Experts call for more funding for prevention as report finds rise in hard drug use

A new report by the Czech government’s drug monitoring agency shows an increase in the number of long-term users of intravenous drugs and puts young Czechs at the top of the EU ladder in experimenting with or regularly smoking marihuana. Some experts say this is largely due to a lack of prevention measures and a large degree of tolerance towards the use of psychotropic substances.

According to official estimates published in a report released on Wednesday, last year the number of regular, long-term users taking drugs intravenously increased by 5,000 to 37,500 in a country of over 10 million. Two-thirds of the country’s hard drug users consume meta-amphetamine, while the other third have heroin habits.

Furthermore, young Czechs between the ages of 15 and 24 are increasingly experimenting with party drugs such as ecstasy or smoking marihuana. One in two have either smoked marihuana or smoke it occasionally. Fifteen percent of adults smoke marihuana now and four percent occasionally take ecstasy.

Viktor Mravčík, head of the government’s Drug and Drug Addiction Monitoring Centre says that the roots of the problem lie in the liberal attitude of Czech society to both alcohol and drugs.

“The high level of abuse does not just concern cannabis, but also alcohol and other illegal drugs –like ecstasy, amphetamines or meta-amphetamines, so we can conclude that illicit and licit drug use is prevalent in the Czech population. It is linked to the general tolerance of Czech society to the use of psychotropic substances.”

When, during communism, closed borders made it very hard to obtain hard drugs, Czechs became adept at making their own form of meta-amphetamine, known as pervitine. Today police still come across many home-made labs, while marihuana can simply be grown in one’s garden which makes it difficult to curb widespread abuse.

Viktor Mravčik says that prevention is the way to go: as shown by countries such as the UK, France and Germany which had similarly high levels of soft-drug abuse at the start of the decade.

“Countries which had a high level of cannabis abuse in the past launched prevention and awareness-raising programmes, campaigns, projects…You can see it in Germany, you can see it in the UK (where they have a campaign called Frank), in Germany they have web-based counseling for intensive cannabis users. Almost two years ago we proposed the implementation of a project called Cannabis which consisted of measures including the launch of a web-campaign, web-counseling and also face-to face counseling and services, but unfortunately the budget limitation simply hasn’t allowed the implementation or launch of this campaign.”

The government’s action plan for 2010-2012 envisages a similar campaign, but once again austerity measures will make it hard to implement. State funds for prevention have steadily declined in recent years and existing programmes are mainly implemented by schools and NGOs that provide help in the field to drug users. One positive aspect of the Czech drugs scene is the fact that addicts are interested in getting help and protection. Seventy percent of drug addicts regularly visit drop-in centres, if only to get clean syringes, of which 5 million were distributed last year. More encouragingly, the number of drug addicts undergoing treatment is on the rise. However people working in the field say that the government’s priorities are all wrong since any money saved on prevention only increases the bill for treatment.