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More humanity for drug addicts, more stringent penalties for drug dealers

10 August 2011 / 20:08:16  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova 


For the first time a Greek government has introduced a bill decriminalizing the drug use by drug addicts. At the same time, the penalties for major drug dealers are more stringent, even when they try to present themselves as drug addicts.

The organizations associated with the drug problem welcomed the courageous initiative of the Ministry of Justice, but there are negative responses too. In an interview with GRReporter the chairwoman of the Organization against Drugs OKANA and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Athens Meni Maliori explained why in her opinion the bill is moving in the right direction and pointed out the main objectives in the fight against drugs.

What are your suggestions and recommendations for preventing the drug problem in general?

The drugs issue is multifactorial. Therefore, the responsible authorities should intensify their efforts in all actions to solve it. They are prevention, treatment, reduction of damage and social reintegration.

Addiction prevention and health promotion are priorities for the Organization against Drugs OKANA. Its constant concern is finding ways to support and develop preventive measures in the 72 prevention centers across the country according to the number of people who turn to them as well as according to the current developments and targets in this area.

As for the therapy, the primary objective of OKANA is the establishment of new treatment centers for drug addiction treatment to reduce the number of waiting to be included in these programs. The right to treatment is and should be irreversible for all.

OKANA also fights for wider popularization of the programs to  reduce the damage and work on the street; for the implementation of various measures different from arrests to reintegrate  drug addicted offenders; for the provision of all treatment services ("dry" or using substitutes ) in prisons; and the functioning of a "community drug court", i.e. a local court  for drug addicted  perpetrators of petty crimes.


Our concern is focused on improving the proposed training and education, raising awareness of employers and the general acceptance of the fact that employment is closely related to the treatment process. Thus, the social integration of persons cured will be more effective, efficient and durable. Just because the problem is so multifactorial, its removal requires coordinating all responsible ministries and authorities, and society should be well informed.

Based on your experience, would you tell that most people who use hard drugs start with cannabis?

The results show that it is possible some of those, who started with cannabis or just try it or use it from time to time or regularly, to switch to use other banned substances such as heroin, since they acquire the habit of using. I would not say that it affects most of the people who use the cannabis, because if this were the case we would have many more addicts. However, the fact is that when we look at the heroin-dependent individuals and track their development, we see that they started from substances such as cannabis and pills and then switched to heroin. This is a fact that nobody can dispute. I would like to emphasize that in any case, not all people who try or use cannabis occasionally or systematically start to use heroin.

How do you assess the bill of the Ministry of Justice, decriminalizing the drug use? What regulations are in positive direction?

The bill is an important and courageous step toward decriminalization of the drug user, not the use. I stress this because there exists serious misinformation. Therefore, supply and possession for personal use will be considered a misdemeanor, not a moderate crime as is according the current law. If the bill is passed, a large percentage of prisoners will have access to treatment. It shall specify the alternatives of imprisonment measures, and the proportionality of punishments enables the court to distinguish between the drug user and the drug dealer. As a result, the punishment for the offense will be fairer. However, there is a financial aspect: the cost of treatment of a drug user is ten times less than that of a drug addict prisoner.

Are there parameters that could have been better regulated and what are they?

I would not comment on the proposals from this perspective, because I myself was a member of the legislative committee. What I could say is that all committee members voted unanimously for the main regulations and most importantly, they will be tested in practice.

What is the significance of the fact that it provides treatment for drug users?

The bill provides not so stringent regulations for drug-addicted perpetrators of minor offenses who will be directed to detoxification programs instead to jail. Let us not forget that currently 40 per cent of the inhabitants of the Greek prisons are there for violations of the law on drugs. The smallest part of them is drug dealers. The new system will distinguish between the dealer and the user and not just with a medical opinion as usual, and with an expertise from an expert observing different criteria.

What would you say to those who believe that decriminalization will allow more young people to have easy access to drugs?

The implementation of such policies at international level does not justify this concern.

Tags: SocietyDrugsBillDrug addictsDecriminalizationDetoxification programsJailsPreventionTreatmentSocial reintergation
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