Drugstore Youth Mental Health Hub

DRUGSTORE youth mental health hub APH

Key information

  • Organisation: Alliance for Public Health
  • Country: Ukraine
  • Region: Eastern Europe and Central Asia
  • Stage of innovation: Stage 3: Pilot
  • Start date: 01/06/2023
  • End date: 31/12/2024
  • Type of innovation: Conceptual innovation: new ways of looking at problems, challenging assumptions, or both
  • Budget: $130 000
  • Funder: Gilead

Summary of intervention

The war in Ukraine has dramatically increased young people’s vulnerability to mental health and drug-related issues. According to a Ministry of Health study—Mental Health and Attitude of Ukrainians to Psychological Help During War, 2022—53% of 18–24 year olds require psychological help.

Alliance for Public Health’s unique Drugstore project offers services to young people who experiment with psychoactive substances and risky sexual practices, promoting early engagement in harm reduction and sexual health education to reduce transition to more harmful patterns. The Drugstore project’s Youth Mental Health Hub is based in the largest electronic music club in Podil district, Kyiv, delivering client-oriented, non-judgemental services irrespective of drug use, sexual orientation or gender identity. The Hub provides on-site psychotherapeutic interventions, including psychotherapy, harm reduction and sexual health services and commodities and educational events. Remote counselling is available through the Drugstore web platform Free2Ask. Service providers, including psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists and harm reduction and dependency specialists, are LGBTQI+ friendly, and provide stigma-free and inclusive services.

On-site and online workshops on mental health, sexual health and reduction of drug-related harm address topics such as the impact of psychoactive substances, understanding emotions, intimate hygiene, contraception, personal boundaries, emotional intelligence, emotional stability and safer coping strategies in the context of war.

The project has built tremendous trust among young people who use recreational drugs and LGBTQI+ communities who avoid conventional services. During the initial phase, 835 clients accessed the Hub, and Drugstore provided 99 free initial legal consultations to support human rights and equality.


The war and associated humanitarian crisis present the most significant challenges due to high levels of stress among clients and the project team. This context also exacerbates the mistrust that young people and LGBTQI+ people already have in service providers. The project was designed to address these challenges by offering an expanded spectrum of services responsive to clients’ actual needs and creating trust through a non-judgmental and inclusive environment.

On-site and online counselling and workshops are affected by air raid alerts and often have to be rescheduled, which is disruptive to the therapeutic process. As well as death, injuries and devastation, the military attacks have a huge destabilising effect on the mental health of the potential clients and service providers. This negatively influences counselling attendance and client motivation. There are also challenges related to marketing services in the overcrowded and overloaded communication space in Ukraine.

The project team has been continuously learning and responding quickly to new demands, creating new interventions, such as psychological workshops and therapeutic groups that respond to emerging needs or supportive supervision sessions for counsellors to mitigate burnout. The project is building on project learning to scale popular services, such as integration groups and structured psychotherapeutic interventions, through remote modalities.

next steps

Drugstore will maintain the unique, trusted environment the project offers and strengthen marketing to engage more underserved young people. The team will collaborate with other initiatives, such as creative circles, galleries, educational institutions, professional communities and youth organisations, to reach more Hub clients.

With increasing demand, the project may engage additional counsellors, such as specialists in rehabilitation of demobilised young military personnel and working with traumatic experiences. The team will expand the spectrum of issues addressed to respond to frequent requests, such as those related to long-distance relationships where couples have been separated. Counselling algorithms and practical manuals will be regularly updated to include new issues.


The demand for services creates a good basis for sustainable development. However, it is challenging to raise funds due to stigmatised societal attitudes towards drug use and sexual practices. The development of method guidance, practical algorithms, and accumulated learning and training of service providers will reduce the project’s future running costs and facilitate fundraising efforts. The team is analysing research study data on the Ukrainian drug scene and is planning additional explorations to generate evidence of the intervention’s effectiveness as a prevention mechanism.

For more information visit: https://drugstore.org.ua/en/