From Iceland — Addiction Cente Director Believes Criminalisation Bad For Addicts

Addiction Cente Director Believes Criminalisation Bad For Addicts

Published August 15, 2011

The director of the National Centre of Addiction Medicine believes that the criminalisation of drugs has been a detriment to addicts, and has also led to a false sense of safety regarding alcohol.
Gunnar Smári Egilsson, in a column he wrote on the organisation’s website, says in part:

Most people have figured out that the criminalisation of selling drugs has caused unnecessary damage for the addict and for society as a whole. Because of criminalisation, we lock the addict up in jail – we are concerned with the symptoms of the problem, but not the cause.

He adds that the medical profession does this as well, avoiding the core of what makes an addict become addicted, and dealing instead with health problems related to addiction.
But this is not to say Gunnar believes only illegal substances are harmful. When moving to the subject of alcohol, he says:

The criminalisation of drug use can fool us into believing that the alcohol shops are natural and accepted because they’re not illegal. … And if we do not feel like taking a moral position on the practice of selling intoxicants, but let our half-baked position stand, then we condemn the marijuana dealer but appoint the pub owner onto a committee to decide on an alcohol policy for young people!

His criticism of pub owners, believing they are complicit in Iceland’s alcohol problem, extends this to his own experience in working with rehab centres in Iceland. The data he has put together indicates, among other things:

If we put together data over the last ten years on the alcohol use of people admitted to [rehab centre] Vogur, we have about 28% of the country’s total alcohol consumption. About 6% of those older than 15 drink about one-forth this amount. And if we assume that 2/3 of patients come to Vogur – with others going elsewhere, or not coming to Vogur because of alcohol, or not seeking treatment at all – we can see that 10% of the country is responsible for 40% of the country’s total consumption.

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