The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

Rehab and prevention groups concerned over normalisation of drug use in Malta

Karl Azzopardi Thursday, 27 February 2020, 17:27 Last update: about 4 months ago

Caritas Malta, Oasi Foundation, Sedqa and the Maltese Association of Psychiatry have come together to express their shared concerns on the mentality behind drug use in Malta especially among adolescents.

During a press conference held on Thursday, Director of Caritas Anthony Gatt told The Malta Independent that their concern relates to the culture of people needing drugs to enjoy themselves and that drug use is “not that big of a problem.”

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“We have seen an increase in use of cocaine and cannabis but what concerns us is the mentality behind it, that it is normalised, which raises another concern; 'what are young people thinking about this substance?'”

The groups are coming together to share their experiences with the public and communicate messages to society on what one can do to prevent children from getting involved in the world of drugs, and help them get out if they are already caught in the trap.

This will be the aim of their collaborative conference titled ‘Ngħix: Ħajja Sana, għażlaTagħna’– under the patronage of the President of Malta – on 24 March, where a variety of thoughts and experiences relating to the subject will be shared with the public.

“We all work in rehabilitation and prevention and we want people to not find drugs, not because they are controlled by the authorities, but because people would not feel the need to look for them,” Gatt explained.

“It scares us to see that drugs are becoming part of our culture. In the past years, there has been an increase in cannabis and cocaine which a person can use and still go about their daily lives but they still have the potential to catch up with the long-term.”

CEO of Oasi Foundation Noel Xerri said that, nowadays, the people they meet are not as cautious in their use of drugs. “There exists a mentality of seeing nothing wrong in using drugs, especially when it comes to recreational ones, and this can be seen in the promotions and events taking place across our country and the waves of propaganda we are witnessing.”

Operations Director of Sedqa Charles Scerri said that the message they are sending relates to the fact that there are positive avenues which we need to promote. “The work we do is related to prevention and it is targeted at guiding youths towards healthier alternatives such as ‘natural highs’ like sports and help them in making decisions and increasing their confidence. This will allow them to be prepared for moments in their youth when they come across such influences.”

He also touched on the discussions on the recreational use of cannabis and its legalisation, saying that while there is a positive side, there might be diverse effects.

Vice President of Maltese association of Psychiatry AloisiaCamilleri, who works with people who are dependent on substances, shared this sentiment.

“People who already have a substance dependence cannot get any advantages from legalising cannabis. They need more investment in services that will help them to come out dependence as opposed to using other sources of drugs.”

Gatt explained that there are a lot of grey areas in the discussion on the legalisation of cannabis, such as the issue of the black market.

“Those who are advocating for the legalisation speak about avoiding getting in touch with the black market to know what they are consuming. On the other hand, there are consequences form a black market perspective, like any other business, it will diversify, provide more potent drugs or reduce the price to attract more buyers. The black market has a mind of its own and it does not care about age. This also applies from a regulation perspective as Malta has a tendency to not be so disciplined on the topic.” 

Gatt also touched on the legal perspective, saying that “our proposal dictates that, apart from investment in the help that we can give users and abusers, we must also look at the legal side of things. This includes the 'Drug Dependence (Treatment not imprisonment) Act' from 2015 as we want to see magistrates and judges have more leeway for people who have a drug dependency problem.”

“We would like to see adjustments in the law. If it is ascertained that someone caught with drugs was doing it to sustain their dependency, they do not to end up in prison but are channelled into the myriad of support services that there are.

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