Caribbean Officials Urge Treatment Programs to Combat Drug Abuse
By Dialogo March 26, 2012
The Caribbean’s escalating narco-trafficking problem could be alleviated by better treatment programs for addicts, said regional public health consultant Marcus Day. This would also reduce overcrowding in prisons, 60 to 70 percent of whose inmates are locked up for drug possession or petty drug-related crimes.
Fueled in part by a crack cocaine explosion since the mid-1980s when traffickers began paying their local surrogates in kind, criminal justice systems across the Caribbean have been flooded with drug cases, said Day, director of St. Lucia’s Caribbean Drug and Alcohol Treatment Institute.
“Some drug users engage in criminal behavior to support their drug use. Take away their drug use and their criminality goes away. Other users will be criminals, whether or not they use drugs,” said Day, whose institute was established in 2004. T
he real criminals belong in a prison environment where punitive measures are called for, said Day, an advisor to the Association of Caribbean Heads of Corrections and Prison Services. On the other hand, non-violent addicts who feed their addiction through petty theft should be placed in treatment programs and reintegrated — perhaps through a halfway house, he said.
“You have to be able to provide people with intervention for where they are [in the cycle of crime and addiction],” said Day. He noted that at least 60 percent of addicts have a concurring psychiatric illness, which makes an even more compelling argument for treatment and prevention programs. “Until you deal with the psychiatric problems, you aren’t getting at the real problem. Drug use is only a symptom.”
Official attitudes slowly change across the region
In Grenada, officials aimed for a greater balance between prosecution and treatment. But that program ended in 2004 after Hurricane Ivan destroyed the island’s only drug treatment center, said Dave Alexander, director of the Grenada National Council on Drug Control. Since then, magistrates have not had the option of sending petty drug offenders to treatment — and plans to rebuild the treatment center remain up in the air.
Alexander said Grenadians find it easy to distinguish between the merely addicted and the true criminal because of the island has only 105,000 inhabitants.
“We basically know everybody,” he said. “It’s relatively easy for us to know who is a hardened criminal and who’s just beginning with crime.”
In Barbados, as official awareness of the social problems associated with drug addiction grows, magistrates have tended to be more open to treating offenders instead of punishing them, said Jonathan Yearwood, spokesman for the National Council on Substance Abuse.
“There has been a movement toward a treatment response so that criminal justice officials have options where to send offenders,” he said.
Too much cocaine — everywhere
In the mid-1980s, drug traffickers began saturating the Caribbean — formerly only a trade route to the United States and Europe — with more cocaine than could be snorted by relatively affluent users of the powder variety.
“I’ve heard of parties in rich neighborhoods where there were literally mounds of cocaine sitting on tables,” said Day.
The excess supply gave island-based middlemen the motivation to create a market for a more affordable product. That gave rise to the crisis created by relatively cheap crack cocaine throughout the Caribbean.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2009 between 110,000 and 330,000 people in the Caribbean used cocaine —†about 1.2 percent of the population. That compared to the 440,000 to two million people who used marijuana, said UNODC.
Even though the number of crack users is relatively small, that drug has taken a disproportionally high toll on island society due to gun violence and other crimes associated with its trafficking. In St. Kitts & Nevis, for example, the homicide rate now stands at 64 per 100,000 inhabitants — nearly as high as El Salvador’s and way higher than Guatemala’s, said UNODC.
Treating drug victims rather than punishing them
On the whole, the response by authorities has been long on criminal justice and short on public health, said Day, creating circumstances where cycles of addiction and criminality go unbroken. That leads to soaring crime rates, which feed social unrest, he said.
“We need models of therapeutic communities with good strong integration programs that put into place social supports,” said Day.
While proponents of prevention and treatment have had a hard time selling their point of view to a public unwilling to be “soft on crime,” a bitter irony is that on some islands, addicts get locked up while dealers higher up in the drug-running hierarchy — who don’t necessarily use drugs themselves — often go unpunished because of corruption and economic clout.
Poverty is another contributing factor to addiction among kids who sometimes feel they have nothing else to live for, said Day. He said a reduction in foreign assistance to the Eastern Caribbean has translated into a corresponding cutback in social services, helping to create a cauldron of social and economic problems in which addiction can breed.
Another obstacle to rehabilitation, said Day, is the lack of a substitute for cocaine of either the powder or crack variety. In short, said the expert, a focus on rehabilitation requires offering alternatives to addicts.
“Our job,” he said, “is to keep people alive until they can help themselves.”
Drug,alcohol is destroy our hope.Nice blog