The 26th of June commemorates the Word Day Against Drugs and Illicit Trafficking. This day has been established by the United Nations, with the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) director issuing a message each year to direct efforts related to the eradication of substance abuse and illicit trafficking. The motto for this year is “Share Facts on Drugs, Save Lives”.
We, the service providers in drug abuse and addiction, witness life losses on a daily basis. Most often, these life losses take place slowly, with lots of pain experienced by the drug users themselves and their family members. Then, there are also circumstances where lives are lost immediately through tragic accidents, mostly connected with traffic, overdoses and suicides. Suicides, which are the most silent yet devastating, seem to be on the increase, due to the stressful affluential lifestyle we are living, the types of drugs used, their potency and the lack of support experienced, even though we should be more connected.
OASI Foundation has been on the ground for the last 30 years (since the 26th of June 1991). Our message and actions have been constant and consistent – substance use has its harmful aspects and those who experience drug-related problems need help and not incarceration. The use of force has never worked when it comes to substance use. External agents can easily control the body, but the mind is impossible to master unless the individual manages to find a safe and secure point of reference where they can anchor themselves. People may be held back from drug use for some time while under strict control and supervision, but they will eventually heavily indulge in the substance of choice once the body is set free.
Problematic substance use is not a matter of volition. The brain is hijacked by the drug and the individual has little control over behaviour until the next drug fix, which is usually followed by remorse, guilt and shame. In 2015, the government put into action the Treatment Not Imprisonment Act (Chap. 537). This was a huge step forward in addressing substance use, by directing persons with drug use issues away from prison. This law only caters for cases of drug possession. It does not address those cases who commit mistakes due to their drug problem. Through our profession, we have met persons who committed thefts, fraud, sold their bodies or drugs, amongst other things, in order to sustain their addiction.
Chapter 537, the Drug Dependence Act, has not solved the problem. We now need, not only to find ways to direct problematic drug users towards therapy and treatment but also to encourage them to maintain their focus in the treatment process they are engaging in. Surely, persons need to be treated according to their individual needs, rather than through a rigid set of strict rules. Addiction is contingent on a multitude of factors and treating it requires patience and commitment from all parties involved in the recovery process. Cases that successfully reach a recovery stage are not the result of some magic formula, but of faithful engagement with professional processes which include also lessons learned from mistakes. We need not waste time to start evaluating our current policies, procedures and practices while monitoring their effectiveness against the concurrent drug trends before another life is lost.
How many could have been saved!
Again, there is no more time to waste. Have you ever pondered on the probability that the next dead drug victim could easily be your son or daughter, your husband or wife, your brother or sister?!