Drug policy during the COVID-19 pandemic

The spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. In the current context, NGO’s working with people who use drugs face critical challenges that need to be responded to quickly. People with substance use disorders as well as people in a crisis of homelessness are a group particularly affected by the current crisis.

Due to this difficult situation for all of us, we have decided to introduce advocacy, assistance and information activities focused at the pandemic and drug policy. We have undertaken the following actions:

  • direct online legal, social and professional help for persons with substance use disorder and drug users who are also facing homelessness. Our support is aimed at quick ad-hoc assistance related to finding temporary housing, receiving social and professional benefits, gaining access to treatment, identifying and organizing help securing the basic life needs of drug users;
  • providing information on the current and anticipated impact of the pandemic on the situation of people with substance use disorders related to harm reduction, access to treatment – including substitution treatment, drug prevention, access to medical marijuana and punishment of users of psychoactive substances for possession of drugs (Article 62 of the Act on Counteracting Drug Addiction);
  • recommending existing or necessary to introduce support mechanisms and innovative programs launched in response to COVID-19 by municipal authorities, and aimed at protecting the health of people with substance use disorders and drug users;
  • intervening in matters important to drug policy. The draft act of the National Bureau for Drug Prevention, which allows for the purchase of a substitute drug in a pharmacy on the basis of a prescription issued by a doctor, is waiting for examination in the parliamentary freezer. The pandemic is a special indication for the swift adoption of the law. Calls should be made to release patients from the leash of substitution programs and to redefine the system of substitution treatment, also raising the argument of the possibility of freeing medical personnel to fight the COVID pandemic;
  • appealing in cases of people possessing drugs (detained, arrested, convicted) regarding the use of the following legal tools: electronic supervision, early release from imprisonment, release from detention, not enforcing 24 hours detainment for people arrested for possession of drugs. It should be considered advisable and urgent that people who have committed a crime of such low social harm are not exposed to COVID-19 because of the state’s restrictive drug policy;
  • conducting a series of publicly available and free webinars on psychedelic substances, also in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first webinar took place on May 13, 2020 on the integration of psychedelic experiences in the COVID-19 era. Issues raised: What might be the consequences of psychedelic use during the COVID-19 pandemic? What are the safety rules when using psychedelics? Who should be especially careful? Why is the integration of psychedelic experiences so important and what is it about? More information on webinars and the Polish Psychedelic Society is available at www.psychodeliki.org.

Although the current situation is extremely difficult and unpredictable, it may affect the desired mechanisms of action, intervention or the lack of them. And the latter seems to be crucial – the lack of action often becomes a desired action – the best example of this is the abandonment or deprioritization of arrests of persons suspected of possessing illegal substances in Poland or issuing methadone in a 2-week system instead of a daily one, even to those who under the previous procedures were not eligible to join low-threshold regime programs.