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Alternative drug bill ready for public signature

By Salome Modebadze
Wednesday, November 26
On November 22, the Harm Reduction Georgian Network organized a meeting with journalists at Alternative-Georgia’s office. The aim of the meeting was to introduce an alternative bill on drug consumption in Georgia to the public and seek signatures for it. The signature of 30,000 people is needed to present the bill to Parliament for parallel discussion with the former one.

Drug abuse prevention in Georgia started in the mid-1990s in both the Government and non-Government sectors. It remains among the most underdeveloped areas of anti-drug policy in the country.

“Our new law differs from the one presented by MP Gigi Tsereteli in Spring. We don’t object to our colleagues, we believe that they also care for drug addicts, but we have different approaches to this issue,” Marina Tchavtchanidze, member of HRGN and psychologist of Alternative-Georgia, stated.

“Drug addiction is a terrible disease. We shouldn’t combat it by imposing high penalties, which on the one hand force the addict’s family to borrow money from banks which has to be repaid and on the other push the abusers to find illegal ways to pay their dealers. The penalty policy is a mistake in Georgia. The same amount could be wisely spent on a treatment programme. The law should regard addicts as ill and not impose a punishment for this illness,” she added.

Drug addiction is a psychological state. Drugs are essentially a painkiller. They cover up emotional and physical pain, providing the user with a temporary and illusory escape from life. This escape becomes their focus, and soon the person feels the need to use consistently, and will do anything to get high. It is a trap which appears inescapable unless effective intervention is made.

In order to effectively respond to the challenges of drug abuse and drug trafficking, there is a need to further develop and reinforce the drug control institutional and legislative frameworks. The institutional drug control framework includes, at the political level, the Inter-Ministerial Coordination Commission and, at a technical level, an agency for the coordination of law enforcement activities, and the setting up of a national commission with the responsibility for classifying drugs and controlling their prescription and usage.

Lana Lagvilava and Nino Balanchivadze, HRGN lawyers, explained the reasons behind the changes in their alternative legislative package. They stated that everything has to be done to ensure that addicts can be reestablished in society with respect.

“Drug addicts should be treated as sick, and penalties should be imposed only in case they are breaking the law in public places and having a bad influence on other people The Government should provide the abuser with financial support within a six month period if they request it. The users need to regain self-worth and identity through effective social education. We should distinguish them from drug dealers, who really deserve being imprisoned for ages,” they noted. “Putting drug abusers into jail is not a wise solution to the problem. They continue using drugs even there, which creates other serious problems such as HIV and Hepatitis C,” Manana Tchavtchanidze stated. “Society should protect itself from epidemics,” she added.

Drug rehabilitation is a multi-phase, long term process. Recovery from addiction involves an extended process which usually requires the help of drug addiction professionals. To make a successful recovery, the addict needs new tools in order to deal with situations and problems which arise. As they battle not only cravings for their drug of choice but re-stimulation of their past and changes in the way their brain functions, it is no wonder that quitting drugs without professional help is an uphill battle. The addict should realize his illness and determine when and how to deal with his disease.

Davit Otiashvili, Chairperson of Alternative-Georgia, suggested building a special rehabilitation hospital financed from the state budget. He is the lobbyist of the organization at the Parliamentary Health Committee, which will discuss the new HRGN bill. Otiashvili hopes to now conduct negotiations with newer Members of Parliament and explain the difference between the two bills to them.

HRGN hopes that Georgians will sign their bill in sufficient numbers and help change legislation for the benefit of their own citizens, who deserve to be safe and free from their consequences of addiction.