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National Drug Coordinators Meeting

Ljubljana – The Ministry of Health of Republic of Slovenia organised National Drugs Coordinators Meeting on the importance of early prevention and socio-emotional learning skills. The meeting was part of the agenda of the Slovenian Presidency of the EU Council.

Special attention was paid to the specific challenges that prevention programmes are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic and to the exchange of best practices that emerged in these extraordinary circumstances.

The focus of the meeting, as is the case for the entire Slovenian Presidency, was on strengthening early prevention in the field of illicit drugs in the Horizontal Working Group on Drugs. Compared to early intervention, early prevention is not a fully developed concept, so we stimulated a discussion at the event on how to properly address this area and support its future development. In comparison to early intervention, early prevention focuses not only on the vulnerable population, but on all young children and adolescents, with measures being introduced before “unhealthy / non-social” habits and personality traits develop.

Vesna-Kerstin Petrič, Director General of the Public Health Directorate of the Ministry of Health, and Dr Alexis Goosdeel, Director of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), greeted the participants. Director General Vesna Kerstin Petrič in her opening speech underlined: “Early prevention in comparison to early intervention is not a systematically developed concept. The aim of this meeting is to encourage discussion among experts on how to adequately address this area and to support its further development. No country alone can solve the drug problem. For this reason increased cooperation, exchange of knowledge and best practices among EU member states is needed.”

EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel said: “Drugs have become more available and more potent than ever. More substances are likely to become the object of dependence, regardless of their legal status or natural or chemical origin. As a result, addictive behaviours are more complex and affect a much broader portion of the population. Together with the Slovenian Presidency of the EU, we encourage the EU Member States to renew their commitment to using evidence-based prevention programmes and creating a critical mass of specialised professionals as foreseen by the EU Drugs Action Plan 2020–2025.”

The meeting was attended by EU drug coordinators, national and international experts, who discussed early prevention and the importance of social and emotional learning. The lecturers included Slovenian experts Barbara Mihevc Ponikvar and Nives Letnar Žbogar from the National Institute of Public Health of Slovenia, who presented successful prevention programme: Health in Kindergartens and The First Thousand Days.

Dr Marija Anderluh, Head of the Department of Child Psychiatry at the Pediatric Clinic Ljubljana, presented a proven and effective programme for the prevention and early treatment of children's behavioural problems Incredible Years. Sanela Talić from the Utrip Institute and Dr Mišela Mavrič from the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport presented recommendations for promoting social and emotional learning and the well-being of teachers in schools. Participants were introduced to the work and good practices from Portugal and France, presented by Filip Rogério and Lúcio Santos from the NGO Arisco from Portugal and Prof. Laurent Gerbaud, of the University of Clermont-Auvergne in France. An expert in the field of prevention from the EMCDDA, Dr Gregor Burkhart presented the importance of prevention of addiction in childhood. Dr Wadih Maalouf of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) spoke on UNODC / WHO international standards on drug prevention and early childhood social and emotional learning. The role of NGOs in implementing quality interventions in reducing drug demand was presented by Mariangels Duch, Civil Society Forum on Drugs (CSFD).

Participants agreed on the crucial importance of early prevention in the development of social and emotional skills of the children as well as parents and the wider society. The findings and conclusions of the meeting will guide further activities in the field of early prevention at both regional and global levels.