OUR DRUGS NIGHTMARE - ONE CYPRUS STUDY SAYS USERS GREW BY 170% IN 2004
DRUG ABUSE and trafficking is a worldwide phenomenon responsible for over 8,000 deaths a year in the European Union alone. There are up to two million problem drug users in the 25 member states, 1,400 of which live in Cyprus.
In Cyprus, the number of drug users grew by 170 per cent in 2004, according to one study, while drugs accounted for the deaths of 13 people in 2004 and six deaths in the first four months of 2005.
Today the world marks the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, established by the United Nations in 1987.
According to EU Commissioner Franco Frattini, drug abuse and trafficking is a threat the health of people and the stability of societies.
"It leads to death, disease, crime and corruption. Drug consumption, particularly among young people, is at historically high levels. A growing concern is the incidence of HIV/AIDS among drug users," said the Commissioner for Freedom, Security and Justice.
The EU has developed a European model to tackle drugs based on a balance between prevention, education and treatment on the one hand, and the enforcement of laws against drugs manufacturing and trafficking on the other.
Cyprus has signed up to that strategy, leading to the creation of the Cyprus Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EKTEPN) and the strengthening of the Anti-Drugs Council, which drew up the country's first national strategy and action plan on drugs in 2004.
Two months ago, Justice Minister Doros Theodorou highlighted that the number of drugs suspects arrested and convicted in Cyprus had doubled since 1998, while deaths from overdose had also increased dramatically.
Despite the upsurge in drug use and drugs cases, Theodorou is now confident that Cyprus will see a decline or stagnancy in drug use and trafficking in 2006.
Speaking from Limassol on Friday, the minister said that law enforcement was reaping impressive results from its battle against drugs.
"We are behind the dealers, and not the users, and the courts have helped very much because they impose particularly strict penalties and certain changes in the law have also helped," he said.
Theodorou highlighted the amount of work done to improve awareness in society. "So much work has been done that I feel certain next year we will have stagnancy or some reduction."
He also noted that there was a turn away from heroin use to other drugs that weren't directly life threatening. "If this is true, because there are no facts yet for 2005, it is very encouraging," he added.
In Larnaca, the Centre For Education About Drugs And Treatment Of Drug Addicted Persons (KENTHEA) revealed the results of its latest study, which showed that drug use increased by 170 per cent in 2004 compared to the previous year. From those users, 87 per cent are aged between 20 and 39.
KENTHEA Chairman, the Bishop of Kiti Chrysostomos called on the government to support private initiatives to open more detoxification centres in Cyprus.
Health Minister Andreas Gavrielides highlighted that Cyprus had approximately 1,400 problem drug users.
From 2003 to 2004, the average age of drug users was 24 for women and 28 for men while the average starting age of drug use was 17.
Gavrielides noted that the government was running two therapeutic programmes on the island: a detoxification centre in Limassol and a centre for the psychological aspects of kicking addiction in Deftera. He said studies were underway to set up therapeutic programmes to help minors and people incarcerated in the central prison.
Education Minister Pefkios Georgiades highlighted that prevention measures in schools were part of the ministry's drugs strategy.
"It is known and accepted by all that drugs are now a painful reality in Cyprus, which is why the government put the issue as a top priority," he said.
A recent government study revealed that drug use among pupils remains low.
According to research conducted by the Educational Psychology Department, just 5.2 per cent of pupils in secondary schools have smoked cannabis, compared to 21 per cent on average in Europe.
From those, 3.1 per cent had used ecstasy, while 2.5 per cent use hard drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine and heroin.
There is concern, however, at a rise to 12.5 per cent in the number of pupils using various medicinal drugs such as tranquillisers without the authorisation of doctors.
Georgiades acknowledged that drug use in schools was low but noted there was still a higher proportion of pupils, 15.1 per cent, consuming alcohol or smoking cigarettes. "We also see that male pupils tend to do drug use more than female pupils, except in the cases of medicinal drugs where girls outweigh the boys."
Ahead of the day, Police Chief Tassos Panayiotou reported that a total of
515 drug-related cases were reported to the police in 2004. Out of these, a total of 639 people were involved, of which 435 were Cypriot and 204 were foreigners.
"The total seizure of drugs for 2004, according to the records of IKAN, was
23 kilos and 52 grams of cannabis, 53 kilos and 165 grams of Hashish, one kilo and 375 grams of cocaine, 9,971 pills and 966 grams of ecstasy and ephedrine, three kilos and 168 grams of heroin and around 97 cannabis plants."
The three main entrance points for drugs in Cyprus are the international airports of Larnaca and Paphos, the Limassol Port and the Turkish occupied north of the island, he said.