The training aims to explore the process of stigmatising people who use drugs in order to provide solutions to the problem
By Dr Gisela Hansen – Dianova participated in the Pompidou Group’s executive training, as it does every year. The first module [of the training] took place in Malta from the 6th to the 9th of July 2021. The Pompidou Group is an intergovernmental body established in 1971 which champions the Council of Europe’s basic values (human rights, democracy and the rule of law) and promotes an equitable approach in the fight against drug consumption and illicit trafficking, supporting both a reduction in demand as well as supply. It is a powerful body in the field of drug policy.
Executive training: stigma and drug use
The Pompidou Group executive training sessions have been held every year for a decade for [stakeholders] involved in drug and addiction issues. This year, 20 people from different European countries participated in the training. They were chosen by the Pompidou Group for their involvement in different [aspects] of the issue of the [stigmatisation] and use of drugs. They range from governmental institutions and organisations responsible for developing and implementing policies on drugs or coordinating related programmes, activists, researchers from national institutes, to representatives from civil society organisations who are active in the field of drugs, such as Dianova.
The impact of stigma on the design of policies and programmes
The stigma associated with drug use and its impact on the design of policies, prevention, treatment and harm reduction programmes was the subject of the first training session, in which all the people [attending] actively participated for four days. This gave rise to significant networking and common knowledge through the exchange of ideas and sharing of experiences. This was one of the biggest value adds of the Pompidou Group training.
Measures to reduce the stigma associated with drugs
The stigma delays the search for appropriate treatment and is itself a barrier to accessing and staying in treatment.
Nowadays, we know that the stigma associated with drug use and addictive behaviours affects people’s lives in a variety of ways, having an impact on: their physical and mental health, their ability to find and keep a job and to find and keep a home, their relationships and their self-image. Furthermore, the stigma delays the search for appropriate treatment and is itself a barrier to accessing and staying in treatment. It is necessary to bear in mind that the stigma itself gives rise to situations that increase the possibilities of engaging in risky behaviour and aggravating the socio-health problems associated with substance use.
Thousands of people continue to be criminalised for their consumption of illegal drugs
People who use drugs experience social rejection; it is a fact that they are isolated and stigmatised, with all the implications that this has.
There are still some areas of the world today where hundreds of thousands of people are criminalised and prosecuted, and even sentenced to death, for having used drugs classified as illegal. There are also geographical areas in which these people are given a criminal record, which denies them access to certain jobs.
Understanding the origins of the stigmatisation process and its impact
The aim of the first training module was to explore the origins of the stigmatisation process, the [different] types of stigma [that exist] and the impact of this stigma at different levels. Throughout the training and exchange sessions, the participants were able to talk about the origin of the stigma in relation to drugs and addictions, and its relationship with criminalisation, while understanding what the effects are on individuals, families, professionals and society in general. Moreover, how the effect of the stigma impacts the design and implementation of the prevention, treatment and harm reduction programmes and judicial itineraries was also acknowledged.
The second training module will address different courses of action and practices that can help to prevent and mitigate the negative effects of the stigmatisation process.
Incorporating the human rights perspective on all levels
It is essential that we promote the incorporation of the human rights, public health and social justice perspective at all levels of drug and addiction interventions: research, training, prevention, care and raising awareness, amongst other things.
Failure to incorporate this perspective will perpetuate the idea of the population as a homogeneous whole with the same needs, validating the discourse of exclusion of people perceived as being different and reinforcing stigma as an element of social control.
Training of and raising awareness among human resources
To advance around these strategies, it is necessary to train and raise awareness among people in the sector, so that we [can] ensure our capacity to serve all people and validate the differences [among them]. It is necessary to consider the social justice perspective in relation to every action taken; from the interactions with the people who [use drugs], the design of the programs, to the training of the professional teams.
With regard to the fact that one person may experience several different problems, such as gender violence, drug addiction, mental health [ssues] poverty and immigration issues, this is a problem that aggravates the experience of stigma. We must take joint and coordinated action between the care networks, creating common and consensual strategies (protocols) and ceasing to conceive of people in a marginalising and biased way, in order to develop comprehensive, effective, meaningful and global ways of working.
Dianova and the Pompidou Group executive training
Dianova was fortunate to have participated in previous Pompidou Group executive training, specifically on: “Training for effective cooperation: interaction between governments and civil society organisations” (2016); and “Incorporating gender dimensions in drug policy practice and service delivery” (2019). This training stood out because some high-level trainers [were involved in providing it], it was very much [geared towards] participation and practical implementation, and it was organised in detail by the Pompidou Group. Finally, it is worth mentioning that this year the Pompidou Group executive training will be followed by a second and final module at the beginning of October.
We at Dianova would like to thank the International Affairs Division of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health for presenting and supporting Dianova’s candidacy and the financial support provided by the Pompidou Group for the participation of Dr Gisela Hansen. Training activities such as the ones [organised by] the Pompidou Group are a great opportunity to share, influence and learn firsthand from the different officials involved.