Unregistered Drug Addicts and Cosmetic Amendments to the Law
Drug-addict S.G. is provided with various services at the Kutaisi office of the psycho-social center “New Way.” In addition to being a drug addict, he has hepatitis C. “Several months ago, I visited a dentist in Kutaisi. I told him I had hepatitis and he refused to treat me. I went to another dentist and did not tell him anything about my disease. The dentist treated me without asking anything about possible infections,” S.G told me.
Doctors are afraid that the risk of infecting healthy patients increases after having treated patients with Hepatitis C. Oftentimes, refusing service to infected patients is justified by the potential hazards to other patients' health. At the same time, studies show that sanitary standards are not met in most medical centers. Human rights defenders believe this breaches the rights of both infected and non-infected patients.
According to the constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO), “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The same constitution states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, and political belief, economic or social condition.”
Right to health is underlined in many international documents. According to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”
Naturally, international conventions and agreements are significant for our country too. First of all, however, the right to health should be ensured by national law. It is the authorities obligation to ensure the availability of an effective, high-quality health system to every citizen of the country. Article 37 of the Constitution of Georgia and laws and acts adopted by the Parliament of Georgia deal with health issues.
Article 4 of the Law of Georgia on Health Care lists those principles which guides state policy in the field of health care. Article 2 Paragraph 6 of this law states: “a patient shall not be discriminated on the grounds of his/her race, skin color, language, gender, religion, political or other affiliations, national, ethnic or social belonging, origin, social conditions and title in society, place of residence, disease, sexual orientation or personal negative attitude.”
The same law states that: “the right to health is inseparable from the rights to social, economic, civic and political rights.” In addition, medical care shall be available for everyone.
WHO has declared drug-addiction a disease and drug-addicts are thus diseased people. Many states in the world have worked out several methods for the treatment of drug-addicts. State programs fund their treatment. Besides rehabilitation, replacement therapy [where methadone is used to wean the addict off his/her addiction] is also a treatment method provided as a complement to existing services. In 2006, the Government of Georgia adopted the view of the WHO and declared drug addiction to be a disease and started offering replacement therapy to recovering drug addicts. Today, they plan to construct a rehabilitation center by Bazaleti Lake, but the government has not published any information on the project yet.
The Damage Reduction Network, part of the nongovernmental organization Urant and with financial support of the Open Society – Georgia Foundation, researched the barriers to access to replacement therapy. The head of Urant, narcologist Zurab Sikharulidze said the research showed that there drug addicts face serious barriers to join replacement therapy: “In society, there is a stigma attached to patients who participate in these programs. With regard to the law, however, there are more serious problems; for example employment [of former drug addicts]. Participants of the replacement therapy cannot obtain driver's licenses. The new law, which was discussed in Parliament for several years, did not change anything. I would like to underline that only cosmetic amendments were introduced in the law. In fact, the amendments dealt with substances that are not even on the Georgian market nowadays. I would also like to add that drug addicts do not have proper information about the therapy. "They actually believe it will drag them further into addiction "Specialists believe one of the most appropriate methods for fighting drug addiction is its decriminalization; coupled with effective medical treatment, drug addiction can be defeated.
In Georgia, doctors specializing in narcology are only available in bigger cities, and district hospitals are many years behind.
Another problem is that changes in the drug-market and the increased integration of the region into international drug trafficking networks have increased usage of other narcotic substances. All countries in the region, including Georgia, have moved from the usage of “relatively soft” plant narcotic substances [hemp], which were produced in the area over the last 20 years. Today, in most cases, heroin has replaced homemade narcotics (Jeff, vint, niangi). A drop in price has fuelled a problematic growth in drug addiction.
Drug addiction is believed to be one factor behind the spread of HIV infections. Statistics show that the number of HIV infected people increases yearly. Hepatitis B and C are not included in the statistics but specialists do not deny that there has been an increase here as well. The situation is complicated by the fact that a complete treatment of Hepatitis C costs anywhere from 12 000 to 17 000 lari (according to its severity). The state has not offered services to diseased patients. Moreover, no local insurance companies fund treatment of Hepatitis B and C.
Criminalization of drug addicts in Georgia is still underway. However, there is no evidence to prove that any such sanctions would encourage drug-addicts to quit their negative habit. Moreover, specialists believe that anyone could become addicted to a substance, that this addiction can turn into a disease, and that it thus should be treated.
Georgian law recognizes that “drug-addiction is a gross chronic disease, and a drug addict is a sick person.” It is noteworthy that the law does not mention any medicines or substances.
The head of the rehabilitation center “New Way”, psychologist Dali Urushadze said: “It is clear that drug addiction has an impact on almost every layer of society, including youths and adults. Thus, it is very important to solve this problem soon. Moreover, drug addicts should be given the opportunity to recover, rehabilitate and have access to any help they might need. Although it was their own decision to try narcotics and subsequently they became addicted to drugs, I would like to say that any addiction is a disease and needs treatment.”
On August 15, 2006 amendments were introduced to Article 45 of the Administrative Code of Georgia which significantly increased fines for drug addiction.
Statistical data is also very interesting. It might seem strange, but there is no official statistical data on drug addicts in Georgia. According to unofficial data, there are about 200 000 drug addicts in our country, ranging in age from 20 to 45. About 10% of them are female.
It is obvious that drug-addiction remains an acute problem in Georgia. The results of the fight against drug crimes in 2011 released by the Analytic Department of the MIA also prove this, showing that 8 015 persons were detained for drug-addiction in 2011. 1 043 of them used petrol-diazepam.
It is a fact that Georgian law contradicts itself when it declares drug addicts to be sick people and then goes on to punish them for this disease.