Dasha Ocheret with Alexey Kurmanaevskii and Igor Kuzmenko during filming
To be honest, when we were planning this trip, we certainly did not expect to find that the lives of communities in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia would be so different. In more than a week, we covered almost 2,000 kilometers, visited eight cities, and in most of them, met people working in harm reduction, policy-makers, and people who use drugs. We talked with them about the culture of drug use and about drug prices, about national legislation and funding for harm reduction programs, about the attitude of civil society to the issue of drug use, and about living on 70 euro per month. We tried to include in the Baltic Trip trilogy all the materials we prepared during our voyage, and of course apart from the serious discussions, we also found some time to appreciate the beautiful sights in those countries.
The videos are based on the stories of three heroes, people who feel the results of the decisions made by public officials and at the UNGASS meetings first-hand. For them, drug policy is not just words; it is the law of their life, their rules of survival.
The first video is about Lithuania. (You can turn on English subtitles by clicking on the CC button at the right bottom of the video)
Every trip brings new acquaintances. Our voyage was not an exception. Many people whom we met were really progressive, such as the Minister of Health of Lithuania who supports harm reduction, or the policeman from Estonia, who understands the need to reform drug laws. But, of course, a bunch of progressive public officials do not make a big difference in the Baltic states, and so far, the situation there is not as hopeful as it could be, considering – fines, which do not allow people to stay within the law and have an official source of income; the low coverage of opioid substitution treatment programs; the high threshold for enrolment into those programs, pushing drug users to purchase drugs on the black market; as well as other challenges. Nevertheless, even in such a challenging environment, people manage to come together to establish community networks, such as the recently-founded Estonian Union of People Who Use Drugs (EUPUD).
The second video is about Latvia.
We also looked at the organisations providing syringe exchange and social support services. The syringe exchange point in Visaginas – a small Lithuanian town – is still fixed in our memory, located as it is within the premises of the city morgue.
Of course, it is not possible to cover everything exhaustively in short videos, as those topics are so wide that they require separate detailed discussions. That is why in this trip we made a decision to begin a new series, “Drug Policy Dialogues”, which will hopefully appear in the very near future. The idea of starting such a series was born out of the fact that during our Baltic trip the DUNews team was accompanied by real experts in this area – Pavel Skala and Dasha Ocheret, who were the first people we interviewed for our future programs. By the way, there is an announcement of an episode of the “Drug Policy Dialogues” in one of the Baltic trip videos. We are sure that over time you will meet many more heroes of this new series.
So, from our hearts – to your hearts. A community view of the life of the community. Baltic trip.
DUNews - Alexey Kurmanaevskii and Igor Kuzmenko
P.S. If you look at the waves of the Baltic Sea at the Jūrmala coast long enough, you may see the Blue Dolphin of Total Decriminalisation ;-)