The 68th meeting of the Heads of National Focal Points of the European information network on drugs and drug addiction (REITOX) was held in Lisbon, Portugal, from 24 to 26 May 2023. The meeting was attended by representatives of all 29 REITOX countries, and a representative of the European Commission.

The main topics of the meeting:

Plenary session I: Update on key recent and future policy and institutional developments

The European Commission (EC) representative shared the last policy developments related to the implementation of the EU Drug strategy 2021-2025, of which a formal evaluation will be launched in 2024. In October, an expert meeting will take place with the aim of further developing the aspect of alternatives to coercive sanctions included in the strategy and preparing a EC recommendation. In the context of the EU internet forum, it was decided to extend the mandate of the platform to include drugs sales online, and a related knowledge package is currently been developed. The EC representative acknowledged the valuable support provided by the EMCDDA in the developing of the knowledge package’s methodology. A questionnaire will be sent to all MS before summer, in order to have a first version presented at the official meeting of the internet forum and at the EU ministerial meeting scheduled for December this year.

Plenary session II: Revision of the EMCDDA mandate

The EC representative provided an update on the state of play of the EU legislative procedure related to the Agency’s revision of the mandate. Following the political agreement on the regulation text reached on 28 March, translations in all the official languages are currently being checked with the aim of finalizing all of them for the vote of the EU Parliament on the 12 June. The Council will vote on the 27 June on the text, which will coincide with the entering into force of the regulation. The subsequent implementation phase will then begin for a period of one year. The EC representative acknowledged the efforts made by the Swedish EU presidency to finalize the regulation during the current semester.

Plenary session III: Public health updates

For what regards the prevalence and patterns of drug use,a working group will work on polydrug use measures. The preparatory work for 2024 ESPAD is ongoing and regional seminars will take place during summer. Regarding wastewater, a new data set was published in March with a new data explorer tool. If NFPs would like to join the network, it is possible to have the samples analysed by an external laboratory for free. The European web survey on drugs 2024 will be launched in March/April 2024 and will focus on cannabis measures. A call of interest has been launched on Connect. From the policy side, in the
area of economic recession and drugs, a report will soon be published and an online expert meeting will be organized during the last quarter of 2023 for which NFPs have been invited to nominate experts. In the area of prison and drugs, a RTX academy will take place in mid-June in Cyprus that will be followed by the final conference of the joint cooperation project PRS20 (Cyprus, Belgium, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg) and a technical meeting, a joint ECDC/EMCDDA project on definition of a toolkit for the elimination of hepatitis in prison is ongoing. On mental health and drugs, there is a proposal for inclusion of one voluntary item in TDI. Also, a miniguide on psychiatric comorbidity is currently being prepared, and a technical meeting on psychiatric comorbidity will take place at the end of 2023. The annual legal and policy correspondents meeting will take place in June, with a focus on cannabis. Also, the “cannabis legislation in Europe” report will be launched early June. From the prevention side of activities, the next “train the trainer” session will take place in November: interested NFPs are invited to contact the Centre.

Plenary session IV: Risks to public safety and security updates

The session was exclusively dedicated to four marketplace sessions on: Monitoring drug-related violence; Key market metrics: price and purity; Double reporting of substances (such as ketamine, GBL, etc.); and National alerts on events of a potential high public health impact.

Plenary session V: National reporting

Two changes to the National reporting tools for 2024 were presented. The first proposal is to add one voluntary variable on mental health to the current TDI data collection. The second is the revision of ST 18 mortality cohort studies with the objective of increase standardisation and facilitate comparison. NFPs are invited to check the related documents shared on Connect. Another change, but not foreseen for 2024, will be the revision of the DRID protocol, with the aim at filling monitoring gaps. Also, on harm reduction (HR), no changes are planned for this year, work is ongoing to continue the simplifying ST10 and ST10b. There will be an area on Connect to exchanges and feedback on HR interventions. A needs assessment will be planned to ensure improvement on monitoring of HR responses are aligned with NFPs.

Plenary session VI: Implementation of the new mandate: Monitoring

For “monitoring” the new mandate means an extension or sophistication of activities the EMCDDA has already been doing, rather than a complete change. The new mandate will bring the opportunity to build an integrated data foundation used for monitoring purposes. Article 6 and article 7 are the two articles that specifically addressing the monitoring function:
Art.6 (collection and dissemination of information and data) contains new expectations, such as the consequences of poly substance use, as well as enhanced functions, such as the dissemination on a larger scale and to a broader audience compared to the present;
Art.7 (monitoring of the drug phenomenon and sharing of best practices), foresees the extension of the existing areas through a more comprehensive coverage of substances and a more timely data collection and reporting. Activities should be carried out with a partnership approach between the Agency and the NFPs.

Plenary session VII: Implementation of the new mandate: Preparedness

One of the main changes entailed by the new mandate is the establishment of a European drug alert system, which will be similar and complementary to the Early Warning System on NPS. It will provide a mechanism for the rapid exchange of information that may be useful for responding to risks. Targeted alerts will be the main output; supported by an expert platform. Alerts can include options on how the risk may be most effectively mitigated. To ensure effective risk communication, alerts will be channelled through a transparent and structured protocol, developed with the involvement of NFPs. Article 15 of the new regulation also provides the establishment of a network of forensic and toxicology laboratories. The EMCDDA is currently conceptualizing how the network will be structured, starting from defining the procedure for appointing the laboratories, with a maximum of three for each MS. A guidance document will be distributed to MS. The presentation on preparedness from the Reitox Spokesperson stressed the crucial role of the NFPs in shaping the future agency’s tasks and suggested to carry out a mapping exercise to define current activities.

Plenary session VIII: Implementation of the new mandate: Competence development

The chapter on competence development of the new regulation lists many services that the agency can provide to MS: from evidence-based interventions, best practices and awareness raising, training, as well as activities falling under the area of international cooperation, to research and innovation. The way forward identified is using a partnership approach to shaping services with a forward-looking perspective. The work with NFPs will also aim at developing a shared understanding of used terminology, priorities and define which tasks would be mandatory, complementary or optional. The FR NFP provided an update on the activities from the competence development working group, which started by breaking down tasks that will be mandatory, optional and ad hoc. A mapping exercise has been started through a questionnaire available on Connect, aimed at identifying which activities are already been performed, or not, by the NFPs.

Plenary session IX: Communication updates

The new features of the EDR 2023 were presented: for the first time it will be a digital-first product, being a major change in the presentation of the information, as well process wise. For the review of translations, the process will still be manual as an access to DRUPAL cannot be yet given to the NFPs. The launch of the EDR will be on 16 June in Brussels during a press conference with the EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson, all details of the event were shared. Lithuania and Cyprus will have their national launch of the EDR in June, Poland will hold it in October and the HNFP enquired if a EMCDDA staff member can be present on the day of the launch at the national level.

Source: Final minutes, 68th meeting of Reitox Heads of National Focal Points, EMCDDA.