Government’s anti-drug policy switches focus to underage drinking

Photo: European Commission

With the number of young marihuana users falling in the Czech Republic, the government has found a new target for its anti-drugs strategy: underage drinking, in which young Czechs top European statistics. But a new action plan unveiled on Wednesday contains a novel element – a proposal to introduce a substitute therapy aimed at weaning people off increasingly popular methamphetamines. I discussed the fresh action plan with the national anti-drug coordinator, Jindřich Vobořil.

Photo: European Commission
“All research studies show us that if young people under the age of 16 regularly use addictive substances such as alcohol, there is a direct correlation with developing other addictions, including those on illicit drugs. So if we believe in any effective prevention, it’s very much directed at young people under the age of 16.”

So how do you want to curb the consumption of alcohol in this age group?

“There is a difference between the approach to cannabis and alcohol. With cannabis, we must work with the public and pursue direct prevention. With alcohol, however, we have different tools. One of them is regulation that we need to introduce in the Czech Republic where the tolerance is very high to young people consuming alcohol.

“So we have to introduce some new regulations; there is a new bill which is now being debated in the government. The bill should limit the number of places where people can buy alcohol, introduce licences for those who sell alcohol, and stricter sanctions for people who sell alcohol to minors.”

Jindřich Vobořil,  photo: archive of the Czech Government
The Czech Republic has come under international pressure to deal with the issue of methamphetamine and its exports. Is this reflected in the new action plan?

“Of course it is. But we cannot wait; two weeks ago, I met with national anti-drug coordinators from Germany, Austria, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, to try and find precursors, for instance flu pills containing pseudo-ephedrine, the substance used in the production of methamphetamine. In the Czech Republic, we have already introduced some regulations and we would like to cooperate with our neighbours to do the same.

“We would also find new possibilities for the treatment of methamphetamine users, mainly substitution therapy. That would guarantee a quick, low-threshold access to services for users who are at the beginning of the problem, and reduce the number of people snowballed by other users. As many people you can attract to these service in early stages of their addiction, the better.”

So what are the obstacles to introducing substitution therapy for methamphetamine users?

Photo: Filip Jandourek
“First of all, we need to find a professional body which would be willing to experiment with this. It’s not easy because these are stimulant drugs which could provoke some psychotic states in the patients. Also, we have a problem with methamphetamines but the known substituents work with amphetamines so we need to look around if there is anything that could work, and look for best practices and try them here. Another problem is whether health insurers will pay for such therapy. So these are the obstacles.”