The Italian Red Cross has been active in the field of drug related problems since 1976, when Dr. Massimo Barra founded, the Villa Maraini Therapeutic Community in Rome Italy. Over the years, Villa Maraini has radically increased its activities and services, becoming a leading organization in assistance to drug users and PLWHA, as well as in the fight against discrimination and stigma of every kind.
The experience gained and the results obtained by the Villa Maraini Foundation in Rome and the Italian Red Cross in 32 years of activities, in favour of and together with drug addicts demonstrate that it is not possible to force people to follow a therapeutic process in which they do not believe. The main focus must be towards building trust with drug users; to attract them in times of need or when they are ready to be helped. Nonetheless, no case is impossible to handle and even the hardest consumer could improve his or her life and be rehabilitated into society, if properly assisted and placed in the conditions to do so.
“If we consider individuals in their different phases of life, we can realize that every individual is quite different from the next and that even, differences can be found in the same individual. For this reason, treatment and dependence therapies have to be tailored towards the real and changing needs of a particular individual. Therapies have to be shaped for individual needs and not vice-versa….”.
Dr. M. Barra
In particular, Villa Maraini has grown from being a small center welcoming no more than five persons per day in the mid 70s, to being the most comprehensive and unique structure in Italy dealing with drug users. Nowadays, the Foundation provides a range of therapies completely free of charge and other services to 800 drug users per day and more than 3.000 patients and their families per year. This variety of approaches, built up over a period of 32 years, is still in process, and aims at developing and increasing even further, since its objective is to find efficient therapeutic methods for intervention, able to be conformed as quickly as possible to the evolution of the drug phenomenon in everyday reality.
According to Dr. Massimo Barra, “a recuperation centre waiting for requests of assistance from drug users is only able to assist a limited number of persons, those who can bear the frustration of asking for help. It is, on the contrary, of specific interest of each community to know every single drug user, in order to reduce the individual and social harm of drug consumption”.
Villa Maraini premises It is for this reason that Villa Maraini teams, composed of social workers (33% of whom are former drug users appropriately trained), psychologists, Red Cross Volunteers and medical doctors, are present daily in the field, looking for and contacting drug users in the places where they use drugs: railway stations, tunnels, streets, neighborhoods at risk, etc, or providing specific drug therapy (methadone) in court rooms and also advocacy in jails. The Law enforcement Agencies  call for Villa Maraini’s intervention  every time any Drug User is arrested within Rome City, in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms or to assist in any kind of drug dependency crisis.
Daily contact with DUs, both in the streets and at Villa Maraini, have produced a strong link between a large number of them and the Foundation, thus bridging the gap between the socially excluded and the system. A social labor cooperative whose members are former DUs was established in 1981, with activities such as gardening and a typography for external contractors. Several former DUs have joined the Italian Red Cross, becoming Volunteers and  involved in all kinds of RC activities, both in Italy and abroad.
Villa Maraini staff are integrated with external experts, providing social and legal counselling and moderating self-help psychological groups attended by drug users and PLWHA. Former drug users now make up one third of the staff, so that peer education is now not only a concept but a growing reality.Since the year 2004 Villa Maraini has been organizing and carrying out training courses on behalf of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Italian Red Cross and the European Network of Red Cross/Crescent Societies on HIV and AIDS and TB (ERNA) regarding:
  • A comprehensive harm reduction approach to drug use
  • HIV and AIDS prevention
The overall objective of the Training Programme  is to support  the components of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to increase awareness regarding the planning, organizing, implementing and assessing of harm reduction programmes and also to encourage the commitment to serve: involving and empowering affected communities to understand and to have an adequate response  to the needs of people affected by the consequences linked to the use of drugs.

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