Time to Recognize Addiction Services as Essential Services

Covid-19 crisis has affected our health systems revealing dysfunctions that have affected the most vulnerable people, and among them people who use drugs.

In order to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, on June 26, Dianova launches an international campaign to raise awareness of the need that addiction services be on par with other healthcare services and that they be given similar levels of attention and support.

Addiction disorders are a public health issue

The cosequences of the pandemic had, and are still having, negative effects on people with substance use disorders or in recovery.

Yet, in many countries, authorities have been able to give addiction services only very little support.

In some cases, health systems initially thought of as solid have been unable to provide these professionals with basic personal protection equipment or financial support to buy them. Be that as it may, our addiction professionals have been carrying out their duties with intellect and integrity despite these difficult and often dangerous circumstances, providing vulnerable people with appropriate counselling and support. They kept on working.  

This anniversary provides a perfect occasion for us to step up and demand that addiction services be on par with other healthcare services and that they be given similar levels of attention and support. Should another crisis of this nature arise, addiction services shouldn’t be the poor relation of the public health system any longer.

Substance use and other addictive disorders are a matter of public health and addiction services should therefore be considered as essential. 

When everything is on pause, some of us must go on.

Just one among many lessons, this pandemic is teaching us the pressing need to reaffirm and uphold the universal Right to Health. Leaving No one Behind, as per the Agenda 2030, is today an even more relevant imperative towards building a world in which all people have an equal opportunity to attain the highest possible standard of health and well-being.

Lastly, this campaign is an opportunity for us to pay warm tribute to the hard work, dedication, and innovative attitudes of all addiction professionals in these times of doubt and emergency.

The Situation

According to the World Drug Report 2019, some 35 million people, up from an earlier estimate of 30.5 million reported in 2016, are affected by drug use disorders and require treatment and harm reduction services. The latest available data also indicates a staggering death toll: 585,000 people died as a result of drug use in 2017.

The challenges engendered by stay-at-home orders are likely to have had negative effects on people with substance use disorders or in recovery, including increased drug or alcohol consumption, risks of overdose, and relapse.

As emphasized in a report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, people who use drugs face additional risks of infection by Covid-19 as compared to the general population, because of lifestyle factors and pre-existing health problems.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health pointed out the need to recognize vulnerable groups of people who use drugs as a high-risk population in order to mitigate the spread of the pandemic.

Women who use drugs are more at risk

While about one third of all people who use drugs are estimated to be women, the latter are consistently reported to be at higher risk of HIV and other infections and more at risk of experiencing intimate partner violence than women in the broader population. This phenomenon is also likely to be exacerbated in these times of crisis.

Other mental health problems

It is estimated that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental health disorders at some point in their lives placing such disorders among the leading causes of ill health and disability worldwide. This situation seems to have been worsened by the pandemic: lockdown measures and resulting economic downturn have negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders.

Objective of Campaign

Launched on the occasion of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, on 26 June, the campaign ‘Time to recognize that addiction services are essential” aims to raise awareness of this fact while promoting the frontline role of social and health professionals in supporting the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic.

The campaign will be two-fold:

  • Communication with target audiences through various platforms and channels with the objective of promoting the campaign’s core message, action and expected behaviour change;
  • Communication to maintain and strengthen Dianova’s reputation and trust, and to get stakeholders to support the organization.

Creative concept

One of the most critical consequences of the outbreak of Covid-19 is that some of the resources dedicated to provide solutions to other important problems of society could be interrupted due to lack of investment and resources. Substance use and other addiction disorders are one of these problems and people affected by them, whom Dianova has been supporting for many years, have often been left behind.

Although it seems that everything has been put on hold during the pandemic, health professionals have kept on fulfilling their mission, and among them the professional teams in Dianova’s addiction healthcare facilities. The organization’s beneficiaries have also been committed to pursuing their treatment programme throughout the crisis, because dropping out would have given rise to other problems, potentially impacting our society as a whole.

This is the reason why we demand that addiction services be on a par with other essential health care services and that they be provided with similar levels of care and support.

To convey these messages, we will use the cinemagrah technique, i.e. animated gif images. This technique will help us convey two main concepts:

  • When everything is on pause (part of the image is motionless)
  • Some of us must go on (another part of the image is in motion while the rest is on pause)

Target Audiences

Decision makers

  • Should acknowledge the need to support addiction treatment services
  • Should advocate the integration of addiction-related issues to public health agendas
  • Should provide treatment services with sufficient resources; during the pandemic, many of these services did not receive the support they needed


Potential donors

  • Call to action to raise resources to support addiction treatment services


Health professionals

  • Should join this challenge and take personal or group action
  • Should be made more aware of how vital addiction prevention and treatment services are in a comprehensive perspective of health, as defined by WHO
  • Should develop tools to continue helping people during times of crisis (digital and other tools) – many people with substance use disorders were unable to access the support they crucially needed during the pandemic.


General public

  • Should join and support the campaign


Many people with substance use disorders have not been able to get the help they needed during the crisis


Campaign’s materials

Download animated gifs (1080×1080 px) in your language

Links of interest

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