By Jean Christou
A bill is pending at the legal service aimed at keeping drug addicts out of prison and able to receive the help they need, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said on Tuesday.
Nicolaou was speaking during the presentation of research related to the contribution of addictions such as drug use, drink and gambling on delinquent behaviour, which was carried out by the University of Nicosia and Insights Market Research on behalf of the police.
“A bill has been prepared and is pending at the legal service under which a drug addict will not be stigmatised as a common criminal, but as a person in need of assistance and support from the state, and instead of incarceration can, within the justice system, be helped to stop using,” Nicolaou said.
Last year, officers from drug squad YKAN’s social intervention programme provided support to 453 drug users and 220 other people within the users’ environments. Of those, 424 users were referred to treatment centres, he said.
“According to the latest figures, in the first quarter of 2015, they have already offered support to 192 drug users and 115 people in the support environment, and of these, 175 users were referred to treatment centres,” he added.
But it was not only drugs that lured those aged 15-30, who were the main focus of the survey. Nicolaou said illegal betting was also a real problem among young people.
“We have managed to close many of the casino premises to the point where the number today has been limited to 16 out of 190 that existed two years ago,” he said, adding that this came about after increasing police gambling raids tenfold.
Nicolaou said no country was fully fortified against the evils of addiction and governments could only implement specific policies with regard to prevention, repression, treatment and the rehabilitation of those with dependencies.
“Therefore we need to focus on the causes of the problem and seek to promote the general psychosocial wellbeing of young people through a comprehensive educational process,” he added.
Police Chief Zacharias Chrysostomou, in his address, said the purpose of the survey was to identify the role played by the effect of addiction to drink, drugs and gambling on criminal behavior of young people.
“The extent of the problem will determine our actions as police to limit addiction and these abuses which contribute to delinquent and criminal behavior in young people,” he said.
“The research contains elements that should make us think and perhaps worry us. For example, the fact that about one third of the respondents replied that they had tried drugs, while about half declared they were smokers,” he said.
“As police we are aware of our own essential role in relation to the handling of delinquent behaviour and also the role that we can play with regard to the prevention of such behaviour.”