The first study visit was made to the city of Ghent in Belgium in order to investigate a unique practice of drug courts in action. The visit was hosted by a Belgian NGO Popov GGZ, a consultation platform on mental health, including addiction.
We were welcome in Ghent City Hall and met the city Drug Policy Coordinator, Mr Filip De Sager, Provincial Drug Policy Coordinator, Mr. Bert Mostien and the heart of the Ghent Drug Court system, its liaison coordinator Mr. Alphonse Franssen.
The unique concept of Ghent Drug Court system is allowing a treatment to take place before any sentence or a verdict has been stated and a crime registered.
The system has been in use for 7-8 years in East Flanders and implies efficient local communication between the drug court and treatment facilities, performed by liaison officers. The region of East Flanders has 5800 beds for outpatient treatment and 3200 beds for inpatient treatment to avail for the system. As in other Drug Court models, all prosecuted are supposed to follow the urine testing procedure every 2 weeks. The judge emphasizes the gruesomeness of the sentence if the treatment fails, which is an impetus to motivation for the treatment.
East Flanders uses an Integrated Treatment System, which became an evolution within the drug policy since 1998. The ITS consists of a complete set of care and treatment programmes for illicit drug users, guaranteeing customized care and its continuity, organized in a network. The therapeutic ideologies within the treatment programmes had to give way for solving concrete problems of the clients, which led to respect, shared vision and investigation of services available to make the treatment effective.
Ghent city seeks for a solution-oriented approach, activating drug users and stressing the importance of a correct alcohol policy. These important features however do not necessarily define that a recovered drug user is substance-free.
Addiction care has become a matter of case management, a scientific basis for breaking the boundaries between often stiff drug policy agencies. This model was born out of concern for better service in crisis and emergency situations (to link clients to the right services), when continuity and support are extremely important. Case managers establish a contact with the clients, assessing their strengths and weaknesses and connecting the court system to the treatment services.
The first encounter with local drug policy coordinators revealed differences in the definition of “recovery” for the partners of the project, meaning a sustainability of condition of a drug user, prioritizing housing for the homeless users for our Belgian partners. Flemish Ministry of Health set Recovery as a main strategy, but that was not about sobriety or control. Recovery in Belgium is about establishing a fulfilling, meaningful life. The point of case management is also keeping people in treatment, helping them indirectly to stay sober and to sustain recovery.