Czech Party Seeks Move to US-Style Drug War Policy 4/2/04

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One of the parties that make up the Czech government's ruling coalition, the Christian Democrats, are demanding major changes in Czech drug policy and calling for a US-style "war on drugs," Czech drug researcher Dr. Tomas Zabransky reported this week. Zabransky, who was a scientific member of the Czech National Focal Point drug use survey, reported that the Christian Democrats have cited a "constant worsening of the drug situation and an increasing number of addicts," and the claim of a direct "link between drugs and terrorism."

There's only one problem: The Christian Democrats are wrong about the "constant worsening" of the problem. According to Czech Focal Point drug data cited by Vice-Prime Minister Petr Mares, both the number of addicted or problem drug users and the number of drug users in treatment has decreased in recent years. Data from the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA) supports that claim. According to EMCDDA, since 1996 lifetime cannabis use had increased by 2%, while for all other drugs except ecstasy, levels remained essentially unchanged.

And while lifetime drug use numbers stayed close to flat, the number of problem drug users, as reflected in the number of overdoses and drug-related deaths, has actually decreased, according to the Focal Point data. Zabransky also pointed to an extremely low number HIV/AIDS-infected users and Hepatitis C-infected users.

When confronted with these facts, Zabransky reported, the Christian Democrats had a singular response: dismantle the National Focal Point. "That is the very institution that is responsible for gathering drug-related data and reporting them to the European Union and to the Czech government," said Zabransky. "These calls for rejecting the current compilation methods are because it has produced data that does not support their prohibitionist views." The National Focal Point study had been positively evaluated by the EMCDDA, he said, and was seen to be producing high quality data throughout its three years of existence.

But getting rid of institutions that produce uncomfortable numbers is only part of the Christian Democrats' broader strategy, Zabransky reported. "The Christian Democrats have also demanded major changes in the national drug strategy that is being prepared for 2005-2009," he said. "These alterations include the withdrawal of current governmental resolutions regarding legal changes in drug penalties (that are planned to be differentiated according to the unique social and health risks posed by particular drugs). They are also demanding major changes in the system of financing of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide treatment and harm reduction programs. Finally, they are effectively aiming to destroy the highly successful inter-ministerial coordination of the existing drug policy, a plan that leans on four pillars: prevention, treatment, harm reduction and repression."

Zabransky accused the Christian Democrats of playing semantic games. "Given an absence of data to support their proposals, the Christian Democrats have intentionally continued to promote confusion of the terms 'lifetime prevalence of any drug use' and 'addictive use,' he said. They also successfully pushed through the establishment of an "expert group" stacked with their allies "and purposely overlooking all of the distinguished members of the existing National Drug Commission." The "expert group" will review Czech drug policy and propose changes. According to Czech media reports, all of its members -- who have not been publicly identified -- are politicians with no background in drug policy, but with close links to the police and the Ministry of the Interior. The group will reportedly be headed by the Interior Minister, Zabransky said.

"This transparent scheme by the Christian Democrats, aided by certain law enforcement officials, is intended to shift the orientation of Czech drug policy from a reliance on scientific data and evidence-based measures, to one where intra-departmental fights and ideological claims will prevail," Zabransky warned. "It is my view that we now face the imminent danger of the introduction of a drug policy that eschews scientific data and evidence, in favor of one that simply echoes the particular interests of a vested interest group -- the law-enforcement lobby."

While the Christian Democrats are not the largest party in the ruling coalition, which includes the dominant Social Democrats and the libertarian-leaning Union of Freedom, the narrow margin of power for the ruling coalition leaves it vulnerable to pressure from its junior members. The current government governs with the slimmest of majorities, 101 seats in a 200-member parliamentary body. "If the Christian Democrats are not quickly and forcefully rebutted by leading national and international figures, they could succeed in these actions," Zabransky warned.

To visit the EMCDDA pages on the Czech Republic, go to http://candidates.emcdda.eu.int/en/page68-en.html.

For you Czech speakers, much more information is available at http://www.drogy-info.cz.

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