The European Observatory on Drugs and Addiction, based in Lisbon, Portugal, has issued its annual report on “The evolution of the phenomenon of drugs in the EU and Norway”. The statistics are depressingly repetitive.
The data concentrates on studies made between 1996 and 2000 and concludes that the most used drug is cannabis, followed by synthetic drugs (extasy), amphetamines (speed), cocaine and heroin. Heroin addiction is worse in southern Europe than in the north. In Luxemburg, the statistic for the number of inhabitants per 1,000 with “estimated problematic drug consumption” or addiction to hard drugs, is 9.3, whereas in Portugal, it is 9 per thousand, these being the worst two countries in the list. It should be remembered that half the population in Luxemburg is Portuguese.
Following Portugal are Italy, the UK, Ireland and Spain, with indices between 5.5 and 7.8 per 1,000, while the countries with the lowest ratings are the Netherlands (2.6 per 1,000), Austria and Germany (3.2) and Finland (3.6).
The report also concludes that a person consuming hard drugs is 20 times more likely to die than a non-user and indicates that around 25% of intravenous drugs users are HIV positive, while there are around 8,000 deaths through overdose every year in the countries in the study.
In Portugal, it is estimated by the Portuguese Society of Gastro-enterology that there are 150,000 people with hepatitis C, but this number could triple in ten years. Many cases of hepatitis C are associated to drug use.
The statistics indicate that drug consumption has stabilised, which means that in the future, if less new users take up the habit, the number of those consuming drugs will decrease as they enter detoxification centres, stop consuming – or die.
What makes a young person consume hard drugs after all the information and education programmes that are available is difficult to understand. PRAVDA.Ru made a survey in Lisbon among drug users. Some of the most typical replies to the question “Why do you consume?” were the following (names altered):
Rui, 23, helps people to park cars in return for 1 Euro: “I started smoking cannabis when I was thirteen, with my mates. One thing led to another and one day someone said, OK let’s try this and those who don’t are chicken. It was heroin, we smoked it at first. It was great, makes you feel like you have got gold in your veins. Then we smoked it all the time. Then everyone started buying their own and I thought, what if I inject it? It will give me a better blast. So I did and now I am here”. PRAVDA.Ru: “Are you happy? Do you have any plans?” Rui: “No, of course I’m not happy. I hate this. people look at me as if I’m scum. I’m not. I’m a drug addict. Others are alcoholics and nobody looks at them. I feel I’m outside society. Future? What future? I can’t leave “horse” (heroin). I’d die!”
Carolina, 43, prostitute, whose stunningly good looks under the make-up would have made her a Miss Universe Contestant 20 years ago. “I know why you ask. You’re all fascinated about why prostitutes are on the streets. Well, I’ll tell you. We aren’t here for love or because we like it. We’re here for the money to buy drugs. The “kids” (John/male user of prostitutes) provide us with the money. That’s all they’re good for. They come up here looking for love. They don’t find it.” PRAVDA.Ru: “That’s now but what about the past, how did you get into this?” “My dad was an alcoholic. His bottles used to fall out of any cupboard when we opened them. I got out of the house most of the time I could. I started skipping classes. Started smoking cigarettes when I was 9, then started going to parties when I was 12 and people were doing “snow” (cocaine) or “Chinese” (Chasing the Dragon, smoking heroin). One day I woke up vomiting and with a backache. I was hooked.” PRAVDA.Ru: “Don’t you want to get out of this?” “I will one day. I don’t want my daughter in this. I’m ashamed to stand here. I hate it. I hate the Johns. I’m going to do the methadone treatment one day, see if it works. Then when I get out of this, I can clean a staircase, clean an office, eat soup, anything. I want to come up here again free and think to myself: OK now you can come here when you like and you don’t have to do it out of necessity”.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969