Pubdate: Sun, 07 Nov 2004
Source: Independent on Sunday (Malta)
Copyright: 2004, Standard Publications Ltd
Author: Juan Ameen
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


One of the biggest problems faced by governments is drug addiction and the 
crime it brings with it.

The tactics used by the US and many European governments to tackle this 
problem are similar to those used in military battles and is based on 
prohibition. Unfortunately, prohibition does not seem to be improving the 

Former Interpol chief Raymond Kendall has admitted that drug prohibition 
has failed - in fact he claimed that it has made things worse. In an 
article in French newspaper Le Monde, Kendall declared the war on drugs 
lost and said that enforcement policies had failed to protect the world 
from drugs. The only effective solution was "harm reduction". In 2008, the 
UN drug conventions policy renewal will take place and Kendall called for 
Europe to take the lead in a reform policy that has never been seen before.

The UN convention states that all countries are obliged to pursue growers, 
dealers and users in an attempt to hold back an unstoppable tide. 
Prohibition leads to an increase in crime and while most countries believe 
that an increase in drug seizures is a sign of success, it might mean that 
more drugs are available on the market at a cheaper price.

According to Time magazine, the revenue from opium grown in Afghanistan 
this year is $30 billion. Ninety-five per cent of the crop is destined for 
Europe and it is the source of most of the heroin arriving in Britain. For 
addicts to support their costly habit, they turn to crime.

After a lifetime fighting drugs, Kendall admitted that the war on drugs is 
not having any effect any more. He suggested "medicalising" drugs instead 
of criminalising them. Doctors will prescribe "pharmaceutical opiates" to 
the addicts which, he said, will reduce overdose deaths by 80 per cent, as 
well as see a "sharp cut in the delinquency rates of drug addicts".

Many people are concerned about the drug problem in Malta. Only recently, 
Health Minister Louis Deguara said that around 140,000 syringes had been 
distributed to drug abusers in local health centres between January and 
August 2004. Several people disagree with this service, believing that 
providing free syringes actually sustains the drug addicts, and call for 
their distribution to be stopped. However, it is important to note that the 
free syringes are actually a form of harm reduction. In this way addicts 
will no longer share needles and thus reduce the risk of infectious 
diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.

Medical students working at the Substance Misuse Out-Patients Unit (Detox 
Centre) are overwhelmed by the desperate situation of drug addicts, and 
medical staff explain that the success rate is measured by the amount of 
successful harm reduction rather than total rehabilitation. If an addict 
manages to reduce the daily dose or take less frequently then it is 
considered a success.

Drug addiction is usually a symptom of a deeper problem. Many addicts come 
from difficult backgrounds and drugs become a way of life or are seen as 
the only way out of their situation. Of course, this is not the only reason 
why people turn to drugs but unfortunately it is the reason why many do.
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