Substance abuse and trafficking have not diminished over the last 24 years and drugs remain accessible to hundreds of children and youths, a concerned Caritas Malta director Mgr Victor Grech said yesterday.
Last year, the number of clients undergoing the Caritas rehabilitation programme, 647, amounted to five per cent more than in 2010 and 25 per cent over the figure of eight years ago. Mgr Grech insisted the solution did not lie in the liberalisation of drugs and decriminalisation of cannabis if “we do not want Malta to become a Mecca for addicts”.
Delivering his 24th address at the graduation at San Blas of 22 youths, who successfully ended their Caritas rehabilitation programme, he said the occasion aroused both happiness and concern.
“My biggest hurt is that, for many youths, the consumption of drugs and alcohol has started to form a major part of their uncontrollable hedonistic culture, especially at weekends. It is a culture of alienation and an escape from reality. There are people who are taking a ‘trip’ and never returning.”
Mgr Grech referred to the latest European School Project on Alcohol and Drug Abuse results, which shows that alcohol consumption among adolescents has continued to rise, warning that “we must be careful Malta does not come first in Europe”.
Pointing out that 65 youths died of a drug overdose in the last 15 years, Mgr Grech questioned whether this information still had any news value; whether people were getting used to everything and nothing was worrying them anymore; and whether they were only concerned when it hit a member of their family.
The graduation certificate the youths received yesterday would not erase the criminal record some may have been stained with before entering the programme. Neither did it let them off a court case, which could be still pending after many years, meaning they risked ending up in jail, Mgr Grech said.
He stressed his belief in rehabilitation and not imprisonment for substance abusers, adding that “justice, in my view, has to be done within a reasonable time and has to be accessible”.
The certificate, however, was recognition of the fact that these young people had acknowledged their mistakes; they had started something good and finished it successfully.
“We are doing our utmost to avoid them finding closed doors,” he said. Listing Caritas services, Mgr Grech mentioned the harm reduction programme at the female shelter in Birkirkara, Dar il-Vittorja, which had 20 residents, two of whom gave birth to children during their drug rehabilitation.
He said the shelter was last month nominated as a model of good practice by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute in Rome.
At the Community Outreach Service in Floriana, the staff saw an average of 600 clients a year, apart from their parents and family.
The figures he listed showed that Caritas was sought by many youths, but the reality of drug consumption was not being reflected enough in these numbers.
There were people who used drugs, especially cocaine, who did not seek help, even though they needed individual assistance.
Mgr Grech said the Maltese were willing to help persons with disability and chronic illness, but it seemed the majority did not have much compassion for youths who wanted to be rid of their drug addiction because they felt they had entered a “dangerous alley” out of their own free will. “I do not say they were blindfolded when they entered this alley, but drug dependency is a sickness that requires treatment, lots of love, dedication and attention.”
In his recommendations, Mgr Grech stressed on the importance of the “culture of life” among children, and the strengthening of stable marriages and united families.
He appealed for more funds to maintain and develop rehabilitation services, saying he did not want to reach a point when centres and homes would have to close due to a lack of finance.
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