The Malta Independent 25 August 2019, Sunday

Alcohol abuse is a larger problem than drug abuse - Minister for Social Solidarity Michael Farrugia

Monday, 15 December 2014, 19:04 Last update: about 6 years ago

Minister for Social Solidarity Michael Farrugia argues that when looking at statistics, there are more problems relating to alcohol than drugs in Malta.  

Parliament was discussing the 'Dependency on Drugs' bill."We need to see how to tackle this sector. Prior to discussing whether the drinking age should rise, we should begin intensifying education in this field and ensure that the existing law is observed," the Minister said.

"Persons under the legal age must not be served alcohol and everyone knows there are some shops that do not follow these rules". He spoke about patients he had who were alcoholics, smokers and drug addicts. "I had more patients who died due to alcohol complications and cigarettes than drug overdose. In fact there was only one, and we managed to save him".

Discussing the abuse of legal drugs, the Minister said that from statistics published by the European Council, one can see that out of 17 EU and Mediterranean countries the amount of complications relating to drug abuse is quite high. Women are three times more likely to abuse legal drugs, he said citing the report.

The decriminalisation of drugs is an important step, he said. "We see situations where university graduates have their conduct sheet tarnished due to being caught with drugs, and thus struggle finding jobs".

"We must also look at the situation of drug abusers, and the problems faced by their families. Like alcohol can lead to domestic violence, drug abuse can destroy a family". He mentioned that those who are drunk could end up shouting or hurting the person they are arguing with. Turning to smoking, he spoke of the importance of not smoking indoors, emphasising that children are greatly affected by second-hand smoke.

"Malta has a relatively high percentage of heroin users, and the price of this drug is relatively cheap compared with other drugs. We also know it is one of the most dangerous drugs that can lead to death. I believe we need to strengthen our facilities to help educate and treat these problems".

"Will these changes solve the problem, no, but we can reduce the number of people addicted to drugs".

Discussing rehabilitation, he spoke of the importance of helping these people re-enter the world of work, stating that this would give a chance for these people to move forward. "Will their families accept them back and if not, do they have a roof over their heads? Currently we help treat the victims but we do not give them the strength to move forward. We need to strengthen this".

He mentioned a positive parenting policy currently being discussed, to help parents understand what they need and be trained on how to care for their children. "We also have the University working on a relationships policy, which will also help rebuild relationships between couples".

"I always believed that a child's place is with their biological parents. Bit by bit I believe that parents who receive treatment and show that they are capable of taking care of their children and fix their problems, then the children, in their interest, should go back to live with the parents".

The Minister explained that Malta, thought this law, is heading in the right direction, adding that the structures to help them reintegrate are just as important as treatment.

UN General Assembly

PL MP Deborah Schembri said that the UN General Assembly is planning to hold a special session in 2016 regarding the drug problem. "I think they have realised that the idea of a world without drugs is not possible and they will focus discussions on decriminalisation of drugs".

The PL MP mentioned that there are Maltese youths who live in families that, unfortunately, create stressful situations where the children must deal with these problems from a young age. "Life today presents situations where persons trying to cope begin to feel life is too heavy for them, and find refuge in illegal drugs they believe would help solve their problems."

"Regarding those who are caught with a small amount of drugs, we are trying to help them get back on the right track. Alternatives provided by this law would see a commission appointed by this law help them cut their addiction. This law also looks at the issue of support". She mentioned that this commission can see how to help a drug victim's family, who are also victims of this person's addiction.

She discussed the board relating to sentencing estimates, saying that it leaves itself open to perhaps taking on more work in the future rather than just drugs. "This type of board, ensuring that sentences in cases would be similar to each other, would help bring about a sense of transparency".

"If there is a person assisting someone who is overdosing, they will not be prosecuted if they themselves are on drugs", she said quoting the proposed legislation. "It is not the first time where deaths from overdose could have been avoided, yet because the person they were with would have taken drugs, the used would not have been taken to hospital by his or her friend as they would fear being caught on drugs".

We must not send the wrong signals

PN MP Clyde Puli believes it would be a mistake if to send a signal of legitimacy to those who abuse drugs thus suggesting that Parliament be careful, however the Opposition are also in favour of rehabilitation over imprisonment.

"If the government's plan was to pass this law by the beginning of next year, why didn't the government strengthen the Aggenzija Sedqa who would play a big role?" he asked.

He emphasised the need for a police corps to work in a more credible way than it has for the past two years. The international community has not succeeded in obliterating abuse of illegal substances, and the criminalisation of possession has failed to reduce the demand for drug consumption. "This war on drugs cost a lot of money and filled the prisoners around the world thus strengthening these people's criminal careers. A local study shows that similar practices incites further drug abuse and thus does not help with their reintegration into society. On the other hand, studies show that drugs, including cannabis, have bad effects on the body".

"We need to look at abusers as people with problems rather than criminals, as people who need rehabilitation rather than seclusion and imprisonment.  Over the past years we have already been moving towards treatment".

"In 2012 the government proposed a reform against drug and alcohol abuse and this proposal saw the arrest referral scheme to hear cases where people would be arrested for the first time on possession for personal use charged. He would have had the opportunity to appear in front of a separate board or go to court".

"This law, although different, sees drug abusers as people needing treatment".  He spoke about the worry of Malta heading towards full legalisation of drugs, a worry present when the white paper on the law was published. "We must remain committed to keep working to reduce the consumption of drugs among the population and keep working to discourage youths from taking on this vice".

He said that traffickers must also be treated strongly when in Court.

Agreement on both sides

PN MP Joe Cassar said that this is one of many proposed laws being debated in Parliament that both sides agree on.

"Through my experience as a professiona psychiatrist, I spent a lot of time with people suffering from this addiction and it is a mental health problem. The WHO and the Psychiatric Association both believe drug addiction is a mental health problem. A distinction must be made between those who are pushing the addiction and those who are victims". He spoke of medical studies which show certain people have genetics that result in them becoming easily addicted.

Turning to drug dosage, it is very hard for a person to tell the appropriate dose, stating that drugs, very rarely, are pure as those who sell want to add more rubbish to the drug in order to extend the amount of drugs he can sell. This is a huge problem when it comes to illegal drug abuse. When we see a large number of overdose deaths, we would know that the purity of the drug presently around is higher than normal.

"When looking at the rehabilitation board, one must go into detail as to who should be on the board, he said. I believe the choice of people who will be on the board is the most important step, as they are the people who will identify the problems of individuals and help these people out".

"The Commissioner of the board must be someone who comes from the legal sector, but must also have expertise in this area. This Chairman must be chosen and approved by both Party's, he said".

Regarding the medical use of marijuana, he said that a law already exists that can more efficiently regulate medical marijuana.






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