Of Drugs and Bureaucrats

  • 2000-08-31
It seems officials and politicians in the Baltic states are finally facing up to the hard news on hard drugs. Latvia's Aug. 23 announcement that 75 percent of the country's teens have tried some form of illegal narcotic substance is particularly disturbing. That is 30 to 50 percentage points higher than the numbers for most western countries. The number in Lithuania is officially 33 percent, though this is likely to be underestimated.

The issue has finally been addressed in Lithuania as politicians gear up for the October elections. True to form, Vytautas Landsbergis complimented himself generously for the strict drug enforcement legislation implemented under his leadership and placed all of the blame for the country's drug woes squarely on the shoulders of law enforcement officials, calling them "unenthusiastic." One wonders what effect a comment like that might have on their already dampened morale.

Lithuania's woefully underfunded police can barely afford to run their patrol cars and yet are saddled with the blame. Senior Vilnius Police Commissioner Kalecius has said his officers don't even bother arresting users with small amounts of drugs in their possession, as they don't have the resources, and admitted that he views these people as victims of the drug barons; he feels they should be treated rather than institutionalized. The man should receive a medal for simply being honest.

The Ministry of Health in Lithuania is running two separate, largely ineffectual poster campaigns with the slogans "No to Drugs" and "No to AIDS." With the largest number of newly infected HIV sufferers coming from the ranks of intravenous drug users, it might have made more sense to link the two together. And whom did they hire to write such incredibly imaginative copy? Nancy Reagan?

Every high school in Lithuania is now required by the Ministry of Education to appoint one teacher as the designated drug educator. With the increases in class sizes and abysmal pay they receive, what teacher is going to find the motivation to teach extracurricular classes on drug prevention?

Drug use in the Baltics, virtually unheard of five years ago, has, quite simply, exploded. Cheap Central Asian sources are certainly contributing to the problem. Novelty is another important factor, especially given that, as Janis Strazdins has correctly asserted, pot is a "Trojan Horse" drug that leads the way down the drain to strong stimulants and the highly addictive and destructive opiates.