First Steps to a National Association of Substitution Therapy Receivers

At the end of January twelve activists representing the drug users’ community met in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, to set up a brand new organization – the National Association of Substitution Therapy Receivers.

One of the co- organizers of this event, the president of VIRTUS Foundation Olga Beliayeva has used the Drop In Center's Depo3p blog to share her observations of what happened before and during the meeting, to describe the objectives of the association and how it will be managed.

Olga has started with writing about the administrative challenges she had faced while organizing the event:

We found a hotel, made a reservation, gone through a very long discussion of menus of lunches and dinners and a day before the arrival of the guests we found out that the entire hotel is non-smoking … We had to rearrange everything in one day, can you imagine this? …

The major obstacle for Olga was organizing the provision of substitution therapy medication in Dnepropetrovsk. It was not easy because normally the patients of the therapy are supposed to receive the drugs at the site where they are registered in their hometowns.

We wanted each of the participants of the meeting to be able to work at full capacity. It meant that we should provide them with the option to receive methadone and buprenorphine here in Dnepropertrovsk.

To be able to do so we started to collect the papers two weeks before the meeting. We have done the job well. All forms had been filled out and on January 29th each participant received the medication. We want to thank the doctors and nurses of the City Polyclinic #5 for the assistance they provided.

This is what Olga has written about the process of identifying the objectives of this newly established harm reduction organization.

The hottest fights, sharing of opinions and cigarettes took place during the identification of priorities for the association. From all of the urgent needs we identified a few that we will struggle for:

The number of places available in substitution therapy programs should satisfy the real need of the region; substitution therapy programs should be made more accessible…

There should be a single set of rules for substitution therapy all over Ukraine;
There should be a variety of the medications available for substitution therapy… The medications should be available in different forms like pills, syrups, etc. We should stop this ridiculous practice of “medial personnel”, when they make the syrup from the pills by comminuting them into a powder and dissolving with the water…they do this even when pills are not intended for such usage.

During the constituent meeting Olga Beliyeva was elected a chairman of the association. Today the association unites representatives of only four regions but in the near future the activists’ plan is to spread it out over all 27 regions of Ukraine. This is how the activists see the future structure of the organization:

It makes sense to build a simple horizontal network. Each substitution therapy site will nominate a council of the therapy receivers. Leaders from this site council will form a regional council. The leaders of regional councils will form the national council… The national council will elect the board, which will run the organization…

At the end of her post Olga has addressed her counterparts with some words of inspiration:

>We have met here to create. For each of us it is vital to sustain and expand the existing programs. We speak the same language and our souls are alike. What we are doing now is building the foundation for reviving our dignity and self respect. For each of us the association is more then just an organization. It is an opportunity to stay together and to stay free. Good luck to all of us.

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