A few weeks before it took over the EU presidency, the Hungarian government announced that it does not support the country's national drug strategy because they say it's based on "drug liberalization and harm reduction" - even though the document is supported by the vast majority of professionals and civil society organizations and it is fully in line with the EU drug strategy. In addition, the national drug coordinator was dismissed, the National Drug Prevention Institute was abolished and the drug budget was significantly cut.
Last year the Ministry of Social Affairs in Hungary launched a broad scale public consultation process, including a meeting where the representatives of all relevant service providers and NGOs were invited to discuss the draft text of the new national drug strategy. The general public also had the possibility to comment on the strategy on an online forum. In addition, the National Drug Prevention Institute created an international advisory group from leading researchers, such as Peter Reuter (RAND), Maurice Galla (European Commission), Wolfgang Götz (EMCDDA) or Sandeep Chawla (UNODC). After long discussions and brainstorming the final text mirrored a consensus among service providers and other professionals on the principles and goals of the national drug policy. The document was approved by the Parliament in December 2009 – supported only by simple majority of the governing party. The opposition Fidesz-party claimed that the drug strategy laid too much emphasis on harm reduction and less on primary prevention.
|AN OUTLINE OF THE NATIONAL DRUG STRATEGY (2010-18)|
The “National Strategy for Tackling the Drugs Problem 2010–2018” claims to follow a “multidisciplinary model” that recognizes the complexity of drug problems and attempts to build a “balanced approach” between supply and demand reduction. Its declared guiding principles include the respect of human rights and human dignity, the right to health and healthy environment, the priority of scientific evidence, the importance of partnership and collective action, comprehensive approach and accountability. The drug strategy has three content related pillars: 1) prevention and community intervention, 2) treatment, care and harm reduction and 3) supply reduction. Each intervention is measured and weighed up according to three priorities: vulnerability, severity and sustainability. This is to ensure that the most vulnerable populations and most severe problems precede in drug policy. The strategy clearly states that drug control objectives cannot overwrite civil rights. It emphasizes that law enforcement efforts should be re-focused, in accordance with constitutional criteria, on supply-side crimes rather than criminalizing demand-side offenders.
In the parliamentary elections in April, 2010 Fidesz gained large majority and formed a new government. In October Kristóf Téglásy, the representative of the Ministry of National Resources (NEFMI) confirmed at the meeting of the governmental Drug Coordination Committee (KKB) that the government was committed to implement the drug strategy and it would keep the national drug coordinator, Péter Portörő in his office. However, in December, at the following meeting of the KKB Mr. Téglásy made an unexpected announcement that the current drug strategy was “unacceptable” for the government and a new national drug strategy would be drafted. A few days earlier the national drug coordinator, Mr. Portörő and three of his colleagues were dismissed. The non-governmental members of the KKB expressed their concern about the circumstances of this decision, saying that the government would have had to consult with them whether there had been a need for a new national drug strategy before overruling the current document. Finally they walked out from the meeting as a protest against the lack of meaningful involvement of civil society in decision-making.
A press conference in Budapest, organized by NGOs
There are four large umbrella organizations representing drug-related social and health service providers in Hungary: the Hungarian Association on Addictions (MAT), the Hungarian Association of NGOs for Drug Prevention and Harm Reduction (MADÁSZSZ), the Hungarian Harm Reduction Association and the Federation of Hungarian Drug Therapeutic Institutes (MADRISZ). The members of these four networks were greatly disappointed by the government’s decision to denounce the national drug strategy, therefore they published a statement to speak up for the values, principles and goals represented by the national drug strategy.
Here you can read the English translation of the petition that was sent by four Hungarian NGO networks to the government on December 21:
The four umbrella organizations representing professionals working in the prevention, treatment and reduction of drug related problems were taken aback by the decision of the government to denounce the current national drug strategy and to draft a new one. We express our concern that this decision was made without consulting professional organizations: not even discussing it with the government’s highest level advisory board, the Drug Coordination Committee (KKB) – it was only announced as an ultimatum.
It is especially alarming that while available financial resources for drug policy interventions were cut in half compared to the previous year, the country will be without an effectively operating drug coordination and drug strategy! All this is happening when Hungary is to take over the presidency of the European Union.
The adoption of the current national drug strategy (2010-18) was preceded by an extensive professional consultation process, with the participation of the representatives of various professionals and service providers, international experts and, through an online public consultation, the whole civil society. A consensus-document was created that is fully in line with scientific evidences, with the international recommendations on drug policy, as well as with the drug strategy of the European Union. The national drug strategy is not a collection of dogmas; on the contrary, it includes principles and goals in accordance with our scientific knowledge and the aim to preserve life and health. If the drug strategy is unacceptable for the government it presumes a message that professional views and organizations in support of it are also unacceptable, as well as the EU drug strategy approved by 27 member states.
We stand up for the principles of the drug strategy – the respect of human rights and human dignity, the equal access to treatment, the right to health, the priority of evidence, partnership and collective action, comprehensive approach and accountability – because these are the cornerstones of a responsible national drug strategy. We believe that the preservation of life and the respect of civil liberties are not contradictory but supplementary and inter-dependent actions. We cannot tackle drug problems without respecting the congenital human rights and dignity of all human beings.
Henceforward we denounce all efforts as erratic and irresponsible that attempt to divide the professional community and society along ideological frontlines instead of providing adequate resources and political support to implement the national drug strategy supported by a professional consensus. We emphasize that the lack of an effectively operating drug strategy with adequate financial resources and professional support undermines prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and harm reduction services – as a consequence harms can be measured not only in money but in human lives.
We ask Minister Miklós Réthelyi and Deputy Prime Minster Tibor Navracsics to initiate negotiations with the representatives of professional organizations and reconvene and chair a special session of the KKB to discuss the situation and the future steps of the government. We also ask the government to provide adequate financial resources to ensure the survival of life-saving services in Hungary.
Budapest, 21 December, 2010.
Dear activists! Dear service providers! Dear researchers and decision makers!
Your Hungarian peers need your help – we should direct international attention to our problems in order to put pressure on the Hungarian government to listen to us and return to the values of a balanced, evidence-based drug policy.
All services providers, professionals and activists can join the petition of the Hungarian NGO networks by sending us the following information:
1) Your name
2) Your title/position
3) The name of your organization/institute
4) Your country of residence
Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org, please put "Petition" in the subject!
Please support our petition and urge your peers and colleagues to do so by emailing them, or sharing this article on Facebook or Twitter!
Thank you for your help!
Posted by Peter Sarosi