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Drug use in Slovakia nears EU levels

YOUNG Slovaks may soon be as experienced with drugs as their EU peers, as the proportion of those using marijuana and synthetic drugs such as Ecstasy is approaching levels in the West.
Following an initial boom of drug abuse in the 1990s, after the fall of communism, the country set up a number of drug treatment facilities and launched projects aimed at preventing drug abuse. In addition, the government established law enforcement authorities that specialised in drug-related crimes.
In the last two years, some 2,000 drug addicts have been treated in Slovakia, but doctors estimate the real number of Slovak drug addicts to be much higher, between 4,000 and 8,000.


YOUNG Slovaks now find drugs like heroin easier to get.
photo: Matthew Reynolds

YOUNG Slovaks may soon be as experienced with drugs as their EU peers, as the proportion of those using marijuana and synthetic drugs such as Ecstasy is approaching levels in the West.

Following an initial boom of drug abuse in the 1990s, after the fall of communism, the country set up a number of drug treatment facilities and launched projects aimed at preventing drug abuse. In addition, the government established law enforcement authorities that specialised in drug-related crimes.

In the last two years, some 2,000 drug addicts have been treated in Slovakia, but doctors estimate the real number of Slovak drug addicts to be much higher, between 4,000 and 8,000.

"Today there is not a big difference between Slovakia and EU countries when it comes to the abuse of the majority of illegal addictive substances," doctor Ľubomír Okruhlica, the Health Ministry's main expert on drug addiction and head of the Bratislava-based Centre for Treatment of Drug Dependencies, told The Slovak Spectator.

According to a 2002 report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, current use of cannabis ranges from 5 to 15 per cent among young people in the EU, while between 10 and 30 per cent of adult EU citizens have used it at least once in their lives.

Meanwhile, a survey carried out by the Slovak Statistics Office and published in October 2002 showed that 5 per cent of all Slovaks had experience with marijuana, and 16 per cent of young people between 16 and 29 years of age had used marijuana at least once.

"This shows clearly that while Slovak citizens as a whole have less experience with marijuana than the adult population in the western states, Slovak youths use this substance as much as their EU peers," Okruhlica said.

In its annual report released at the end of February this year, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), an independent panel overseeing United Nations drug treaties, stated that while heroin and cocaine account for most drug-related problems worldwide, synthetic drugs like Ecstasy could become the dominant illicit substance of the future.

According to Okruhlica, the trend of increasing use of synthetic drugs is also visible in Slovakia, where an estimated 1 to 3 per cent of local youths have tried that type of drug.

"The situation in Slovakia in this respect is similar to in EU states, where between 1 and 5 per cent of people have experience with synthetic drugs and cocaine," Okruhlica said.

Combatting drug crime

Slovakia lies on what is believed to be one of Europe's busiest drug-trafficking routes, the so-called Balkan route running through Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Slovakia to western Europe.

According to Peter Kožík from the country's police presidium, the route works on what he called "a family principle", meaning that the people involved in dealing and smuggling are usually part of the same family. The close ties ensure greater loyalty among the members of the gang.

"That is why it is very difficult to get inside the network," Kožík said.

Slovakia has a special police body called the National Anti-drug Unit, which deals with drug-related crimes and focuses on cracking down on drug smuggling and busting drug-dealing rings.

Just one day before the UN's drug report was published, the unit arrested six people, who, according to Police Presidium spokesman Jaroslav Sahul, supplied drugs to addicts in central Slovakia. During the raid, the police seized more than half a kilo of marijuana, 87 Ecstasy pills, and 42 tabs of LSD.

Addressing the issue

In its recent report, the UN's INCB appealed to governments around the world to beef up their efforts to prevent drug abuse, particularly the abuse of synthetic drugs like Ecstasy.

"Governments should enhance their drug-abuse prevention activities and provide potential abusers of synthetic drugs with carefully selected information on the harmful pharmacological effects of such drugs; for example, recent research indicates that the abuse of Ecstasy may cause irreversible brain damage," reads the report.

Slovakia's policy for fighting drug abuse is contained in a regularly updated document called the National Programme for Fighting Drugs.

The objectives of the programme are divided into four areas: drug-demand reduction, achieved mainly through prevention; the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts; drug-supply reduction and law enforcement in combating drugs; and mass-media policy and international cooperation.

Slovakia is home to seven centres for the treatment of drug addicts and 14 rehabilitation centres, which try to help reformed addicts return to a life without drugs.

Every year, the state-run Anti-drug Fund distributes Sk50 million (1.2 million euro) to various anti-drug projects.

The fund's director Miroslav Žufa told The Slovak Spectator that in 2002 a total of 224 projects - including treatment and drug-abuse prevention programmes, drug-addict rehabilitation programmes, and anti-drug media campaigns - received state funding.

"We wish we could provide more money for anti-drug projects. Unfortunately, the overall situation in the health-care and education sectors is not very good and we can't free up more funds. But we hope this will change in the future," Žufa said.

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