The Scaling Back of Romania's Harm Reduction Services
Romanian harm reduction programs
ALIAT was the first NGO that developed harm reduction programs in Romania, especially needle exchange programs in Bucharest followed by another organization ARAS who also started promoting needle exchange services. These services grew extensively and between the years 2000 and 2010, there were many NGO’s that also included needle exchange programs in their out-reach programs. However, since the Global Found reduced the budget for Romania, funding of these harm reduction services disappeared with today, the only NGO’s still carrying out these services being Carusel and ARAS.
Meanwhile, the number of injecting drug users is growing every year as shown in the National Anti-drug Agency figures which estimates the numbers of injecting drug users in 2011 being 19,265, up from 16,867 in 2009. The most commonly injected substances in Bucharest are currently heroin and “legal highs” (New Psychoactive Substances).
Romania is facing an HIV epidemic among injecting drug users.
In 2009 in Romania there were reported around 5 new cases of HIV infection among injecting drug users, however since 2012 there has been a significant increase. As the report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) in 2011 for Romania and Greece showed, in Romania there were 62 new cases of HIV infections among drug users. In 82% of the 62 new cases, hepatitis C (HCV) infection was detected as double infection. In January 2013, the National Institute of Infectious Dieses “Matei Bals” reported that in 2012 there were 231 new HIV cases among injecting drug users, and 74% were detected with confection with hepatitis C.
Further research in 2012 by the Romanian Angel Appeal, Carusel and the National Anti-Drug Agency did a Behavior Surveillance Study in Bucharest and Ilfov. Preliminary data from this research shows that 52.4% of the participants tested positive for HIV.
Needle programs are dying in Romania
Apart from the Carousel Association in Bucharest, there is only one NGO that provides social support for drug users (ARAS - Romanian Association Against AIDS). The lack of financial resources are resulting in the closure of needle exchange services in many organizations who provided these services. In the Count the Costs report for Romania, released by the Romanian Harm Reduction (RHRN), we see a decrease in the number of syringes distributed for free by NGOs that provide social services support. In 2008 1,108,762 syringes were distributed to 7,284 injecting drug users in Bucharest. In 2011, 895,160 syringes were distributed to 9,000 beneficiaries. This means that on average, an injecting drug user has access to a sterile syringe every 4 days, although many advanced forms of dependency requires injecting on average 3 times a day. This average was overcome with the passage of heroin users injecting “Legal Highs” (New Substances with Psychoactive Properties). Another problem that an IDU is facing is accessing syringes in pharmacies. As showed in the RHRN report on IDU’s access to sterile injecting equipment in Bucharest, only 18% of the pharmacies sell syringes to IDUs.
Carusel is a volunteer based organization and the drop-in center functions strictly on a volunteer run basis due the lack of finances. Worryingly, ARAS is going to be closing the needle exchange program in June this year due to a lack of finances.