Saturday, 3 May 2008

Decriminalisation of drug users in Armenia

ArmeniaNow reports that “a new amendment to Armenia’s Criminal Code will reduce illegal drug use and possession to a civil crime rather than a felony. If the amendment goes into force (the amendment was approved by first reading in National Assembly on February 28) drug abusers will be subject to administrative fine – an amount in 200 to 400 minimal salaries (from 200,000 to 400,000 drams-$645-$1,290) instead of the current two month imprisonment.”

I principally welcome any move which would lead to decriminalisation of drug users in Armenia. Indeed, as agreed by most experts and medical profession, drug using should not be considered a crime but rather a condition which needs to be treated and tackled via social means (social marketing, public awareness/education campaigns and so on).

However, to impose such hefty fines on drug users not only will do little to solve the problem but may potentially turn things worse, as mentioned in ArmeniaNow report too. Knowing our realities, it would most certainly lead to increase in corruption and bribery when ‘caught’ drug users would prefer paying much smaller bribes to avoid being tried for, even if for a “civil crime” (exactly the way that most of them do now to avoid criminal proceedings).


Cure or Crime?: Armenian lawmakers revise punishment for drug abusers

By Naira Bulghadaryan
ArmeniaNow Vanadzor reporter
Published: 02 May, 2008


A new amendment to Armenia’s Criminal Code will reduce illegal drug use and possession to a civil crime rather than a felony.

If the amendment goes into force (the amendment was approved by first reading in National Assembly on February 28) drug abusers will be subject to administrative fine – an amount in 200 to 400 minimal salaries (from 200,000 to 400,000 drams-$645-$1,290) instead of the current two month imprisonment.

But the changes that were assumed to be considered as relief for drug abusers are not welcomed by those against whom they are aimed.

“One should be treated, instead of being imprisoned or fined for suffering an illness. Drug addiction is just an illness not a crime,” says a former drug addict in Vanadzor.

The 45-year old man says he has been clean for seven years, after many year of abuse of intravenous injection.

“My children were growing up and I, concerned with their future, gathered all my will and stopped it,” he says. He first tried drugs at age 26, when he used to work in a medical institution and had access.

Now the former user is an expert at the Needle Exchange Program of the Armenian Red Cross Company. Many times he has faced temptations during the work but says he has managed to show willpower to help 4-5 of his drug addict friends get rid of the habit.

“Let them fine those who just tried it,” the former user says. “If a person already has an addiction, it’s an illness already, so punishing is not right.”

The World Health Organization says 9,000 people have been registered in Armenia only in 2006 as using drugs by intravenous injection. The total number of drug addicts in Armenia is believed to be 140,000, most of whom use marijuana.

Arshak Dallakyan, a Vanadzor based doctor and drug expert believes the replacement of criminal persecution with an administrative fine for use of drugs is a strict measure.

“Those huge fines will make their situation even harder,” Dallakyan says, adding that addicts cannot afford to pay such steep fines. He worries that this will lead to abusers turning to bribes to pay off police rather than face prosecution.

Rights activist Artur Sakunts, coordinator of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly of Vanadzor believes drug addicts will prefer to appear in prison rather than pay a huge fine.

Sakunts says for years his organization has provided legal advice to drug users in Vanadzor, where according to him there are about 1,000 people using drugs.

Sakunts has prepared a guide for suspected drug users or dealers, the first in Armenia.

A survey of 53 addicts in Vanadzor found that most first tried drugs while working abroad. At present there are 50 drug users registered at the psychological and neurological clinic of the Lori province. Gayane Kalantaryan, senior doctor at the clinic says annually 5 people come to the clinic to get treatment.

*photo - via ArmeniaNow

3 comments:

Onnik Krikorian said...

I wonder if there's any provision for not having hospitals report drug users who seek medical treatment to the police. Until now they've apparently had to which obviously prevents drug users (and I mean injecting drug users because it's just ridiculous to even consider cannabis in the same way) from seeking help. This creates additional problems in terms of HIV/STD prevention.

Anyway, a welcome move although yes, I'm sure there will be problems in its implementation. Let's just hope not many.

artmika said...

That's very big problem ("reporting to police"), Onnik, which explains those rediculously small numbers of drug users who come to clinics to get treatment: "annually 5 people come to the clinic [in Vanadzor, 3rd city in Armenia] to get treatment".

This makes any potential prevention and treatment programmes ineffective on public health level. This is true for other 'police-sensitive' cases too when - for exactly that "reporting" reasons - many avoid seeking help in medical/health institutions preferring no treatment, private treatment or self-treatment. This situation has to change.

Onnik Krikorian said...

I'd also hope that someone will launch a public awareness campaign not only to alert people to the changes, but also to change the mentality and stigma associated with drug use. Yes, that stigma exists elsewhere, but it's even worse in countries such as Armenia and one also images that prevents drug users from making themselves known too.