Italian rehab centre celebrates 40 years of fighting addiction

Publié: 5 octobre 2016 16:56 CET

By Andreea Anca, IFRC

A centre specializing in supporting drug users to beat addiction and rebuild their lives has marked its 40th anniversary in Rome.

Villa Maraini was set up by the Italian Red Cross in 1976 and later became Red Cross Red Crescent Movement’s reference centre for drug abuse. Since it was founded, the centre has provided tailor-made care and rehabilitation packages to more than 40,000 people.

The Italian Red Cross’s Massimo Barra,  who set up Villa Maraini, says the project was ambitious in the face of  1970s stigma and prejudice.

“Perhaps we were crazy in 1976 when we dreamed of doing something in favour of drug users,” he said. “These 40 years have been an incredible adventure for all of us – one that  which has saved lives, tackled health problems and reduced crime.”

Maurizio, 60,  was a heavy drug user whose health bore the brunt of his addiction.  

More than 15 years ago his liver had become severely damaged and he was diagnosed with hepatitis C. Shortly afterwards, he contracted HIV.  It was then that, with the help of a friend and former drug user, Maurizio turned to Villa Maraini.

“I was lucky to have a friend who introduced me to this place,” he said

“Many other friends I met on the streets passed away because of the drugs and illnesses.”

Red Cross workers were with him each step of his fight to beat addiction and also helped him access the latest hepatitis C treatment which saw him overcome the illness.

The Villa provides support to 4,000 people a year, including overdose prevention and recovery, support for withdrawal symptoms, free HIV and HCV testing and providing a helpline for drug users in prisons and their families.

One of the Villa`s  strengths is its volunteers and social workers – recovered drug users themselves. Being able to draw on their own experiences to support others kick addiction is a vital part of the centre’s rehab programme.

Villa Maraini now plays a leading role in substance abuse prevention, treatment and care. In 2012 the institution formed a partnership with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) as well as the Italian Red Cross, providing training and technical assistance on harm reduction and drug abuse treatment to Societies across the Movement.

In another cooperation with the European Red Cross and Red Crescent Network on HIV, AIDS and Tuberculosis (ERNA), the Villa works to fight stigma and discrimination toward drug users, people living with HIV and HCV and migrants. It also promotes humanitarian drug policies at global level.

As part of the 40-years celebration, thirty former drug users who had completed their therapy programme at the Maraini Centre shared their addiction and rehabilitation stories in front of the 500 guests who attended the ceremony. The event was attended by public authorities, families, supporters and Italian Red Cross volunteers.