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I am writing to alert your readers to a major new policy development in response to the drugs phenomenon in Europe. The new European Union (EU) Drugs Strategy 2013–2020 [1], prepared during the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the European Union, agreed upon by all 27 EU Member States and validated by the Council on 7 December 2012, provides the political framework and priorities to act on (i) delivering a measurable reduction in the demand for drugs, drug dependence and drug-related health risks and harms, (ii) contributing to a disruption of the illicit drugs market, (iii) encouraging greater coordination and—potentially—greater convergence of drug policy across Europe, (iv) strengthening cooperation between the EU, third countries and international organizations and (v) better understanding all aspects of the drugs phenomenon and of the impact of interventions in order to provide evidence-based policies and actions.

Particularly in the field of drug demand reduction, the Strategy focuses on the individual, hence implementing the World Health Organization [2] mandate to treat drug dependence as a ‘health policy priority’ and manage it in an integrated manner that recognizes its complexity.

Concerning treatment, the Strategy involves three cross-cutting themes: (i) universal, equitable access to care, prioritized through the call for expansion of accessibility and availability of services, so that all those who wish to access treatment can do so on the basis of need, (ii) patient choice, prioritized through the call for expansion of diversified drug treatment that caters for individualized needs and (iii) quality of care delivery, to be guaranteed across the treatment continuum, including quality care provision in prisons and to marginalized populations.

The Strategy puts into a few words the immense policy effort undertaken by Member States to challenge public preconceptions and establish a ‘health-based’ status for drug dependence as well as recognizing that drug-dependent individuals are very much what mental health patients were before mental health reform swept across Europe and are, thus, in need of integrated care that can help them rebuild their lives.

This policy approach to drug dependence may be challenged by severe fiscal constraints currently being placed on health care across Europe. Making the right, cost-effective choices within the budget that is available to expand further, diversify and integrate care to help people with drug dependency recover may be a tough call for member states—it takes more than politically agreeing on overarching principles and general policy frameworks. It requires actionable steps that are structured in a manageable way, are implemented in a transparent manner and produce measurable results; steps that are financially supported by the European institutions at the central level, are funded by adequate financing at the national level and are followed through by appropriately trained drug-related professionals.

On these steps, all of us who are responsible for delivering on the new EU Drugs Strategy in our countries will be held accountable over the years to come.

Declaration of interest

None.

References

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  2. References
  • 1
    Council of the European Union. EU Drugs Strategy 2012–2020, 17457/12. Brussels, 11 December 2012.
  • 2
    World Health Organization. Guidelines for the psychosocially assisted pharmacological treatment of opioid dependence. WHO Geneva, 2009.