Drug Policy: Aspects of Public Health for a European Convention …

… on the Promotion of Public Health Policies to Combat Drugs
From: “Trilateral Conference of the Benelux Parliament, the Baltic Assembly and the Nordic Council” Friday 18 May 2006, Liege
Speech by Dr. Massimo Barra, President, Italian Red Cross

Mr. President, Ms. Chair, Mr. Rapporteur, Members of the Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an honour for me to speak at this trilateral conference of the Benelux Parliament, the Baltic Assembly and the Nordic Council.

I would like to address my particular thanks to Mr. Dees for his kind invitation and for allowing me to address such a prestigious audience on the important links between public health and drug use.
Today, I would like to share my experience as a medical doctor who has been working for more than 30 years with drug users. I will also mention how this work relates to the broader humanitarian mission of the Red Cross.

Finally, I will bring a message of hope and confidence: a new way out the drug use tragedy is possible, a way beyond the old dogma. A new way that consists of bringing drug policy and public health ever closer. The draft European convention on the promotion of public health to combat drug use is a step in this new direction.

I will in fact call on to all stakeholders, from policy and law makers – and there are many today representing 11 countries – to the people on the ground to face their duty to give drug users their right to health.

Personal conviction: fighting stigmatization, the first step towards recovery

Since founding one of the first drug user care centres in Italy thirty years ago, I have met more than 30,000 users.
I have lost lots of illusions but gained some few solid convictions that I would like to share with you today.
A first conviction is that drug use is a very complex, changing phenomenon hard to apprehend in a single formula. It covers many different realities: from use, abuse, dependence and mania. These four levels of drug use take different forms for each person.
Generalisation on drug use is dangerous as it fails to grasp the complexity of the relation between drug and the individual.
There is no magic treatment or simple answer. But a treatment that works is one that is adapted to the special circumstances of the individual. It is important that the policy framework addressing drug use also reflects this flexibility.
This is the complexity that, in my opinion, the so-called ‘prohibition’ – legalization debate fails to grasp.

Trying to criminalize our way out drug addiction has always backfired. I have never understood how some people think that force is an effective way to beat a drug user’s addiction. How can force be the right treatment for somebody who is essentially a sick person? One can only look at the catastrophic effects of prison on drug users to know that repression makes drug users more vulnerable and dangerous.
On the other hand, the so-called ‘legalisation’ approach, which proposes to lift criminal restrictions on addictive substances, therefore limiting the criminalization of users, does not solve the problem of how to control and progressively reduce use. (Segue alla pagina successiva >>)