Q and A on Dutch Drug Policy 5/12/00

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Translated by Jan van der Tas, provided to DRCNet by Freek Polak

Parliamentary written questions by Member of Parliament Van der Vlies of the SGP-Dutch reformed political party (Protestant, conservative). Answers by Mrs. E. Borst-Eilers, Minister of Health, Welfare And Sports, also on behalf of the Minister of Justice, regarding Netherlands Drug Policies.

The Hague, April 6, 2000

Q: Has the Minister taken note of the article published in the German newspaper Die Welt on March 13, 2000, containing a report on a TV program broadcast by Netwerk on March 12, 2000, under the title "Drug Policy in the Netherlands Unsuccessful. Devastating results after a 25-year field trial -- Holland is a major trade center"?

How does the Minister assess the statement made in this Netwerk program by the American drugs researcher Larry Collins, according to which the Netherlands at the moment is supposed to be the largest producer of Ecstasy. How does this relate to the present policy with regard to Ecstasy?

A: Already the Government Memorandum on Drugs policy of 1995 ("Continuity and Change") mentions the fact that the Netherlands are seen as an important production country for Ecstasy and Ecstasy-like substances. Recent reports of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) contain indications of a worldwide growth in production and trade of synthetic drugs and in this context also the Netherlands are mentioned frequently.

The Netherlands Government considers this development with concern. Therefore in the last few years the Netherlands policies with regard to the fight against drug-related crime have been concentrated on combating trade in and production of synthetic drugs. In the government's interim Progress Reports on Drug Policy 1997-1999, Parliament was informed about developments in this field.

The INCB is also fully informed about this approach. In its latest annual report, the INCB gives a balanced appreciation of the situation in the Netherlands. Although the Netherlands are still seen as one of the countries where most Ecstasy and amphetamines are produced, the INCB shows esteem for the energy with which the Netherlands' police and judiciary have proceeded to dismantle laboratories as well as for the precision with which the Netherlands supplies INCB with statistical data and information about exports of substances that can be used in the production of synthetic drugs (so-called "precursors").

Recently, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with Italy to further the fight against international trade in synthetic drugs and precursors. With France, earlier arrangements had been made already in this sector of the fight against drugs.

Q: Is the Minister aware of recently published results of research done by the Trimbos Institute, according to which at least one percent of the Netherlands' youngsters consume heroin, four percent cocaine and eight percent regularly swallow amphetamine- and Ecstasy-pills? By what measures does the minister intend to force back these horrific figures in the near future?

Is it possible -- on the basis of the data mentioned above -- to come to the conclusion that the use of hard drugs among Dutch youngsters of secondary school age is only exceeded by hard drug consumption of that age group in the United States? What is the Minister's answer to the allegations, according to which the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports "systematically ignore" these figures, as not fitting in with present drug policies, and that data emanating from independent research regarding the harmfulness of cannabis have been repeatedly swept under the carpet?

A: Die Welt and Netwerk have wrongly given the impression, as if these percentages refer to regular (i.e., last 30 days) use of drugs among Dutch juveniles. As a matter of fact, however, these figures refer to the so-called life-time prevalence of use of certain drugs among 15/16 year olds, which means it includes all those who have at least one time in their whole life experimented with a particular drug. Evidently, data which reflect actual, last 30 days consumption, point at a considerably lower level of use.

With regard to countries outside the EU, in the United States and Australia for instance, higher percentages are measured for the consumption of heroin, cocaine and amphetamines than in the Netherlands. The Netherlands are, however, front runner in the EU regarding lifetime prevalence of cocaine use among 15/16 year old secondary school pupils.

Regarding Ecstasy, in Ireland and the UK higher or comparable figures are measured in comparison with the Netherlands, and for amphetamines also the UK percentages are considerably higher.

Finally, it should be noted that these figures demonstrate that it is particularly difficult to prove a relationship from cause to effect between drug use (both in the sense of lifetime prevalence and in the sense of last month prevalence) and drug policies, like the Netwerk program pretends to have established.

The allegation according to which the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sports should repeatedly have swept independent research data about the harmfulness of cannabis under the carpet, can not be commented upon, for lack of any specification. The Minister is aware of no evidence that could substantiate such accusations.

As for the policies pursued, reference can be made to the recently presented Progress Report on Drug Policy 1997-1999, in which among other things the prevention-strategy of the Government is described. Use of drugs among school-going age groups is discouraged by information and orientation specifically targeted at these groups. A good example is the project developed by the Trimbos Institute called "The healthy school and stimulants," which is applied in many schools and has met with considerable interest in other EU-countries.

Q: What is your answer to the judgment put forward in the Netwerk program, according to which the Netherlands, in spite of the drug policies pursued, has no fewer hard drug users than other countries and has become a prominent trading center for drugs. How does the minister evaluate the finding by Netwerk that nobody in the world takes the Netherlands' "drugs experiment" seriously?

A: The fight against trade and production enjoys a high priority in Dutch drug policies, and, judging from the results obtained (among other things the large quantities of drugs confiscated), is effective. On the basis of the data presented by Netwerk with regard to life-time prevalence of drug use among 15/16 year old secondary school pupils, no verdict is possible about the level of regular (for instance, last month prevalence) drug use among the total population.

Furthermore, correct data about the number of addicts or problematic users respectively in the EU, indicate that the Netherlands have fewer addicts than Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Italy, Luxemburg and the United Kingdom (EMCDDA, Annual Report 1999).

The finding that nobody in the world takes the Netherlands' "drugs experiment" seriously must be contradicted. More and more member-states of the EU are taking measures in the field of harm reduction. This concept, ever since the seventies, has been at the root of Netherlands' drug policies. In practice this leads to measures like needle exchange, methadone treatment and low threshold care facilities. Only a few years ago, the Netherlands were fiercely criticized by many countries, for pursuing these policies.

Where cannabis is concerned, the recent annual report of the EMCDDA shows clearly that more and more countries de facto apply a tolerance regime with regard to the individual user.

Besides, from the many bilateral contacts between Dutch and foreign experts and policymakers, it becomes evident that Dutch policies now meet with a high degree of appreciation. It therefore remains obscure on what factual data the Netwerk findings are based.

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