Romania is experiencing an hiv crisis among injecting drug users. By the end of June 2013 most of needle exchange services and part of opiate substitution treatment will stop, due to lack of funding. A CITY OF LOST CHILDREN – We are going in outreach right now, and our first stop will be the North Railway Station. Where you will see all vulnerable groups, homeless people, roma, injecting drug users and sex workers. You will see heroin users basically, legal highs users, – injectable legal highs users – and you will see glue sniffers. Age range is starting from 11 years olds to 35-40 years old in this area. – How old are you? – 17 – Bless you. How long have you been here on the streets?
– I’m on the streets for 7 years already. – Since you were 10 years old. – My street life tortured me, – I stayed in foster homes, than back here, everywhere. – I strive with life. I struggle with life. – That’s it, I can not give you more’ cause I have nothing else to give. – The clients you will see today, 95% of them are living in the sewer system. and I can even show you the hole that they use an entrance. and as an exit from the sewer system. – This is the entrance. It was covered by the City Hall right? It’s a measure of police… to eradicate the street people from Bucharest. Just to cover with dirt the entrance in the sewer. – But not while they are inside?
– Unfortunately some of them were inside. – And what happened, did they die? – The ones that were outside somehow knew, and they started to dig, like in a primitive era… – How many people live down there? – A lot of people, it’s a huge sewer. – Hey guys, Aras is here, come and exchange your syringes. – In 2009 the legal highs came, and the use and injecting patterns changed totally because the heroin users went for the legal highs, they were cheaper, accessible and so called legal, so they were not under the law, therefore less risky for them to use. An experienced heroin user would shoot up to 4-6 times a day. When they went for legal highs, they would shoot 10-15-20 times a day. IN 2008-2009, even in 2010 one client of 100 tested HIV positive, And now out of 7 or 8 clients 4, 5 or even 6 are tested HIV positive. To the rapid tests. – How do you see the government’s reaction to this? – There’s no reaction whatsoever right now, and for example the project you are visiting now, will end on June 30th, and we have right now no hope of continuing this project. – Is the government funding any harm reduction programs? – No, the government is not funding harm reduction in Romania. – HIV infection is one of the issues that developed at a higher rate lately, in 2008-2009 the incidence of infection was 1% among injecting drug users, in 2010 it increased to 3%, in 2011 it reached 19% and in 2012 it reached 29%. – Nowadays, almost 50% of the patient that come for detox, are HIV infected. I don’t speak about C hepatitis, which is 98%. Huge. – We estimate that we have around 27 thousand problematic users, maybe two thirds of them are using legal highs, and only one third are still on heroin. – At the end of 2010 I saw practically no heroin addicted patient, but only this kind of substances, with very serious disorders, Suicidal attempts, great violence and with paychotic symptoms. I’m talking about MDPV – methylen-pyroxi-pyrovaleron, Which was the most dangerous substance. They inject those substance very frequently. – We had an increase in injecting users, with the halfening of the number of syringes provided through the exchange programs. In 2010 in June, the money from the Global Fund was finished, because Romania was already a European Union state, so we were not more eligible to take these funds. So these funds were providing almost 80% of the needle exchange money. From a maximum of 2 million syringes in 2009, in 2010 we dropped to less than 1 million. – They had to inject themselves a great number of times, with the same needle or to share the same needle. It was very clear, that something happened, and there was not at all enough injecting material on the market. – We are in Ferentar, one of the worst neighbourhoods in Bucharest related to drug use, drug trafficking and drug consumption, Basically we are volunteers, we understood that it’s a need to provide clean needles to drug users, and we are trying to stop the HIV phenomenon among drug users. This is the needle exchange room, We give them 30 syringes each day, we are open two times a week for three hours. We also collect the syringes used, – Is there any change in the financial situation after the HIV epidemic? Does it convince the politicians to give you money? – No, we don’t have any funding for this centre. – What about those people who inject stimulants and designer drugs what kind of treatment they can go to? – They can go to detox, but there are not many open clinics, there are about 70 places in detox treatment, under supervision In Bucharest we have more than 19 thousand drug users, and only 1 thousand places on opioid substitution treatment. – And there isn’t any substitution treatment for legal highs. It is not developed yet. – People don’t have any other option than to use, or to quit themselves, which is not good. If you are caught with a small quantity of drugs, even if its 0.001 gram you get for possession imprisonment to 6 years, depending on the type of drug. and for trafficking it’s five to 10 years. – There are drugs in penitentiaries, and a lot of users who take them, I have used myself. They use drugs in penitentiaries, it’s alarming, especially that in the last 2 or 3 years, since the so-called legal highs appeared, they got hepatitis, AIDS, it’s a disaster. – You will go at Jilava, I can guarantee you that you’ll find syringes on the floors so it’ got even worse than outside. – You’ll get scared, blood all over the floors. I haven’t seen so many users in a room of 10 to 15 people, and they are all shooting with the same syringe. – When they began to ban the legal highs, and you couldn’t find them very easily, the dealers went to the internet cafe, and he had in one syringe five doses. So with the same syringe he was injecting five clients. The outreach services tried to convince him, ‘Ok, we provide you with five free syringes, so you will have five syringes, each with one dose,’ And they say ‘No, because of I get caught they say I am a dealer. If I have one syringe, it’s only for me, and I can get away easier, because it’s only possession.’ There should be legal changes, in the sense of decriminalisation of possession for personal use. That would ease the access of people who use drugs to medical and social care. – By the end of June, some harm reduction programs might stop. And by harm services I also understand opiate substitution treatment centres. – We run a 3 years project, funded by European Social Funds and for three years we were able to provide harm reduction services for 3300 people in Bucharest, Constanza and Timisuara, But our project will finish in June this year. – About 2 or 3 hundred people in substitution treatment will be left out, a lot of injectors will no longer have access to clean syringes, and these would be just factors of increasing the epidemic. – From the experience of other countries like Ukraine and Estonia, I think we will be going in that direction which means up to 70 or 80% of our drug users will be HIV positive Which will mean doubling the number of HIV positive people in Romania, that would mean a big big big hole in the budget with treatment for HIV. In order to provide needles for a drug user, the cost for a year is 500 Euros whereas the costs for the treatment of HIV is 6000 Euros. So its twelve times higher. Also a month in prison costs the state and the population 500 EUR per month, With the same money you could provide harm reduction services for a much longer time. The government should understand that an effective way to intervene is to support the community based organisations, and grassroots organisations that have the best contact with drug users, and support them in order to provide this HIV targeted intervention. We ask the international community to help us We found out yesterday that the Global Fund changed it’s funding system and we are now eligible for global fund, if the Romanian government will cover 60% from the total budget. So that can be a possibility. – This is the right moment for us to start negotiations with the Global Fund In order to ease the budgetary problem, and with international support to sustain the services we managed to develope until today. – Many people say Romania is in economical crisis, and we don’t have money. I can say that the money exists. They are not very well administrated. This is the situation. We just know what the solutions are, but we are not able to take the right measures to save people’s lives. – This is not only a national problem, this is a European problem too! TAKE ACTION AND HELP US TO STOP THE HIV EPIDEMIC IN ROMANIA! GO TO DRUGREPORTER.NET/ROMANIA, TO SIGN THE AVAAZ PETITION AND SEND AN EMAIL TO THE MINISTERS!