The Malta Independent 19 June 2021, Saturday

Drug addiction

Sunday, 16 May 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Anthony R. Curmi

Much has been written on the deleterious effects of drug addiction since the publication of the White Paper on government's declared intention to permit the use of cannabis in Malta under the guise of so-called "recreational purpose". Those who know full well the damage of drug addiction to one's brain and behaviour have already expressed their objections to this proposed change in legislation explaining in detail the reasons for their reactions. The organisations included Caritas Malta, the Oasi Foundation, the Malta Association of Psychiatrics and the Youth Section of the Malta Catholic Action.

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The purpose of my input is not to repeat the very valid arguments put forward by the above-mentioned bodies but to draw attention to an important Church document issued by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, chaired by its President, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo following a congress held in Rome for health care workers in November 1991 on the theme, Drugs and alcoholism against life.

Before quoting extracts from this document, let me start by paying tribute to the pioneer of Malta's fight against drug addiction including the establishment of its first residential drug rehabilitation programmes and facilities, Mgr Victor Grech. Under his direction as long-standing director of Caritas Malta, I was privileged to serve for 22 years as a board member of Caritas' Foundation for the rehabilitation of Drug Abusers. Although the nature of my voluntary work did not regularly bring me close to drug victims, through research reports and other documentation presented to the Board from time to time, I became acutely aware of the ill effects of drug addiction in Malta on not just youths but on persons of all ages even in their 40s and 50s.

Reverting to the 1991 Vatican congress, it is worth noting that, when addressing participants at the opening meeting, Pope (now Saint) John Paul II made the distinction between taking drugs and alcohol. He stated: "Whereas the moderate use of alcohol as a drink does not, in fact clash with moral prohibitions, and only abuse is to be condemned; taking drugs is, on the contrary, always illicit because it involves an unjustified and irrational renunciation of thinking, willing and acting as free persons. Moreover, recourse to psychotropic substances by medical prescription to mitigate suffering in carefully determined cases must itself abide by extremely prudent criteria to avoid dangerous forces of habituation and dependence."

This is a clear condemnation of any attempt to introduce legislation permitting the use of cannabis for "recreational purpose". The deliberations and conclusions were incorporated in a document entitled, From despair to hope; the family and drug addiction. This is a document, which the drafters of the White Paper have, clearly, not read and could well make amends for such slackness before finalising whatever legislation is intended to be put forward to Parliament, hopefully not before serious consultation with experts with first-hand experience of the ill-effects of drug abuse in Malta. The document covers three major and vital aspects that impact on (1) the Person; (2) the Family and (3) Society. I will quote and briefly comment thereon, on each of these.

The Person - "Drugs are not the drug user's main problem. Drug consumption is merely a deceptive answer to the lack of a positive meaning of life. The human person, unique and unrepeatable, with his/her own interior life and specific personality, is really at the centre of the problem of drug dependence. Drug addiction has deleterious effects upon mental receptivity and the correct use of the intellect and will of the human person who is the 'image of God' (Gn. 1:27). Episodes of violence, which are reported today among drug users, indicate that we are no longer confronted with that deceptive and illusory 'peaceful trip' of former years, which was propagated by a massive manipulation of culture among young people in the 1960s. Instead, the effects of drug use, which confront us today, are a violent reality and a collapse of moral character."

"There are many personal motives which lead individuals to begin using drugs. However, in every user - whatever their age and frequency of drug use - there is one constant basic motive; a certain crisis of values and the person's lack of interior harmony. An 'unmotivated' and 'indifferent' state of mind is created in the drug user, unleashing an internal moral and spiritual imbalance. This produces a weak and immature character which causes the drug user to take on unstable attitudes towards his/her own responsibilities."

"The behaviour of these young people often reveals the manifestation of a painful hopelessness due to a lack of trust and expectation with regard to social structures to which they no longer feel they belong. Who can be blamed if many young people have no desire to grow up and become adults? Have these young people been given sufficient reason to hope in tomorrow, to invest in the present so as to gain in the future, to be stable, feeling solidly grounded in a past which they feel belongs to them?"

These words were written 30 years ago and are even more relevant now if only one seriously reflects on the ill-effects of drug addiction in the USA, the UK and many countries especially in Europe and Asia. Yet, we, in Malta, turn a blind eye; having a government that, for the sake of the popular vote, is willing to pander to the demands of a misguided section of our population.

The Family - "Among the personal and environmental factors which contribute to drug use, the principal one is, without a doubt, the absolute or relative lack of family life. The family is the key element in the formation of a person's character and attitudes towards society. The drug user frequently comes from a family which does not know how to react to stress because it is unstable, incomplete or divided. Today the negative effects of matrimonial and family crises are increasingly alarming; easy separation and divorce, living together, the inability to give a well-rounded upbringing to prepare one for facing ordinary problems, the lack of dialogue, etc."

"In many cases, families suffer the consequences of their children's addiction (for example, violence, robbery, etc.), but, above all, they must share their psychological or physical torments. Shame, tension and interpersonal conflicts, economic problems and other grave consequences weigh heavily on the family, weakening and crushing the basic cell of society. Particular attention must be given to pregnant women who are drug users. Many of them are unwed or simply abandoned. Unfortunately, abortion is often proposed to them instead of coming to their aid with concrete solidarity and assistance so that they may accept the life of the child and respect it."

Recently I heard Mgr Grech, when interviewed on a TV programme, highlight these very same dangers and ill-effects of drug addiction. He also related some of the many instances he came across during some 50 years of lending a hand to drug addicts and leading them to full rehabilitation and a dignified return to normal life. He also pointed out that experience showed that, in most cases, these start experimenting with soft drugs like cannabis but then moved up to harder drugs like heroin, ending up with more devastating ill-effects on the user's mental health and abilities. Yet, instead of consulting the experts with long experience in this field, like Caritas, the drafters of the White Paper evidently carried out no prior research or consultation before rushing to print an evident attempt to bring to Parliament a legislation rendering the use of cannabis as a recreational activity, however much within certain limitations but still making even daily use of this no longer an illegality.

Society - "Today the person and the family find themselves living in a 'passive' society, that is to say, a society without ideals, permissive, secularized, where the search for escape expresses itself in so many different ways, of which one, is the flight to drug addiction. The quest for an illusory good under the banner of the greatest pleasure ends up by favouring the strongest and creates conditions of frustration and dependence among the majority of citizens. In this way, reference to moral values and to God himself is erased both in society and in human relations."

"In today's society an artificial consumerism, which is contrary to the health and dignity of man and favours the spread of drugs, has taken root. This consumerism creates false needs and urges man, especially the young, to seek satisfaction only in material goods thus causing dependence on them. Furthermore, a certain economic exploitation of young people easily spreads in this materialistic and consumerist context. In many places, youth unemployment favours the spread of drug addiction. Today the family shares its task of upbringing with many other educational institutions and agencies, but necessary links and coordination are often lacking. Consequently, the values proposed are neither sufficiently clear nor consistent.... The mass media often exercise a negative influence favouring the spread of drug use, above all among young people. With direct and indirect messages, and through the industry of entertaining the young, the mass media create models, set up idols and define 'normality' by means of a system of pseudo values. In that way the youth absorb a bizarre and distorted concept of life and society. Moreover, we should not overlook the violence which is served up to the public every day in particular videocassettes."

"Under the aspects of person, family and society, the drug phenomenon highlights the urgent need for 'wisdom' to regain and awareness of the primacy of the moral values concerning the person. The Holy Father, John Paul II, affirms: 'The great task that has to be faced today for the renewal of society is that of recapturing the ultimate meaning of life and its fundamental values.' The education of the moral conscience, which makes every human being capable of judging and of discerning the proper ways to achieve self-realization according to his/her original truth, thus becomes a pressing requirement that cannot be renounced."

Thus, with regards to the local situation... Should not more importance and emphasis be given, in the course of educating our youth, on the ill-effects of drug addiction rather than making it easier for youths, aged 18 and over, to start cultivating, in their own home, cannabis plants ostensible for their own use and even smoking a joint possibly in the presence of their younger siblings and probably to the consternation of their parents with the possibility of serious repercussions on family relations?


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