Peer involvement in 2014

The reality of  Europe in 2014 looks quite different than it did in 1994.  European borders have opened up and trade and travel have grown enormously.  The internet and mobile phones have become a significant means of distributing substances, experiences and information.

Another significant difference between 1994 and 2014 is that harm reduction has become accepted European policy.

Looking at peer involvement in service delivery and policymaking, several issues should be highlighted:

  • Many countries in Europe have created supportive health policy frameworks allowing the participation of service users and target groups.  ‘Self-help’ groups and the use of community-based and participatory models are generally widely accepted and common practice in Europe.
  • But in the drug field similar developments have not been made or noticed:  there are currently relatively few peer-based initiatives. After a quick rise in the early 1990s, many peer groups, often after significant results in the first years of their existence, now consider themselves as isolated and unsupported and lack continuity and infrastructure.  Many struggle for recognition and capacity support to help them to develop activities that would achieve a significant impact.
  • However, presently there is a sense of renewed interest and motivation in peer involvement.  Over the past few years, agencies in several countries including Portugal, Italy, Sweden, France and Finland  have developed specific seminars on the subject of peer involvement.  In addition, a growing interest in this issue is apparent in newer European Union countries that have a relatively young history of drug use and consumer-inclusive responses.

This situation demands a new initiative to re-boost and promote meaningful peer involvement.  This website - a web-based resource - is an interactive user-friendly manual that includes experiences and current technology, meeting the needs and challenges of today:  it is the Peer involvement manual 2.0.



The first manual (1994)

The idea of describing peer work as a health intervention tool was initially developed by the Trimbos Institute in 1992-1994.  The concept was discussed with key European (self-help) organisations and resulted in the development of a manual:  ‘The European peer support manual for AIDS prevention in intravenous drug user communities’.

The 1995 manual was intended as a handbook for trainers and those who wanted to develop peer activities. It described the background and concept of peer support work as a method to inform and disseminate health promotion messages among communities of drug users, by involving and working together with the members of the final target group:  drug users themselves.

The manual has been used very widely throughout Europe over the last 17 years and has been a source of inspiration for many.  It has been translated in several languages, used in various settings (including Russian prisons), modified to different settings, and has been distributed and used until very recently.  It has also led to a manual for peer work in prisons