Short report on the „needle exchange case”, as appeared in the CEEHRN July news digest.Short report on the „needle exchange case”, as appeared in the CEEHRN July news digest.
On July 28, criminal investigation against needle exchange worker “for facilitating drug use” was officially closed. But Hungarian activists promise to further work towards eliminating contradicting governmental positions on harm reduction and to make sure that government-funded harm reduction approaches are recognized by prosecutors as a measure of increasing public health and security.
The story started on the World AIDS Day, December 1, 2005 when an employee of a Budapest based needle exchange program (author of this news piece) appeared in the Prosecutor General’s Office, accompanied by the lawyer of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) and several media workers. He asked for a criminal investigation against himself on the ground of a statement by the Office of the Prosecutor General, in which it claimed that “regardless of its method or aim, any kind of assistance to illicit drug use under any circumstances substantiates a suspicion of crime, therefore police has to initiate a criminal investigation.” This statement was enough to stop the advanced negotiation process between needle and syringe exchange (NSP) providers and the National Police Headquarters. These negotiations could have resulted in an agreement according to which a criminal investigation cannot be started on the base that clients were in possession of injecting equipment only.
The aim of the HCLU with this strategic litigation case is to clarify the legal framework of harm reduction services in Hungary. Harm reduction has a long history in the country, with 10 NSPs operating at present, some of them since 1994. The majority of these programs, including the Drug Prevention Foundation’s NSP, where the self-reporting employee works, are in fact funded by the state. NSP is included in the National Drug Strategy as the only cost-effective method to stop the spread of blood borne diseases. The coverage of these programs is still inadequate, most probably due to the fact that IDUs are still afraid of police action. The Budapest Police Headquarters has a valid agreement with Budapest NSPs, and the police seems to support these programs but the legal situation of users in possession of syringes and needles is still not resolved.
After five-month investigation, in May the police has initiated the prosecution of the NSP worker. Two months later, on July 28, the prosecutor’s office announced they closed the criminal investigation, since the needle exchange worker acted in a good will but based on wrong believes that his work in needle exchange does not put society in danger.
Harm reduction community is satisfied with the decision but not with its arguments. HCLU is planning to issue an official complaint against the argumentation since NSE improve public health – and the intention of drug related criminal law is to defend public health.
István Gábor Takács
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (http://www.hclu.org)
Drug Prevention Foundation, Needle Exchange Program (http://www.tucsere.hu)
HCLU uses Strategic Litigation as a tool in Needle Exchange Advocacy Fight 1st of December 2005, Drugreporter
HCLU raises awareness of NEP policy discrepancies – Successful hearing at the Drug Committee of the Hungarian Parliament 1st of December 2005, Drugreporter