Stigma, Drug Use and the Intersectional Approach

The aim of the Pompidou Group training was to explore the roots of addiction stigma and to look for strategies for dealing with it

No Stigma

Stigma is a public health issue, it contributes to high rates of death, incarceration, and mental health concerns among people who are struggling with substance use – image: Shutterstock

The Pompidou Group organised executive training with the aim of exploring the roots of the stigma associated with substance use and searching for common strategies to mitigate this phenomenon and to advocate human rights- and public health-based approaches.

By Dr. Gisela Hansen – Dianova had the honour of participating in the Pompidou Group executive training in 2021, which was comprised of two training modules. The first module took place in Malta from the 6th to the 9th of July 2021, and the second in Croatia from the 5th to the 8th of October.

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 the illicit consumption and trafficking of drugs, supporting both a reduction in demand, as well as supply. It is a powerful body in the field of drug policy.

The training and the people attending in 2021

This year, the executive training focused on raising awareness of the stigmatisation of the people who use drugs in order to seek coordinated advocacy strategies among various action agents. Twenty people from different European countries participated in this training. They were chosen by the Pompidou Group for their involvement in different aspects of the topic of stigma and drug use. 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 this field, such as Dianova.

Seeking strategies for the fight against stigma

In the second module of the training, various courses of action and types of practices were presented that could have a bearing on the mitigation of the negative effects and consequences of stigmatisation. In this seminar, the possibilities and limitations of regulationist approaches were explored, which involved studying examples of good practices to follow from different countries in order to reduce the stigma associated with addiction and the barriers that may be encountered when implementing various initiatives. On the other hand, how stigmatisation affects the people who use drugs, their families, professional teams and society in general, was also analysed.

An innovative and comprehensive programme which covers various aspects of the stigmatisation phenomenon.

Mitigating the impact of stigma

The quality of the presentations and the innovative approach were excellent throughout the conference. The training began with a speech from Elena Hedoux, Catherine Du Bernard, Tomhas Kattau and Ian Wilson (from the Pompidou Group) and reconnected with Module 1, while giving practical examples to mitigate the stigma and its impact. The rest of the conference included a speech by Dr. Mauro Guarineri, which drew on his lived experience and his role as a coordinator of INPUD. There was also a presentation by René Stamm (from the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health) on addressing stigma through public health networks and the treatment of addictions. Professor Maureen Williams (from the UK) explained the foundations of the intersectional approach and how the different implications of vulnerability and privilege must be taken into account in the approach to addictions and any complex situation in order to provide truly comprehensive guidance.

Protecting children’s rights

In this respect, the inclusion of themes around stigma, such as childhood and the LGTBQ+ group, was innovative and necessary. Antti Jaerventaus (from Save the Children in Finland) spoke in depth about children’s rights within the field of addiction and how intervention is usually focused on the adults and not on the systemic treatment which protects children’s rights (see Dianova’s report on the children’s rights perspective in addiction services). Finally, Ricardo Fuertes (from the municipality of Lisbon) talked about Portugal’s experience in the creation of harm reduction and treatment strategies for the inclusion of the LGTBQ+ population, access to health, housing and social rights.

Visit to a Therapeutic Community

One day of the training was used to pay a visit in the therapeutic community of Zajednica Pape Ivana XXIII. The TC’s treatment programme was explained, as well as the activities undertaken with the community. Lastly, some of the residents shared their personal experience.


Stigmatisation processes are social functioning mechanisms and no one is exempt from them. Addiction services professionals are not immune from also replicating social patterns (whether consciously or unconsciously) during their day-to-day work, whether this is in the design of policies, programmes or courses of action. That is why training on, review of, and dialogue about this issue are fundamental to detecting social barriers, whether systemic or individual, and to developing truly comprehensive and prejudice-free support methodologies for people struggling with addiction or problematic substance use.


Some of the participants in the Pompidou Group executive training in Croatia

Dianova and the Pompidou Group executive training

Dianova was fortunate to have participated in Pompidou Group executive training events before, 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). These training events stood out because some high-level trainers were involved in them, they were very much geared towards participation and practical implementation and they were organised meticulously by the Pompidou Group.

Online Training

We at Dianova wish to reiterate, once again, our gratitude to the International Affairs Division of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health for presenting and supporting Dianova’s candidacy and for the financial support from the Pompidou Group for the participation of Dr. Gisela Hansen. Participation in this type of training is essential for sharing information with, influencing, and learning firsthand from, the different agents involved.

As a result of our participation in this training and with a view to sharing knowledge and ideas within the organisation, we at Dianova will develop online training to which various people from the field of stigma and addictions will contribute. The goal is for all of us to collectively bring about social change which marks a shift towards justice and equality of opportunity.