How it all began…

Dr. Dirk Kratz

In the following interview the founder of Handle it! Dr. Dirk Kratz talks about the entire development process of the Erasmus+ project 

What is behind the project ‘Handle it!’ for you personally and what goals are you pursuing?

Handle it! is designed as a strategic partnership within a European framework and for me personally, the project is based on exactly this international networking in the field of addiction treatment and addiction aid. Drug consumption and drug trafficking in particular is an international business and without considering the international situation, it is basically impossible to come up with helpful strategies and treatment methods in one’s own country. So this is the basic idea: to strengthen international networking and a stronger networking at staff level in order to jointly develop new strategies for drug help and treatment. In Euro-TC we have a strong association through which this networking can be organized sustainably even after the project is over.  

I therefore hope to achieve a high innovative potential for the next few years in order to develop new treatment methods. Especially the problem of the NPS is one that has been dominating the scene for years, but in active drug help only on a small scale, because the field seems to appear as a “blind field” and does not get much attention at all. I hope to develop new treatment methods, a more ‘client-centered’ approach, in order to be able to help more people with changed consumption conditions. 

How did you get the idea to start the project ‘Handle it!’ (first ideas, research, discussions, inquiries)? 

I had already been involved in funding projects in Europe several years before, for example I had been involved in a research project in the field of youth mobility during my scientific work at the University of Hildesheim. Here I was allowed to work in an international consortium. In addition, I participated in other projects in the field of labor market support that had EU funding (so-called ESF projects) and always found the EU networking idea in itself very interesting, so there was already a certain openness since then to continue in this field of addiction aid, because there is a lot of catching up to do. Already in my scientific work I have noticed that social work is very strongly focused on Germany and its institutions and in the international context is rather sparsely populated. I could already see this in Hildesheim in the many international projects and the discussion about transnational social support. I took this experience with me in my current position as managing director and developed ideas how to optimize the situation. In addition, after I had the management and was in the European Treatment Centers For Drug Addiction (Euro-TC) at the international conference, I exchanged ideas and found partners who said that if I would submit the application etc., they would participate – so I had interested people with me right away and only needed the final project idea. The idea actually came out of practice, because the problems around NPS have grown in parallel: On the one hand through the European Drug Report, in which it was reported that it is becoming a growing problem, also due to the drug emergencies caused by NPS. In our facilities, relapses have also occurred again and again, which have presented us with problems.  

In the international context, due to the different levels of legalization in the other countries, this is a problem area in which something must be changed. In this respect, I have started to do research, whereby the project is not designed as a scientific but a practical project from the very beginning and ‘research’ in this case means that one has looked to see whether the topic really represents a problem area in practice. I also exchanged ideas with other institutions and sponsors: there were several meetings, including pre-meetings, before the project consortium submitted its proposal, so that we had the project idea in the end. Then there was a writing workshop from our National Agency in which I had participated, and then I submitted the application. 

Why did you decide to make it an Erasmus+ project? 

The networking idea and the starting point were clear. Afterwards I did a little research on how to implement the approaches. Through various newsletters I learned about mobility projects and the Erasmus+ funding and took part in pre-meetings, including a writing workshop of the National Agency, to find out if this is a funding line for us and if we can do it accordingly, in what time frame it would be feasible, etc. – In the end, the open questions could be answered with a clear ‘yes’, so we set out on our journey. 

How were you able to get the other institutions involved in the project and why did especially these institutions become part of the project?

On the one hand through the association in the Euro-TC, in which some institutions are organized. In addition, there were other institutions that were interested, but which later dropped out of the project at short notice, for example another institution in Portugal (private addiction clinic). 

Afterwards each institution reviewed the funding conditions and a project consortium developed from this. After many (also bilateral) discussions with the partners we decided to start the project.  We made sure that the consortium reflected a certain heterogeneity, in order to then bring together different approaches in this exchange of practice. 

When was the project name decided and what is its meaning? 

The project name developed during the preparation phase, because I had to develop a project sketch for the writing workshop of the National Agency. ‘Handle it!’ came in as a quick idea. We found it very appropriate in the plenary session.  

So it means developing approaches for NPS at all, that is, trying to find a way to deal with all the problems. Especially when it comes to dealing with NPS, more work is needed in politics and in drug help, because everyone is looking for the right strategies. That is why I found the title very fitting, with the call: ‘do something now!’ 

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How did the application process at the National agency (NaBibb) go? Were there any difficulties?  

We developed a project idea, which I reflected on again and again with the partners interested at the time. During that process our National Agency provided a lot of helpful information with many low-threshold help offers. Especially the registration and participation in the writing workshop was very interesting and informative. There you could share your project idea with experienced project sponsors and at the end you received feedback on what could be changed.  Afterwards, one could go to the application form, which was really good.  

One hurdle arose during the submission of the application: The EU server there failed, I suddenly only received error messages and was almost desperate because there was a danger of not being able to submit the application in time. But I got a lot of help from the National Agency, which helped me to implement the application in the end and send it in time. 

Are there more projects of this kind planned? 

Not at first. For next year, however, we want to finish Handle it! and draw the appropriate conclusions: did everything go well, how did we manage with the budget, etc.  

Due to the Corona situation we have to see how the project is going or will be changed anyway. Based on this, maybe by the middle of next year we will consider how to proceed or if further projects are realistic. 

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