Spain is an alcoholic society where people maintain a strong link between leisure time and drugs, it’s been claimed.
Eusebio Megías Valenzuela, technical director of FAD (Foundation Against Drug-Addiction), said drug-taking was a cultural phenomenon and that governments should think again about how to tackle the problem.
Mr Megías is a psychiatrist. He directed the national drug plan, he’s member of the board of the European Drug Observatory (EMCDDA) and participated in the draft of the Spanish drug legislation.
After dedicating his whole career to the drugs phenomenon he speaks openly about the contradictions in the national and international drugs policy.
Rafael Cereceda, euronews:
The latest national survey in Spain points to an important decrease in drugs consumption. Why is that in your opinion?
Eusebio Megías. technical director of FAD:
The drugs behaviour is not as linked with the prevention or repression policies as some could wish. Three years ago, I got questioned by a regional Government that wanted to implement a drug strategy. They asked me what I thought about the effects of the economic crisis in drug consumption, and I already predicted that legal narcotics and other drugs tending to “anesthetize” the population would increase (alcohol and legal narcotics), and the consumption of illegal drugs, essentially “recreational”, would decrease. And that’s exactly what happened.
So drug preventions campaigns are useless?
No, they are useful but only relatively. But drugs consumption is not as related to marginalisation and social problems as it used to be.
It has become a cultural phenomenon and so as every cultural phenomenon its evolution is related to social circumstances, not to whatever we psychiatrists or the authorities say.
So prevention policies are useful to make people conscious on the way they take drugs, not on the fact that they use drugs or not.
But drugs consumption has become a cultural phenomenon and its evolution is independent of our policies.
For example, the increase of drugs use in Spain in the last decade is clearly related to an absurd social model: the irrational housing boom, to that era when we thought we were rich, the wild consumerism. The crisis has put that model upside down and also drug consumption.
So is the problem legislation that is too tolerant?
No, the Spanish law, even if it’s paradoxical, is the most advanced in Europe. We come from a dictatorship, but in the 1980s we decided to decriminalise consumption. This created many external critics in the UN, and from European countries. Then later the socialist government decided to fine consumption in public, and that was due to the international pressure.
The international drug policy is a chaos, because it’s a much politicised issue. We live in a very confusing situation because the current repressive model is obsolete.
Then why is it kept as it is?
Formally, it’s to defend public health, it’s the same reasons that in the beginning of the 20th Century. I think that it is a lie. It’s a “smokescreen”.
Policies – abroad, not in Spain — are based on repression and it doesn’t help public health.
What maybe happened in Spain is that the decriminalisation pushed up consumption. That is true. In theory the consumption increase can create a public health problem. But I think this should be analysed closely, there are many possibilities to regulate the different substances.
It seems sarcastic that we talk about decriminalisation of cannabis, when the cannabis is socially legalised in Spain for a very long time.
But people are fined for consuming drugs in public.
Formally, yes, but what percentage of those fined actually pay? Not many. Also they are sent to rehabilitation centres: that’s a joke. It’s okay for addicted drug users. It’s silly to take someone who uses drugs in a “recreational” way to a rehab centre. It’s useless.
Does it mean that I believe that cannabis should be legalised? No, but I believe there should be re-think, to seek a new solution. I don’t like the fact that people use cannabis but it doesn’t mean that I feel I have the right to ban it and even less to put people in jail.
Cannabis clubs proliferate because it’s the only solution that many people find. I’d prefer there to be less such clubs in Spain, of course, but I also would like there were less drunk people. The problem is how I manage to convince them.
We should focus in trying to convince people.
And how would you go about convincing them?
The problem isn’t faced in a rational way. For example: alcohol. We hear on and on that the age to start drinking alcohol is getting lower. But people of my generation used to drink at home when we were children! The only change is that now the young people start drinking among their equals because the family ties are weaker.
But they start younger using hard drugs like cocaine and ecstasy, that’s a fact.
But that’s not the problem. All right, the statistics may say that 9 percent of the underage population has tried cocaine once in their lives. All right, but it’s not a significant figure. As far as we know It’s an experimental consumption that will stop, and for most of them with no consequences.
The statistics may say they start before, yes, but it’s because the social model that they’re seeing everyday: the pleasure.
So what are, in a few words, the key problems concerning drugs in Spain?
First: Spain is an alcoholic society. Alcohol is enthroned and it’s at the centre of society.
Second: excessive consumption by young people imitate what adults do, so it’s difficult to fight against that.
Third: concerning cannabis, there is no an specific prevention strategy
Fourth: drugs have become a cultural “element” to the point that many people doesn’t understand leisure without them, and they exist to “occupy a space” in society and that is very difficult to solve.
And the solutions?
Look at the drugs problem objectively. Be realistic and start a social debate about it. Understand that it’s a social phenomenon that won’t just disappear by banning it.
But the Spanish Government has made it clear that it won’t change its position.
The governments act only after a social demand. In the 80s there were a huge social demand, demonstrations, and the government was obliged to legislate. Now there is not such a social alarm.
Does your foundation feel “alone” in fighting drug addiction?
No, we understand that there are difficulties, the government has other priorities. We have to diversify our activity, focusing on dialogue with young people and in education programmes.
In Cataluña there are dozens of cannabis consumers’ clubs, in Madrid very few. Is the decentralisation of Spanish authorities a problem for drug policies?
Actually it’s an advantage, because it allows more flexibility according to the territories but it’s true that it provokes other difficulties. It’s complicated.