The New Drug Policy Commission for Central & Eastern Europe & Central Asia

EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) Proposal, Leiden, The Netherlands 13 – 16 July, 2022
14h00 – 15h15, Thursday 14 July, 2022: Lorentz Stage – Leiden.


Moderated by the FT, this panel assesses how the goal of a ‘drug-free world’ backed by a ‘war on drugs’ anchored in ‘science’ and enshrined in international drug control treaties is naïve and dangerous. Naïve, in that prohibition has little impact on drug use, up 45% in twenty years. Dangerous, in that prohibition fuels coerced drug treatments, incarcerations, extrajudicial killings, the death penalty, drives human rights abusers for profit, and contributes to record drug-related deaths. Strict drug laws stoke blood-borne viruses and escalate health epidemics such as HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis, or the overdose crisis. Prohibition also limits access to life-saving harm reduction treatments, limits research on medical uses of illicit substances and blocks the prescription of pain relief and palliative medication.

Speakers include elected politicians past and present, leaders of global funding and public health institutions, policy-change experts, medical doctors, pioneering researchers and importantly, activists in the field. They will first challenge why, despite surging drug use and infections, EU policies remain dissonant and under the radar. Brussels is simply not prioritising tackling this health crisis, nor allocating sufficient funding, nor leading globally on the issue like it did in the past. The panel will issue a call to action at ESOF for greater take-up by all EU27 of compelling harm reduction science, sadly non-existent in some member states.

Secondly, against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and the yet to be fully appreciated dire consequences this will have on the whole region’s public health infrastructure, the panel will spotlight some inconvenient truths. Put simply, despite admirable responses to attacks on LGBTQIA+ rights and judicial and media freedoms, the EU does not grasp the dynamics at-play between Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs, 11 EU members) and their historic Central Asian partners. Today, one in four people injecting drugs worldwide lives there. The region is experiencing a sustained increase in HIV infections, of which close to half occur in people injecting drugs. One in seven people injecting drugs is living with HIV and one in three is infected with hepatitis C.

Direct testimonies from the Ukrainian Alliance for Public Health, the HIV Legal Network and the Warsaw-based, Eastern/Central European & Central Asian Commission on Drug Policy, will be given. This will include the latest data on populist crackdowns and high rates of imprisonments orchestrated against people who use drugs. Inexplicably, more national and indirect EU resources are devoted to prohibition law enforcement than to prevention and care. This contrasts with powerful grassroots, knowledge-based support and direct-action lobbying demanding greater empathy for people injecting drugs and greater understanding of the science.

Aidan Gilligan Irish Flag Panel Curator:
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CEO, SciCom – Making Sense of Science.
Prof. Michel Kazatchkine M.D. French Flag Speaker & Organiser:
Prof. Michel Kazatchkine M.D. (France):
Member, The Global Commission on Drug Policy; Former UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon's Special Health Envoy on HIV/Aids in Eastern Europe & Central Asia; Former Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB & Malaria.
Prof. Thomas Hartung M.D. German Flag Speaker & Co-organiser:
Prof. Thomas Hartung M.D. (Germany):
Professor and Chair for Evidence-based Toxicology; Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dept. of Environmental Health Sciences.
Clive Cookson UK Flag Moderator:
Clive Cookson (United Kingdom):
Science Editor, Financial Times; Member, ESOF 2022 International Media & Marketing Committee.
Tetiana Deshko Ukraine Flag Speaker:
Tetiana Deshko (Ukraine):
Director, International Programmes at the Alliance for Public Health, Ukraine.
Mikhail Golichenko Canadian Flag Speaker:
Mikhail Golichenko (Russia - Canada):
Senior Policy Analyst responsible for Research & Advocacy work in Russian-speaking countries, HIV Legal Network.
Alexsander Kwaśniewski Polish Flag Speaker:
Alexsander Kwaśniewski (Poland):
Chair, Eastern/Central European & Central Asian Commission on Drug Policy (ECECACD); Former President of Poland.