The use of illegal drugs involves many long- and short-term risks. Do not endanger your health: do not use illegal drugs! If, however, you do in fact use illegal drugs, it is advisable to be supported or accompanied by some other person who can call the emergency services in the case of sudden severe illness.

Reducing the risks related to drug abuse

The worse the conditions in which drug abuse takes place, the greater the dangers: dirty, disreputable, badly equipped public areas exposing drug users to the imminent risks of infection and overdose, “bad trips”, aggressive behaviour, accidents, etc. 

Risk-reduction measures can help drug abusers to manage their consumption better and so limit the risks.

DID  YOU KNOW? Drug-abuse prevention policies are not the responsibility of the federal government! In Belgium, prevention is in the competence of the Communities. Each Community therefore has an institution responsible for the prevention of drug abuse.

There is also a Federal drug-abuse unit: SPF – Soins de santé – Cellule drogues

Information programme about the products 

To limit the risks and dangers of drug abuse, it is important to be properly informed about: 

  • the effects and the risks of the various drugs and mixtures of drugs
  • risk factors which can worsen symptoms 
  • first aid in the case of an overdose
  • signs of a level of consumption which is detrimental for health
  • signs of dependence.

Syringe exchange programme

One of the principal risks involved in using drugs by injection is the transmission of serious diseases, such as hepatitis C, hepatitis B, tuberculosis, syphilis or the AIDS virus (HIV).

Disposable syringes and sterile injection equipment can be supplied at syringe exchange programmes in Belgium to avoid the sharing of used needles.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), syringe-exchange programmes reduce the transmission of AIDS/HIV, under the condition that the number of injecting drug users remains stable. 

Substitution programme

The use of heroin involves many risks for health and quickly causes a great physical and psychological dependence.

The substitution programme prescribed by the general practitioner consists in replacing heroin with methadone or buprenorphine. It allows:

  • considerable and progressive reduction in the use of heroin
  • reduction in use by injection and therefore a lower risk of the transmission of HIV and hepatitis B and C
  • improvement in commitment to treatment programmes 
  • improvement in general health 
  • the user to be taken out of the costly heroin market with the consequent improvement in social contact and reinsertion.

Drug consumption rooms 

Drug consumption rooms allow:

  • drug users to take drugs in a safer, more hygienic way and under supervision
  • healthcare workers to have contact with drug users who are difficult to contact 
  • a reduction in the use of drugs in public areas 
  • a reduction in the disease and mortality related to drug abuse
  • facilitated access to other social-welfare and health services and services for drug-abuse treatment. 

These consumption rooms have existed since 1986 in different countries such as Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Norway and Canada. They do not exist yet in Belgium.

Pill testing”

Drug users can have the actual drugs bought in the street analysed, to be informed about the composition and dosage of the drug sample in order to assess  better the potential risks of their drug use.

In Belgium is this only possible by Modus Fiesta in Brussels. It is not tollerated in other areas of the country.

Prevention of overdoses

An overdose, also called “acute poisoning”, is an accident that happens when the quantity, quality and/or the mix of the drugs taken results in the loss of consciousness, respiratory arrest and sometimes death.

For this reason it is always advisable to be accompanied during the use of drugs (what to do in the case of an overdose).

Sciensano collects data and analyses the consumption of drugs, the drug market, the consequences for health, requests for treatment and the policies implemented with regard to drugs in Belgium.

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