Increasing access to methadone maintenance therapy in Latvia
Riga, 3 December 2010 - A conference "Methadone maintenance therapy in Latvia: accessibility and quality" gathered more than a hundred participants from all over the country. The conference was opened by the Head of Latvian Narcologist Association Ms. Astīda Stirna. She thanked UNODC for the assistance in scaling-up drug dependence treatment in Latvia and presented the new legal and technical documents that have been developed by the Association. The changes were necessary to ensure better quality of and accessibility to pharmacological treatment of opioid dependence. Ms. Signe Rotberga, UNODC Regional Project Coordinator congratulated the participants on the occasion of the World AIDS Day and reminded that methadone maintenance therapy is an effective intervention for HIV prevention among injecting drug users. She thanked all UNODC partners for the results achieved and urged to continue scaling-up methadone maintenance therapy to ensure access to services for all who need them.
Ms. Sarmīte Skaida from Riga Psychiatry and Addiction Treatment Centre provided an overview about the aims of methadone maintenance therapy (MMT), its influence on the patient's health as well as benefits for the society: reduced crime level and lower prevalence of infectious diseases. Ms. Evija Dompalma, UNODC National Project Officer, told about UNODC support for establishment of methadone therapy sites and pointed-out that although therapy is available already in 10 cities in Latvia, in some programmes the number of clients is still very low. The representative of Health Account Center Mr. Atis Mārtiņsons emphasized the importance of treatment quality and urged to increase cost-effectiveness of MMT.
During the conference special attention was paid to the cooperation among police, probation service and drug dependence treatment providers in order to engage drug users in treatment and to decrease crime level. Very interesting presentation was given by the Chief of Vilnius Criminal Police Mr. Antoni Mikulskis. He shared his experience in cooperation with Vilnius Drug Addiction Treatment Center and Lithuanian Drug Control Department. This cooperation was aimed at involvement of Roma people living in Vilnius in different drug dependence treatment programmes. Director of Vilnius Centre for Addictive Disorders Mr. Emilis Subata described his experience in cooperation with probation service which resulted in replacement of imprisonment with drug dependence treatment for those offenders who agreed to undergo the treatment. Ms. Lilita Caune informed about collaboration between the hospital "Gintermuiza" and Jelgava Municipal Police in retaining drug users in treatment programmes.
Several new methadone therapy programmes shared their experience and results achieved during the first year of operation. Psychologist from Jūrmala MMT programme noted that treatment had improved social situation of many clients - they have found a job and mothers could take care after their children. Dr. Jelena Sorokina from Liepāja MMT told about the work of multi-sectoral team and the problems encountered. She emphasized that it is very important to continue training of the personnel and to raise awareness of other stakeholders about methadone therapy and its role in the social integration of clients. Psychologist from Daugavpils MMT revealed that work with addicted persons is challenging and therefore regular intervision for the staff is a helpful tool for professional education and solving of difficult therapeutic cases.
Participants of the conference emphasized a necessity to organize training on motivation of clients to engage in drug dependence treatment, as well as to hold regional seminars for employees of police, probation and social services about MMT, its aims and prospective results.
The conference was closed by Mr. Jānis Bekmanis, Head of Policy Implementation Division of the Ministry of Interior and Secretary of Drug Control and Drug Abuse Limitation Coordination Council who reminded that EU drug and HIV strategies, as well as UN Conventions urge the member states to ensure access to evidence-based drug dependence treatment and HIV prevention services, including methadone maintenance therapy. These decisions are binding for Latvia as a member state of the European Union and the United Nations. He admitted that public administration is still on its way to comprehensive assessment of policy impact and for that reason sometimes the work done by service providers is underestimated.
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