Governments and civil society organisations can improve the implementation of minimum quality standards in the field of drug demand reduction
In September 2015, the Council of the European Union adopted the Council conclusions on the implementation of minimum quality standards in drug demand reduction in the EU. This innovative initiative lists 16 standards that represent a minimum benchmark of quality for interventions in: prevention, risk and harm reduction, treatment, social integration, and rehabilitation. Although non-binding for national governments, this document represents the political will of EU countries to address demand reduction interventions through an evidence-based perspective.
In 2014, the Civil Society Forum on Drugs (CSFD) prepared and published the thematic paper on the EU minimum quality standards for drug demand reduction. The paper presents the context in which the EU Member States as well as candidate and potential candidate countries for EU membership are recommended to promote and enforce the minimum quality standards in drug demand reduction and provides a brief overview of associated issues and opportunities for consideration (including assessment and evaluation of the implementation of standards).
Since then, the CSFD has operated a working group on minimum quality standards, and the work of this group has been enhanced by the CSFD project, co-funded by the European Commission under the Justice Programme (Drug Policy Initiatives). The previous project (2017-2020) produced guidelines and recommendations for the implementation of minimum quality standards in drug demand reduction in the European Union by civil society organisations (CSOs) in six languages (English, Spanish, Slovenian, Hungarian, Swedish, and Italian).
Drawing on the recommendations and on the feedback from the assessment and feasibility studies during the above mentioned CSFD project, there are several conclusions which we want to highlight. These are:
Disinvestment from ineffective and harmful interventions
Responses to the assessment and feasibility studies highlighted that there are still many interventions in the field of drug demand reduction, which are not being carried out in line with minimum quality standards. Governments and CSOs should be aware of this and consciously seek to disinvest and moving support away from ineffective services and interventions. Correspondingly, they should invest more resources towards implementation of evidence-based and effective interventions, especially in the fields of prevention and risk and harm reduction.
Investment in education, training and continuing professional development
The responses to the assessment and feasibility study pieces also reveal that there is a perceived gap in quality education and training for the drug demand reduction workforce (both in relation to basic training and in respect of continuing professional development). Governments and CSOs should investigate the long-term value of investment in this area, and look to invest more resources into developing and maintaining quality (formal and non-formal) education and training programmes for professionals and volunteers in the field of drug demand reduction.
Promotion of monitoring and evaluation culture
According to the results of assessment and feasibility study, the evaluation culture is weak in Europe in the field of drug demand reduction. There is very little demand by (funding) authorities for monitoring and evaluation of programmes and other interventions (especially concerning outcome evaluation). Without evaluation there is impossible to say, which programmes and interventions are effective and has significant impact on the situation in the field of drug demand reduction. Governments and CSOs are advised to invest more in monitoring and evaluation, which would significantly improve the quality of interventions and motivation of professionals to continue with quality work.
However, those involved in monitoring and evaluation need to make sure of selecting the correct and adequate metrics and evaluation methods in order to avoid large box-ticking exercises, that may draw time away from the provision of services. Therefore, a balance should be established between the time needed to provide quality services and conducting efficient monitoring and evaluation.
Sustainable funding related to the implementation of standards
According to the results of assessment and feasibility study, there is almost no sustainable funding for programmes and interventions in the field of drug demand reduction. States and funding bodies at all levels are advised to relate funding programmes and schemes to the implementation of minimum quality standards, but at the same time invest significantly more resources to improve the capacity of CSOs (technical and financial) to comply with those standards. Without sustainable funding, improved knowledge and skills of the workforce, and an improved monitoring and evaluation culture, we cannot expect significant improvements and developments in the field of drug demand reduction.