Law enforcement officers talking about drugs in South East Europe and Eurasia – IDPC/Talking Drugs Magazine, 2
Over the past decades, there has been much discussion about the effectiveness of several aspects of the drug control system. The police play a decisive role in enforcing drug laws, and directly experience the effects caused by the implementation of several provisions that aim to reduce drug use in our society. Therefore, although it is not the task of the police to design policy strategies and decide priorities in action plans, it is crucial to listen to their experiences. The police should systematically be asked to comment on proposed drug policies and make suggestions to improve current practice.
The second edition of the IDPC magazine features interviews with police officers from South East Europe and Eurasia – namely Albania, Greece, the Kyrgyz Republic, Serbia and Ukraine. The police officers are asked to express their views on their countries’ law enforcement strategies, which in these two regions often tend to focus on arresting drug users for possession of small amounts of illegal substances.
In South East Europe and Eurasia, as in other parts of the world, there is currently much discussion on the effects of repressive measures towards drug users. The prevailing view remains that punishment, deterrence and fear of social stigma can effectively prevent drug use.
Enabling an open and public debate that questions this attitude is not common practice in most countries in the region; while the countries that experienced a political transition in the 1990s are still seeking to achieve a balance between following the mentality of repressive regimes and tackling the new challenges of freedom and democracy.
It is encouraging that some police officers are open to discussing this issue, although this magazine clearly highlights that many countries are still closed to the idea of an open debate on drug policy issues. There is a need for a systematic approach in the drug policy debate, and there are many obstacles yet to be overcome. The experience in the Kyrgyz Republic shows that, after a long time of advocacy and education, a change in attitude is possible. This political commitment is indispensable for the implementation of new ways to approach the issue of drug use.
IDPC member organisations are aware of the opportunities that can be created for drug users through better understanding and cooperation between health and social service providers and law enforcement agencies. At a regional meeting in Athens in March 2010, NGOs from eight Eastern European countries decided to establish a regional network to strengthen their relationships, create opportunities for mutual cooperation, exchange best practice and improve their contacts with national and regional authorities. One of the main items of discussion was the necessity to develop a new law enforcement strategy. It was recommended to refocus law enforcement objectives in this area, and commit to increased partnerships between health and social care agencies.
The main concern of the parties who signed the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was the ‘health and welfare of mankind’. The question is whether law enforcement practice in the past decades concerning possession of drugs for personal use has been the most appropriate means of protecting our public health and welfare.
The voices of social and healthcare workers, but also – as shown by this magazine – of many law enforcement officials, now clearly indicate that repression and the punishment and imprisonment of drug users are not the appropriate answers to drug use and dependence.
Drug law reform on this issue is gradually gaining ground all over the world. It is the only way to meet the main concern of the 1961 Single Convention, namely to protect the health and welfare of mankind.
Thanasis Apostolou, Diogenis, Drug Policy Dialogue in South East Europe