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Type of submission: Oral
Conference track: Policy
Topics: Harm Reduction Advocacy and Activism; Needle and Syringe Programmes
Presenting author: Peter Sarosi
Since the adoption of the first national drug strategy (2000-2009), harm reduction programs have formed an integral part of drug policy in Hungary, with significant government investment to scale-up services during the first decade of the century. This helped to prevent epidemics of both HIV and HCV among injecting drug users. Due to austerity measures, and the change of government in 2010, the funding situation for harm reduction programs deteriorated. The pro-harm-reduction national drug strategy adopted in 2009 was rejected and replaced by a new, law-and-order and recovery-oriented strategy, with the stated aim of making Hungary drug-free by 2020.
After 2010, a major shift was observed among injecting drug users, who moved away from heroin and amphetamines to the (cheaper and more available) new psychoactive substances (NPS), with an associated increased risk of needle-sharing. A 2016 assessment of the funding available for harm reduction showed that in a period of increased demand for sterile injecting equipment, the government had restricted funding for NSP and OST programs. In 2011, the number of distributed needles and syringes went down by 40 per cent. After 2012, political attacks against NSPs intensified in Budapest, where the two largest programs were forced to shut down in 2014. These two programs had accounted for half of all the sterile needles distributed in the entire country during that year. The spread of NPS injection, and the decline of harm reduction services, led to a significant increase in hepatitis C infections among IDUs, and the risk of an HIV epidemic is high.
Harm reduction organisations have adopted different strategies for survival, with mixed results. Advocacy campaigns have had a significant impact on public opinion, and resulted in the ombudsman condemning the NSP closures.