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Drug Abusers Implore Government for Treatment but the State Refuses to Make Funding Available


 Drug Abusers Implore Government for Treatment but the State Refuses to Make Funding Available

In Georgia, drug abuse is a real problem. According to official statistics, in Georgia there are 170,000-240,000 abusers, but the government has no money to fund their treatment. In the national budget there is not a single lari for these people. The provision of treatment however is a legal obligation according to legislation.

According to the ‘Helping Abusers’ law, if someone uses a drug, they are ill (Clause 2). Conversely under the criminal law, it is proscribed that if someone buys, keeps or carries drugs, he is guilty of a crime and must therefore be punished (Criminal Law clause 273). This contradiction of the law has faced criticism from experts.

The Head of the NGO ‘New Way’, Dali Usharidze, says that in order to deal with the problem of drug abuse, it is not productive to lock people away in prison: "If we admit that a drug abuser is ill, they must not be arrested, if they only have drugs for their own personal use. We must help these people. People caught using drugs must be made to pay a small fine but not be prosecuted under the law. To prosecute such people is to violate their human rights.

In addition to the criminal law, international acts have been ratified by Georgia, encouraging cooperation with and help of drug abusers, as well as obligatory treatment. The treaty, known as the “United Convention on Drug Resources,” was signed by Georgia on February 23 2000 and forms bi-lateral agreements with Ukraine, Armenia, Turkmenia, Uzbekistan, Latvia and Rumania. 

The Director of the Drug Center in Tbilisi, Xatuna Todadze, says that government’s attitude to this problem is a negative one: "On the part of the Georgian state, 0 lari is spent. If a user wants treatment, he must have the money to pay for it himself. If he has no money it can literally be a matter of life or death.” Approximately 1300 lari is needed to treat one user.

Legal expert, Lado Sanikidze shares this opinion: "If a drug user is ill, he must be housed in a medical center, not in a prison. I cannot understand why illness should be blameworthy. If it is an illness, it is not something you are guilty of. If the government cannot treat users for free, their families must be given the right to treat them openly. At present they cannot be treated whilst the Ministry of Internal Affairs is chasing them.

The Head of the Parliament’s Health Department, Gigi Tsereteli, agrees with those interviewed above. He says that the law must be changed: "Our law is not bad, but nor is it implemented. If, according to law, a man who is ill is guilty of a crime, it means, that the rights of patients are being violated. The state does not treat abusers. The reason for this is that there aren’t the special programs or money crucial for achieving this. The current program can only provide treatment for 60 patients. There are 250,000 drug abusers in our country.”

Gigi Tsereteli says that many people (users’ mothers, wives and relatives) ask him to provide them with free treatment, but the state cannot treat these people, because there is no money assigned for that purpose. "There must not be parts of the law which are not implemented, if we can’t implement legal provisions, they should be removed from the statute books and replaced by clauses that we can realize."

The Head of the Parliamentary Law Department, Levan Bejashvili, thinks the same thing. He states that under the current law, human rights are violated, so therefore it must be changed: "Special state programs about drug addiction treatment are not enough and it means that only one percent of abusers will benefit. The financial mechanisms should be worked out to guarantee serious results. The law must be liberal towards consumers.

An alternative law regarding drug abusers was proposed by the ‘Alternative Georgia’ union. One part of the proposed law says that a person, who uses drugs, must not be prosecuted. Very soon this project will be introduced to parliament. For those who want to be treated but have no money, the law must be more liberal and take into the consideration the recommendations of international organizations. 

Eka Gulua


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