Belgium Country Drug Report 2019

Treatment

The treatment system

The Federal Drug Policy Note of 2001 specifies that treatment services should be based on a multidisciplinary approach that is adapted to the complex bio-psychosocial problem of drug dependency. In Belgium, competences concerning treatment are split between the federal and federate governments, but they are coordinated at the national level. The last state reform is being applied progressively throughout the country and will affect the organisation of drug treatment facilities. In Flanders, the specialised drug treatment sector will become part of the general mental health sector, with a strong emphasis on cooperation and networking.

A range of services for drug use treatment and/or healthcare are available in a large part of the country, except in the German-speaking community, where there are no specialised treatment centres for drug users. Specialised outpatient care is provided by consultation and day-care centres and by medical and social care centres. In general, these centres provide low-threshold help or social reintegration services, including a wide range of psychosocial, psychological and healthcare services, such as opioid substitution treatment (OST). General and mental healthcare, based on psychosocial interventions, is provided by centres for mental health, sometimes with a specialised focus on drug dependence. In Belgium, general practitioners (GPs) remain the first-line health services for users to access drug treatment, while in the French Community they also play a central role in diagnosis and the prescription of OST. Both methadone and buprenorphine are available for OST. Recently, online treatment interventions have also become available.

Inpatient treatment consisting of detoxification, stabilisation and motivation, and social reintegration is offered at hospital-based residential drug treatment units and specialised crisis intervention centres, which provide care based on case management principles at specialised hospital units or through long-term residential treatment services. Aftercare and reintegration programmes are delivered in outpatient and inpatient settings. Examples include halfway houses in therapeutic communities, day treatment in drug centres and employment rehabilitation programmes.

Action has recently been taken to improve treatment for clients with a dual diagnosis or polydrug use and for children and young people. A pilot project exploring a community reinforcement approach combined with a voucher treatment method has shown promising results for the treatment of cocaine users. A new treatment programme for young cannabis users has also been piloted.

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Treatment provision

Available data from the treatment demand register in Belgium indicate that over 12 000 clients entered specialised drug treatment in 2017. However, the overall number of clients in treatment is estimated to be higher, since the register does not yet systematically collect data from GPs (who are the main providers of OST in the French Community) and does not report on long-term treatment clients.

Of the total treatment entrants in 2017, more than 30 % were treated for cannabis-related problems, one quarter for cocaine and one quarter for opioids, mainly heroin. The long-term trend indicates that the proportion of opioid clients has been decreasing since 2011, while the proportion of cocaine clients has been increasing.

The number of people receiving OST has been decreasing in Belgium since 2013, and it is estimated that around 16 500 people received OST in 2017. The majority of OST clients receive methadone.

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Methodological note: Analysis of trends is based only on those countries providing sufficient data to describe changes over the period specified. The reader should also be aware that monitoring patterns and trends in a hidden and stigmatised behaviour like drug use is both practically and methodologically challenging. For this reason, multiple sources of data are used for the purposes of analysis in this report. Caution is therefore required in interpretation, in particular when countries are compared on any single measure. Detailed information on methodology and caveats and comments on the limitations in the information set available can be found in the EMCDDA Statistical Bulletin.