THIS WEEK’S International Anti-Drugs Day brought forth disturbing statistics concerning the increase and consequences of drug abuse in Cyprus.
It is inconceivable that anyone could be naive enough to think that Cyprus does not have a drug problem, and if it did, was not serious enough to cause alarm.
To its credit, Cyprus has dealt with the problem, which has been around for many years, as best as it could. There are established rehab clinics, support groups for addicts and their families, and an operational drug squad.
One very important fact of life has to be learned about drugs and drug abuse; the problems can never be totally conquered. The very best anyone can do, whether it be country, community or individual, is to attempt to control the problem as best as possible.
Drugs are very big international business. The entire economies of many countries depend on the production or trafficking of narcotics. Some countries openly trade and deal, others launder the proceeds so carefully that dirty money, to all intents and purposes becomes clean and respectable.
My ‘sermon’ on this subject is not preached from textbook theories, but from the pulpit of life’s experiences.
Nearly 20 years ago, there was an appeal for volunteers to train as counsellors to join a newly set up drug help organisation. As an academic working at a local college, I had an interest in the welfare of the young, so I joined the group.
We had to undergo intensive training in our own time. The first series of training over two months covered drug awareness. There followed several more months of a counselling skills course.
At the very first session on drug awareness, a police sergeant showed us a video. We were shown the body of a heroin addict who had overdosed, lying on a slab in the mortuary. Although this was a harrowing experience, it was nothing in comparison to what I would have to face with a ‘live’ heroin addict.
My ‘client’ was not one I had been allocated through any drug support group, but through other voluntary community work I was involved with. He was not a teenager, who we think of as the most vulnerable group, but someone nearly 30 years old.
I knew he regularly smoked cannabis, and frequently drank heavily. He was sent to prison for a crime it was proved later he did not commit. For nearly two years I visited him every week, and personally campaigned to prove his innocence.
From the time he was charged, his wife, who went to live overseas, would have nothing to do with him. He was forbidden to see his son, and in fact the son was six years old before he met his father.
Within months of being released, he got into the wrong crowd, and was introduced to a new friend who would take care of all your problems, the friend’s name – heroin. Needless to say, any attempt to reconcile with his wife and son failed miserably. Likewise, when some years later he met someone else and they had a daughter, that too ended in disaster. He spent all his income on drugs, and there was nothing left to feed and provide for his family,
During all this time, I tried to help, I was always there trying to pick up the pieces, including befriending both his partners and the children. Being, or attempting to be a friend to a heroin addict is a nightmare. On one occasion, I was kicked from one side of a room to another, and ended up black and blue. All because he was not able to get a supply of heroin, and to try and blot everything out, he had consumed vast quantities of alcohol.
I was terrified, I honestly thought I would be killed, I have never seen anyone in such a rage, either before, or since. But like a fool, I did not give up on him, and eventually with encouragement, and with his own awakening that he could not go one living the life he had, he sought rehab treatment.
This treatment involved counselling sessions, and swapping heroin for methadone, a prescribed substitute. However, methadone is also addictive, and unless administered strictly on a controlled programme, just exchanges one addictive substance for another. Just as there is a demand on the streets for heroin, there is one for methadone. Users prescribed methadone administer their own doses. They have to pick up their supplies daily from a pharmacy, except on Saturdays, when they are given two days’ supply. More often than not, they try and make do with smaller doses of methadone, and top up with strong lager. The methadone they save they sell, and with the proceeds go out and buy more heroin!
I could write a book about what I discovered about the effects of drugs, and the utter misery that goes hand in hand with addiction. One very important thing I did learn was that addicts are not the only victims. The biggest victims of drug abuse are the families and friends of the addicts.
Parents who I know personally, have returned home only to discover the TV has gone, cash and jewellery were missing, as were stereos and any other items in the house which gave the addict the opportunity to sell something to get money for their next fix.
When they were not stealing from their families, they would go on a shoplifting spree. It is at this stage of desperation that the drug addict becomes a criminal; they are then treated as such, and no longer treated as a sick person.
It is well known fact that in many countries, three-quarters of all crimes are in some way drug related.
The authorities in Cyprus must take that situation very seriously. If drug abuse increases, as recent statistics suggest, then so will the crime figures.
Drug addiction is unquestionable a sickness, but even before a desperate addict starts stealing they are labelled. To obtain a prescribed course of methadone, it is the doctor’s legal obligation to inform the police that the user is entitled to be in possession. They acquire the ‘status’ of an RDA (registered drug addict).
It is important to stress in no uncertain terms, that the de-criminalisation of the use of soft drugs (e.g. cannabis) should never be allowed.
There may well be those who enjoy and say they can handle the use of what is called a recreational drug. But there are countless thousands who started on soft drugs, and went on to harder substances, and ended up on the slab in the mortuary. While there is the slightest risk that even one soft drug user will move onto harder drugs, all drugs likely to be abused should continue to remain classified, and illegal.
The control of drug abuse is a nightmare operation. Where do you start? The obvious answer perhaps is the supplier. But the people dealing on the street are a minor part of an often-elaborate network. The ‘big boys’ ensure that the network of filtering the drugs through to the user is so well organised, that it safeguards them from the risk of being caught, or implicated.
Even if there is success in controlling the supply, you are left with another problem; you have addicts who have difficulty obtaining drugs. What can or should be done for them? Obviously they need drugs, they are clinically sick.
But no nation has a bottomless purse to pay for all illnesses and treatment. It would be difficult to attempt to justify to patients in an oncology ward, or to parents whose child has leukaemia, that they cannot have life-saving treatment, because the budget has been spent on re-habilitating drug addicts.
The treatment of drug addicts should be funded from the confiscated assets of convicted drug dealers. This would, in a small way, redress the situation, and give back some hope to those whose lives have been ruined by the dealers.
To achieve any success in dealing with drugs, undoubtedly the biggest scourge in society, don’t wait for International Anti-Drugs Day. Every day should be an anti-drugs day.