Austria Country Drug Report 2019

Harm reduction

The 2016 Austrian Addiction Prevention Strategy, together with the nine provincial strategies, forms the basis for harm reduction interventions. The reduction of drug-related harm is a focus of all areas of drug-related service provision in the country. Implementation of harm reduction activities rests exclusively with the provinces and comprises diverse measures oriented towards low-threshold assistance and reducing the risk of problematic consequences of drug use. Specific interventions include peer support, outreach work, street-based assistance and referral to treatment.

Harm reduction interventions

The majority of harm reduction interventions in Austria are provided in low-threshold settings. The exchange and sale of syringes and other clean injecting equipment constitute a key intervention, available in seven out of nine provinces, primarily in the provincial capitals. In addition, services include the provision of information on safer use/safer sex and condom distribution; basic medical care; vaccination programmes against hepatitis A and B; free testing for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and viral hepatitis; and counselling. Furthermore, harm reduction providers facilitate clients’ access to treatment for chronic hepatitis C infection through hepatitis outpatient clinics in close collaboration with hospitals in Graz, Innsbruck and Vienna. At the main low-threshold facility in Vienna directly observed HCV treatment with new direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) is available to all clients in opioid treatment and is reported to have been successful in all 117 patients who had completed their treatment by December 2017. Access to DAA treatment in Austria is increasing, as health insurance providers have abolished eligibility thresholds for reimbursement of treatment costs.

Between 2013 and 2017, the number of syringes distributed through harm reduction programmes and vending machines increased from 4.7 million to 6.3 million. Needle and syringe exchange is available at fixed sites through low-threshold services and outpatient drug services, as well as through outreach workers. Syringes are also available from vending machines located in 17 communities. Other injecting equipment (e.g. microfilters) is often provided along with sterile syringes.

Initiatives aiming to prevent overdose include awareness raising through the provision of information and advice, as well as first aid courses for drug users and staff in low-threshold facilities. Service providers in the province of Styria have drawn up a plan for the introduction of take-home naloxone.

The promotion of safer use and risk reduction in recreational settings is considered important to reduce the number of emergencies occurring in party settings. Initiatives to provide information and drug-checking services to users in these settings are available in Vienna (Check-it!) and in Tyrol (Z6).

Availablity of selected harm reduction responses in Europe
Country Needle and syringe programmes Take-home naloxone programmes Drug consumption rooms Heroin-assisted treatment
Austria Yes No No No
Belgium Yes No Yes No
Bulgaria Yes No No No
Croatia Yes No No No
Cyprus Yes No No No
Czechia Yes No No No
Denmark Yes Yes Yes Yes
Estonia Yes Yes No No
Finland Yes No No No
France Yes Yes Yes No
Germany Yes Yes Yes Yes
Greece Yes No No No
Hungary Yes No No No
Ireland Yes Yes No No
Italy Yes Yes No No
Latvia Yes No No No
Lithuania Yes Yes No No
Luxembourg Yes No Yes Yes
Malta Yes No No No
Netherlands Yes No Yes Yes
Norway Yes Yes Yes No
Poland Yes No No No
Portugal Yes No No No
Romania Yes No No No
Slovakia Yes No No No
Slovenia Yes No No No
Spain Yes Yes Yes No
Sweden Yes No No No
Turkey No No No No
United Kingdom Yes Yes No Yes

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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.