Long waited visit to Turkey happened the last few days of 2016. MIlutin Milošević, Executive director DPNSEE and Thanasis Apostolou, director of Diogenis, visited Istanbul from 27 to 30 December. Unfortunately, there were no time to visit other cities, especially Gaziantep and Izmir which are known for their work in the field of addiction.
Thanks to the excellent co-operation with the Green Crescent of Turkey and the dedicated assistance of Ms Rukiye Deniz staff member responsible for foreign affairs we set up a programme for 3 days. We also got support from the TACSO Turkey team in establishing contacts with few local civil society organisations.
Our first meeting was with Mr. Gökhan Dinç director of Project department of the Green Crescent. This organisation has a leading role in Drug Policy making in the country and has 40 branches (even outside of Turkey) and 101 representative agencies in Turkey, engaging more than 30.000 volunteers. Drug issue came high on the list of priorities since 2014 when the new Strategy and Action Plan were adopted.
Treatment of addiction is a responsibility of the ministry of health and is provided through the Alcohol-Substance Addiction Research, Therapy and Education Centres (AMATEMs) and psychiatric clinics of public hospitals. Opioid substitution treatment (OST) exist since 2010. Harm reduction services are non-existent, but they claim that if the numbers keep growing, they will turn more to harm reduction services.
Drug possession is crime. Those who violated the law can choose to go to prison or treatment. In 2014, number of imprisoned persons in Turkey was 167.308, and estimation for 2016 are that it will raise to more than 180.000 people. Green Crescent advocates that possession will no longer be a crime.
In one of the Amatams, we met with Dr. Rabia Bilici explained that they are treating in their centre a variety of patients: children, adolescents and adults. Opiate users are often probation clients. Staff includes doctors, psychologists, nurses, social workers, professional orientation, all equally involved in work. They use suboxone in their treatments.
The Counselling centre (YEDAM) is a Green Crescent institution in a neighbourhood of Istanbul. The centre provides information and social and psychological support to individuals and families who face problems with alcohol and drugs. The centre is a new established institution that started working in 2015. A second centre was opened in 2016. Ms Gülsüm Melike Şimşek director of the centre informed us about their work. The centre fulfills an essential task in preventive and protecting services. The modern facilities of the centre, the information leaflets and the professional approach to drug use and addiction make a very good impression.
BEMEV (Bağımlılığı Engelleme Mücadele ve Eğitim Vakfı) is an initiative of scholars and professionals in the field of Alcohol and drugs who are working as volunteers for the aims of the foundation. The foundation is focusing on preventive activities, organises lectures and open public discussions, publishes brochures with information and is advocating for a consistent national strategy. Their main concern is the youth. They are promoting the idea that education about addictive substances in schools is necessary and contributes essentially in preventing young people to use drugs.
We had an interesting discussion with a number of young men and women of the Narcotics Anonymous group in Istanbul. NA have 18 different meeting points in the city. They pointed out that one of the main problems they face is the communication with the police and the bad experience they have with police approach of drug users. Another important issue that they face is the lack of recognition of their group by the responsible authorities; they have ideas how to deal with addiction, but are not consulted. They stressed the importance of the self- support, the free choice and the personal responsibility of their members.
BAYEV started in 2014 as a rehabilitation initiative in one of the municipalities of Istanbul. We met in their office with Ms Nurşah Alagöz and a staff member. They are helping people with drug addiction problems. In our discussion, they pointed out that the issue of drug use and addiction is only recently recognized as a social problem. They claim that 600 people died from overdose in 2016 and that number of users raised to 2 million. Drugs are problem of the young generation.
BAYDER is an organisation that conducts faith-based prevention and rehabilitation activities. We met with Dr Mustafa Kemal Özsoy the leader of the organisation and had afterwards a discussion with the coordinator of the project and members of the group that is in treatment. The initiative started 3 years ago. The treatment they receive is free and strongly based on mutual support and the good relationship with the family. The recovery program is an essential part of the activities.
The Human resource and development Foundation is a leading non-profit, non- governmental organization in Turkey established in 1988. The aim of the foundation is to promote reproductive health and family planning education, information, training and services as well as the empowerment of the human resource. They have, during the past period, developed and implemented projects including Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV/AIDS. The attitude of the Turkish government towards the work in the field of STI’s, HIV and AIDS is rather reserved. The National HIV Committee haven’t had a meeting for 8 years! Turkey has transitioned from Global Fund support to a government-supported program. Number of infected grows – in 2015 there were 2.500 new cases registered. Unfortunately the Human resource and development Foundation is not any more involved in the field, of HIV/AIDS and drugs, but is open to contacts with our organisations and willing to help with advice where they can.
Social Policies, Gender Sexual orientation studies Association (SPoD) is a national non-governmental LGBT organization in Turkey, founded in 2011. The Association works for equality and human rights (economic, legal, political) for LGBT people. Although the Association does refer to drugs as an area of their work we met with Neçip Varan who is very well informed about drugs, drug dependence and Harm reduction. Naçip has a rich experience in the field of drugs due to work that he has done in several countries. Drugs and HIV/AIDS is also an issue in the LGBT population and SPoD is interested in this this field. SPoD participates in the regional project of the EU that is developing and implementing a similar initiative of co-operation of organisations in SEE like our Drug Policy Network SEE.
The visit of December was a good start of our relationship with Turkish institutions and non-governmental organisation. These were three very interesting days establishing contacts and speaking with people with whom we can co-operate in the future.