For many years, HIV infections were very rare among injecting drug users in Bucharest. This situation has changed dramatically in recent years, with the number of infections growing from four new HIV cases in 2007, to 801 in the period up to December 31, 2014. Why? Partly because a market boom in new psychoactive stimulants (sold as “ethnobotanicals”) has led to a rapid increase in the number of drug injections: a heroin user injects 4-5 times a day - a stimulant drug user, 10-15 times. The other explanation, is that access to clean needles and syringes has dramatically decreased during the same period, so people have been sharing needles more, and this has led to new infections.
There are harm reduction programs in Romania which aim to prevent the sharing of injecting equipment, and (by extension) bloodborne infections. These programs also help drug users to get into detox and rehab. Most of these programs were funded by the Global Fund – but after the country entered the EU, it ceased to be eligible for GF money. Neither the national government, nor the city council, have provided any money to ensure the sustainability of harm reduction programs, so these services have had to be cut back.
Since 2010, harm reduction funding has fluctuated, allowing providers to continue their work, but also challenging their inventiveness in finding ways to include syringe exchange and opiate substitution services within broader funding, such as European Structural Funding. Even though the effectiveness of harm reduction is widely accepted and recognised by decision-makers, positive statements have not been backed up by financial commitment. This situation leads to interruptions in service provision, as occurred in July 2013 when, confronted with the perspective of temporary closure due to lack of sterile equipment and medication, civil society organisations together with PWID went on a protest, calling for emergency support for harm reduction.
Many drug users live on the street or, in the winter, in the public sewer system, underground, where there is no clean water or provision for hygiene. Drug-related litter and nuisance is a constant source of disturbance for the neighborhood. Civil society organisations are now lobbying to create drug consumption rooms where people would be able to use their drugs under medical supervision, in a hygienic environment, without littering, or disturbing other people. Bucharest needs to create a four-pillar drug strategy and provide support for prevention, treatment and harm reduction, as well as train policemen to cooperate with these services. Please support our petition!
Our partner in the campaign from Romania is the Romanian Harm Reduction Network (http://rhrn.ro). To learn more about the situation in Romania, watch the movie the Drugreporter produced with the Romanian Harm Reduction Network.
If you support our campaign for making our cities safer, please take action and sign the petition!