Drug Culture Confirmed by Government
|By LEO OLIVERO
Not that it really needed anyone to confirm that Gibraltar is in the midst of a serious drug culture. But unlike her predecessor, the Minister for Social Services Samantha Sacramento has been honest in her assessment as a government minister, and in a relatively short period of time has acknowledged Gibraltar's disturbing drug culture. She did so in a PANORAMA interview last Friday.
Drug abuse is serious social problem affecting most modern societies, yet over the last 10 years or so, there is no question that this social problem has become one of the most important threats to our society.
I have to admit that the 'former chief minister' once thought in these terms, particularly when in 2003 Mr. Caruana wrote in the forward of the government's failed drug strategy that 'the abuse of drugs, alcohol and other harmful substances, was one of the greatest threats to our society.'
However it was obvious, as time passed, that another dangerous threat to our society had emerged. A threat just as lethal and one, we came to know as 'GSD Incompetence' created, as a result of the complete failure and pathetic manner the previous administration feebly handled this growing (in front of their very eyes) social problem of drug abuse. Even without knowing official data (as there wasn't any made public) like drug trends etc, everything clearly indicated that more youngsters of all ages were getting involved with substance abuse; it was affecting whole families and society as a whole!
Continuously Criticised Last Administration
As regular readers will know I have frequently for the best part of 8 years been the only real public critic of the previous government's handling of the local drug misuse/abuse problem. I will say little more (for the moment) about their dismal performance. But what I will repeat is that Panorama many times brought to the public domain 'social issues' of concern. Drug abuse being one, which the previous administration, in their great wisdom, continuously attempted to keep under wraps or simply play down the seriousness of this social problem, a ploy that was never convincing, to me anyway.
Confirmed: Drug Strategy A Failure
The Social Service Minister confirmed to Panorama that… 'It is clear that the drug strategy in place at the time that the new Government came into office simply does not work.'
The minister, to drive the latter point home further, gave an example that on the 9th December (day after the election) there were only 2 people admitted to Bruce's Farm, which she gave as an example that the residential model of drug rehabilitation (contained in the previous government's drug strategy) is not working, as no one would accept that there were only 2 people with an addiction in Gibraltar at that time. The minister also confirmed that the drug prevention and rehabilitation in the community is not developed enough and there needs to be serious emphasis on this service if we are to start tackling the problem.
I could not agree more with these important points. One of the central aims of the drug strategy was after all 'Rehabilitation along with Prevention and Enforcement'.
There are countless shortcomings regarding the drug strategy that I highlighted numerous times, none more so than the fact that the strategy itself 'was never up-dated' to account for ever changing drug trends, something that is known to regularly change. As well as the fact that alcohol consumption had increased considerably over recent years and young people were getting hooked on these substances. But there was lack of information - and any up-dated data to enable the strategy to re-focus on specific areas never materialised.
Drug Advisory Council Has Not Met for Over a Year!
I have also questioned many times the function of the 'Drugs Advisory Council' and although I know what they should be doing, they have been doing in my view 'sweet nothing'. This statutory body allowed themselves to be sucked in by the previous government's mental denial, inactivity and negligible interest. This is a shocking situation, when you think the drug advisory council is formed by professional people.
But to hear from the new minister that she discovered that the drug advisory council had 'not met in well over a year' merely confirms not only the lack of commitment to public safety on this serious social problem, but to the level at which the drug strategy had reached! The drug advisory council is there to do what their name suggests, 'to advise' yet if they hardly met to discuss issues regarding the 'drug strategy' and the general problem knowing full well how this social issue continues to deteriorate in society, then this to me is the highest form of 'Collective Incompetence' by a public body led by the previous minister and administration.
It is atrocious news - how can serious social issue like this, have been handled with such contempt for public safety!
The Drug Coordinator appointed by the last government is another 'failed round peg they tried to put into a square hole'. Again I won't go into how many times I have suggested that the present incumbent to the drug coordinator position is just not up to it! But if this person spends most, if not all, of his time in upper rock at Bruce's Farm and not in an office at ground level, he may well have been in a position, to have done a slightly better job of coordinating Gibraltar's drugs problem, particularly the many strands that make up the important elements of a Strategic Government Drug Policy!
New or Up-Dated Drug Strategy by Government Confirmed
Again, more welcomed news and music to my ears in particular, was the news from the new Social Services Minister that it is the government's intention to go back to the drawing board in respect of the drug strategy with a view to developing an effective policy. "We have some very good people delivering the rehabilitation programme and there have been some excellent individual results. Our emphasis has to be in making this service more accessible to the community as a whole"…said the minister
Gibraltar could not ask for more at the moment than to hear that the whole substance misuse issue is to be looked at from scratch!
One important point that also contributed to the demise of the previous administration's drugs strategy inaptly named 'A Brighter Future'- was money. The strategy was 'Not Financially Resourced' to a level that made any notable effect on the implementation process of the various parts contained in the document!
Drug abuse has taken countless twist and turns since the last strategy was put together in 2002 (although published in 2003) I know, because I played a major part in putting the last government's programme together.
Drug trends since, particularly in the last 10 years, have gone through the roof, Cocaine is now the most popular drug consumed. Alcohol is now in another dimension. People are coming into contact with these substances at a much Younger Age than ever before. Another very important factor is that 75% of Crime is Drug Related! Rehabilitation services need to be updated and remodeled around the younger elements of society (under 18s). Education and Awareness cannot be a 2 or 3 times in the year only effort, it has to be a sustained year long programme - targeting the most vulnerable or those that are identified as requiring the most attention when 'Drug Trend Surveys' are conducted.
But it's a fact, that one of the biggest problems facing youngsters nowadays is the problem of drugs. The government would be wise to start sooner rather than later, rigorous campaigns to combat the ever growing cocaine/alcohol menace threatening youngsters at a very young age. It is imperative that the message transmitted through the campaign should also be to alert youngsters to the risk of becoming jobless, social outcasts and suffering bad health especially in later life.
Over the years it became patently obvious (to me at least) that no one was singing from the same (drug strategy document) hymn sheet, not even the previous government knew the words to their own hymn… Even though the serious drug problem was staring them in the face, everyday, for the last 10 years!
All this was the kind of 'Brighter Future' (as the name of the policy suggested) the last Government wanted for Gibraltar, particularly young people!