approved.

REGIONAL MEETINGS

RUSSIA. In total the region has 46 official EHRA members, who were eligible to vote. From those 46 members – 26 participated in the meeting and cast the vote for their candidate, which means, that quorum was met, because 56,52% of members from the region participated in the elections of the SC member.

The results of voting:

  • Aleksey Lakhov – 8 votes (30,8% of all valid votes)
  • Aydana Fedosik – 7 votes (26,9% of all valid votes)
  • Natalya Sidorenko – 7 votes (26,9% of all valid votes)
  • Aleksey Korolkov – 4 votes (15,4% of all valid votes)

Aleksey Lakhov is elected for 3 years term as EHRA Steering Committee member to represent Russia region.

SOUTH-EASTERN EUROPE. In total the region has 26 official EHRA members, who were eligible to vote. From those 26 members – 10 participated in the meeting and cast the vote for their candidate, which means, that quorum was met, because 38,46% of members from the region participated in the elections of the SC member.

The results of voting:

  • 10 participants voted for candidate Denis Dedajic (100% of all valid votes)

Denis Dedajic is elected for 3 years term as EHRA Steering Committee member to represent South-Eastern Europe region.

Contest of mass media materials on life and problems of people who use psychoactive substances

TO THE ATTENTION OF MASS MEDIA IN THE REGION OF CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA (CEECA) 

in the framework of “Chase the virus, not people!” campaign** 

Background 

More than 3 million people who use psychoactive substances live in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (CEECA). The CEECA region has the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in the world and high rates of hepatitis C and overdose mortality. Although harm reduction programs to some extent are available in 28 out of 29 countries in the CEECA region, the scope, quality, accessibility, and sustainable financing of these programs are so low in many CEECA countries that their impacts on the public have been insignificant.  

Many countries within CEECA have a political environment that maintains repressive drug policies, leading to stigma, discrimination, criminalization and imprisonment of people who use psychoactive substances, which are the major causes of hatred and inhumanity rooted in the society in relation to people who use drugs. Drug use or drug addiction diagnosis should not be the grounds for deprivation or restriction of political, economic, social and cultural rights. Years of anti-drug policies implementation and criminalization have led to systematic violations of the rights of millions of people who use drugs, including their right to life.  

In anticipation of the World Drug Day, June 26, and the International Overdose Awareness Day, August 31, Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) encourages all responsible mass media representatives, bloggers, social media activists to take part in the Contest of media materials dedicated to the life and problems of people who use psychoactive substances.  

The aim of the contest:  

to encourage materials in traditional media channels (printing, radio, TV) as well as in social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube etc.) on influence of stigma, discrimination and criminalization on the lives of people who use psychoactive substances in CEECA countries to increase public awareness and stimulate actions to overcome those challenges.  

Assignment for mass media: 

to create an article / post / video / programme / podcast / investigation / interview, etc. to address stigma, discrimination or criminalization of people who use psychoactive substances in your city or country.  

Contest timeline:  

  • Materials developed for the contest should be posted/published/aired in the period of June 20 – September 30, 2021.
  • Materials (relevant links and audience coverage) should be sent to jurgita@harmreductioneurasia.org no later than October 15, 2021.
  • Contest results announcement – December 1, 2021.

Contest is conducted in 4 media categories:  

  1. Printed media (newspapers/magazines/websites)
  2. TV (including online TV and vlogs)
  3. Radio 
  4. Social Media

The materials may be dated (but not necessarily) to June 26 (World Drug Day) and August 31 (International Overdose Awareness Day).   

Contest awards*:  

3 winners in each media category will be awarded the prize:  

1st place – 1000USD  

2nd place – 750 USD 

3rd place – 500 USD  

The contest committee will evaluate the contestants’ materials considering the following criteria:  

  • creativity(the author’s creative work) (25 points) 
  • originality(uniqueness of the topic, story or the way the topic is presented) (25 points) 
  • the language of the text or the visual expression (clarity, tolerance, expressive features) (10 points) 
  • the relevance of the material (15 points) 
  • the reach of the material (unique readers, watchers, listeners, likes, shares, achieved audience overall) (25 points) 

Language: all materials are welcome in a national language.  

Only materials expressing neutral and tolerant attitude and using appropriate not stigmatizing language will be allowed to participate in the contest. Please review the glossary of recommended language use in English and Russian and EHRA Drug Policy Position for reference.  

For all interested in the Contest and wishing to learn more or to ask questions, 2 online Q&A sessions (dates and links updated on June 8, 2021) will be organized (one in English and one in Russian): 

  • 16thof June at 16:00 GMT+3 (for English speaking participants)  

https://clck.ru/VLWty 

  • 17thof June at 14:00 GMT+3 (for Russian speaking participants) 

https://clck.ru/VLX3j

Jury: led by Eurasian Harm Reduction Association the jury will include national partners from countries, participating in the contest.  

Prizes to be awarded in each media category*: 

4 First places – 4000 USD (1000 USD per material) 

4 Second places – 3000 USD (750 USD per material) 

4 Third places – 2000 USD (500 USD per material) 

 * The amount includes all taxes. The winner is solely responsible for the calculation and payment of all taxes and fees which he / she / they is required to pay according to the state law of which he / she / they is a citizen or resident.

**About the campaign “Chase the virus, not people!” 

Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) remains the only region in the world where new HIV cases continue to rise, and AIDS-related deaths are still high. To attract worldwide attention to the barriers that key communities and people living with HIV in the region face to access HIV prevention, treatment and care, the regional communities’ networks have joined forces in the campaign “Chase the virus, not people!” to represent interests of key populations affected by HIV: people living with HIV, women living with HIV, youth and teenagers, affected by HIV, people who use drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men, trans* people.  

Launched at the International AIDS 2018 Conference in Amsterdam in 2018 the campaign continues through national initiatives, bringing together new partners and supporters to raise awareness of key populations’ problems and reduce stigma and discrimination in society.

Campaign coordinator – Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) 

 

Give a helping hand, not handcuffs: Social decriminalization campaign in Lithuania

This year “Young Wave” has focused small grant activities on the development of the social campaign. Why have you chosen such kind of activity?  Could you please tell us what your campaign is about?

Even though it was a small grant, for us it was a big project! In Lithuania, we knew that the Parliament is due to discuss drug decriminalization amendments this year. As the only NGO in the country focused on drug harm reduction for young people, we decided that it is our responsibility to start raising awareness and understanding on how drug criminalization disproportionately affects young peoples’ lives. Over the past 3 years, alarming indicators have shown that drug policy in Lithuania is focused only on criminalization of people who use drugs and those, who possess small amounts of drugs without intent to distribute. For example, possession of drugs in small quantities without intent to distribute accounted for 77% of all drug related crimes committed in 2019. 63 % of offenders were under the age of 29. Each year, about 750 people are serving sentences in prisons, which cost Lithuania around 10,5 million Euro per year. These are just a few indicators, that prompted us to create a social campaign on the harms of drug criminalization. The campaign is called “Give a helping hand, not handcuffs” (in Lithuanian – “Ištiesk ranką, ne antrankius”).  

Why this campaign was developed, what were the expectations, main expected results/changes?

This campaign was developed in recognition of the fact that the political process to achieve drug decriminalization would be very contested, and our opposition would mobilize in the media and social networks. We realized that we also need to strengthen our message so that politicians feel that young people and society at large are concerned about the harms of drug criminalization. If we don’t take action, who will? The expectation was that our campaign would get featured publicly  in the media, social networks, and at least will offer a counterpoint to the narratives of the political right wing in our country. Obviously, the main expected change would be for the drug decriminalization law to pass the vote in the Parliament, but we still have some time before the vote. If it doesn’t pass, at least we would have mobilized the community and got it ready for the next response. During the campaign we have found new allies and new stakeholders for us to grow and be more impactful in the future.

What were the main activities in your campaign?

The main activity of the campaign was the launch of three posters placement on 50 advertising spaces in the country’s capital over two weeks. These posters presented stories from people that have suffered harm from the drug criminalization laws. For example – the man who was sentenced 25 times, but received access to opioid substitution treatment instead of going back to prison for the 26th time. It all happened with the support of a police officer, who listened to the person and understood that incarceration was not a solution. Police officer helped the man to receive referral to the opioid substitution treatment. In another example, we had an image of a young woman who spent her 23rd birthday in a correctional facility just because she was caught with marijuana joint during the party. Once these posters were released, we had to write press releases and engage with various media for interviews and discussions, as well as foster involvement in the campaign through social media.

What was the public reaction to the campaign?

We actually had a lot of engagement with the public. Our Facebook social media posts had over 200,000 organic reach and around 30,000 engagements. Our campaign was covered in all major news channels and portals in the country. We had an overwhelming support from various public figures, but also the public. Especially notable were people who were sharing their personal stories of harm they have experienced from judicial and police systems. One story in particular stands out where a 16-year old girl was forced to strip naked and squat after 0.3 g of cannabis was found in a car by the police and she admitted that it was hers. She ended up spending 7,000 Euro on legal bills and had no money to attend university. Another notable story was where a person was arrested for possession of cannabis only to be bailed out by her parents (it was kind of blackmail from the police). She then described the following months of stigmatization due to the investigation which caused suicidal thoughts.  Many of these stories really highlighted the importance of who we are. There was also a large wave of negative interactions with our detractors as it’s a very controversial topic in the eyes of the public. Such comments would basically say that drug users are degenerates and they got what deserved. A lot of people seem to believe that drug use is a crime on a par with a murder and calls into question a person’s moral character. Other more consistent interactions focused on why there is a need for decriminalization when we should be focusing on people using less substances. These talking points were not unexpected and we hoped to facilitate dialogue between the two sides. The more people are talking about it, the more the Parliament feels that their decision has weight.

Some well-known public figures ultimately formed more concrete responses to our position based on moral representation and demonstration of virtue such as opposition leader Ramūnas Karbauskis and media figure Rūta Janutienė, to which we responded in dedicated social media and blog posts deconstructing their positions and correcting misinformation.

What challenges did you face? What was the hardest one? Were there any unexpected issues?

I would say the biggest challenge we faced was the management of negative online interactions in social media. The non-trivial amount of these interactions was potentially hate speech, and we took necessary precautions in order to moderate a safe and tolerant online space for dialogue. Other challenges we faced were communicating with various interest groups regarding our messaging – the journalist ethics commission and the Lithuanian youth telephone helpline in order to assure that our messaging is respectful, legal but powerful. It was also difficult to find people to share their stories and faces for the campaign, because of the overwhelming drug-related stigma associated with drug use, which this campaign tries to mitigate.

Opponents of drug decriminalization were always using confusing language in their communication. For example, they have always publicly stated that drug decriminalization is the same as drug legalization. And sometimes they even deliberately “legalization” rather than “decriminalization”, although they knew the difference between these two words. This tactic was used to confuse public and spread more misinformation so that this law does not pass in the Parliament.

The law project is already in the Parliament and soon will be discussed in the main committee. What are your thoughts about it? Will the law pass or not? Why?

It’s hard to say. Of course, the Parliament heard our message and our cases, however the opposition also took similar steps. Some of the main discussion topics are that the law should stay punitive, and that small fines can’t be imposed, as they don’t prevent drug use. Another argument was that instead of decriminalization we should offer people rehabilitation and/or treatment in order to avoid being charged with a criminal offense, however existing criminal offences would make them ineligible for this waiver. What is more, if a person would not agree to undergo a course of treatment, she/he would be punished with the criminal liability. So, this “alternative” seems more like a compulsory treatment in case of avoiding criminal liability. Some parliamentarians believe in the distinction between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ drugs and believe that marijuana decriminalization is more acceptable, but ‘harder’ substances should remain criminalized.

The debates seem to be very heated, and we hoped to facilitate evidence-based discussion, however the rhetoric used by our detractors still contains mostly misinformation and moralization. Ultimately, I believe we have a real chance, but it seems likely that the opposition will be able to somehow change the law so that we don’t get everything outlined in the initial law proposal. But we welcome every step in the right direction at this point.

What are the main lessons learnt? If you start the campaign tomorrow with the experience you already have, what would you do differently?

I think thanks to the campaign we have much more confidence in ourselves. Initially we were afraid that we would struggle to get recognition and support, however there was no shortage of that. In fact, it was probably the most successful project in terms of public engagement we have ever made. I think we would focus more on the messaging and spreading out powerful stories based on concrete examples from legal cases, so that we can point to certain procedures that caused harm, which would make our common cause more convincing. We will definitely consider doing it again in the future, subject to funding.