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Panel: Drugs and Public Health

Abstinence cannot be the starting point of treatments

 Several regional agreements recommend the adoption of an integral approach towards public health by tackling the problems associated to the consumption of drugs, supported on scientific evidence and respect for human rights.

 The aim of this panel was to establish criteria for achieving this objective and review experiences implemented till now in Latin America and Europe.


(Bogotá, 5/12/12, 15:45 hs) “It is impossible to think a world without drugs. For this reason, treatments cannot have as a starting point the abstinence of the user. The State has to provide the means so that consumption can be the least harmful possible”. Such was the statement of Juan Carlos Celis, general director of the Procrear Foundation in Colombia, in his participation on the panel Drugs and Public Health within the framework of the IV Latin American Conference on Drug Policies that is taken place in Bogotá.

As he explained, what must be done is “turn from a posture based in a policy of `adict rehabilitation´ towards another that impels the active participation of the community, organizations and citizens to modify the relationship of users with drugs”.

In the present situation, Celis indicated that, “the acquisition of illegal substances puts the consumer in an illegal situation and in the necessity of having to relate to criminal organizations, hence increasing the risks. Neither can there be information about the making of these substances, which boosts the danger on his health”.

Last but not least, he pointed out that “the educational system doesn´t provide the students with the proper elements so that they can be prepared when they have an encounter with psychoactive substances, but expels them when the consequences of abuse are evident”.

Alcohol, main health problem in the region
Hugo Cohen, sub-regional advisor on Mental Health for South America of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) talked about the recommendations of this organization and showed some figures about the situation of the continent: “There begins to be a recognition that alcohol is a health problem. And it is the main health problem in the region, not only in terms of mental health. Some of the risk factors that hamper a wholesome life in the Americas, the first is alcohol, the second is tobacco, the third is obesity, and recently illegal drugs appear in ninth place”. He also stressed the deficiency in terms of sanitary attention: “There is not a suitable capacitation for health professionals in face of the problematic of drug consumption. A person has access to his right only when he has the possibility to choose: if the only options are the psychiatric hospital or the street, he cannot exercise his right. The challenge is to generate new offers in terms of attention dispositifs so that people can choose”.

Drug consumption rooms in Europe
An analysis of the manner that Drug Consumption Rooms functioned since they were implemented over the last two decades in diverse countries like Germany, Australia, Canada, Spain, Luxemburg, Norway, Netherlands and Switzerland was conducted by Marie Nougier, Responsible of Investigation and Publishing of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).

The objectives of this rooms are: improve access to attention health services for the most vulnerable groups of people that consume drugs, improve their basic health, contribute to the security and quality of life of local communities and reduce the impact of drug consumption in public spaces regarding communities.

In terms of the results that have been obtained till now, the panelist based her argument on two extended reports drawn up by the European Observatory on Drugs and Drug Addictions, that points out how Drug Consumption Rooms “are accepted by their focal groups (vulnerable population), communities and other key actors, helping to improve the levels of health of people that consume drugs, reduce high risk conducts, can reduce the number of deaths caused by overdose and have a repercussion on the rates of HIV and hepatitis C infections, although this requires of greater evidences to demonstrate the effect”.

Furthermore, he stressed that it is possible to “reduce drug consumption in public spaces and the alteration of public order related to this phenomenon, when this measure forms part of a local strategy that needs to be integral”.

Consumption in Colombia

On his part, Aldemar Parra Espitia, Coordinator of the area on reduction in consumption of psychoactive substances of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection of the Republic of Colombia, reffered  to the present situation in his country.

The first objective of his presentation was to make it clear that “although Colombia is always discussed as country of producers, it is also about a country of consumers. To be seen as a country whose only relationship with drugs is at a production level has created a stigma that makes it difficult to realize that here in our country we also consume”.

The functionary made public the recent figures of consumption, more precisely those that emerge from statistics of 2011. As he revealed, “in the segment of population  between 18 and 24 years there is a prevalence of 6% in illicit drug consumption, while the global prevalence (all of the population groups) is of  2,7%, which puts Colombia as country of intermediary consumption in the region”.

After pointing out that the prevalence is greater in men than in women, Parra Espitia said that “nearly 300.000 persons between 18 and 60 years old fall into the category that is designated as `abusers and dependents´, and that figure gives us an idea of what is the effort and the costs that will be demanded of the State to enable access to the health dispositifs”.

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