Do addicts deserve punishment?

Page 'PK no. 225/1997 '

Vienna (PK) - In today's plenary debate, the National Council is focusing on the new Addictive Substances Act, with which the principle of "therapy instead of punishment" through psychotherapeutic and psychosocial counseling and care alongside medical treatment and control is to gain more force . Pain therapy, but also withdrawal and substitution treatment, are now legally anchored. Just as the legislature generally regards health-related measures instead of the obligation to notify in the case of minor drug offenses, imposition or continuation of pre-trial detention or penal execution as a more salutary means in the fight against drugs. In the case of first-time cannabis offenders, the public prosecutor's office can suspend further prosecution measures for a probation period of five years. On the other hand, the possession and consumption of hashish remains a criminal offense, and drug trafficking is subject to stricter penalties under the new law. The regulations on psychotropic substances and precursor substances in the present drug law now enable Austria to accede to the two UN conventions from 1971 and 1988.

There are two short debates on today's agenda: for the L motion 210 / A to amend the Genetic Engineering Act, a deadline of 14 May for committee reporting, for the F resolution motion 152 / A (E) on the inclusion of Negotiations with the contracting parties to the North Atlantic Treaty on Austria's accession to the NATO treaty demanded a deadline of July 4th.

The Liberals apply for a committee of inquiry to be set up in connection with the Kurdish murders in Vienna. The political responsibility of the federal government (in particular the foreign, interior and justice ministers) as well as suspected illegal influence by political officials in connection with the investigation into the murders of Abdullah Chaden, Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou and Fadel Rasoul on July 13th should be examined. 1989 and the persecution of three urgently suspected of this act, who were able to leave Austria unmolested despite the existence of clear evidence. Debate and vote take place after the agenda has been dealt with.



Deputy Dr. OFNER (F) points out the increasing consumption of narcotic drugs and states that those responsible do not have the drug problem under control in the least. Against this background, the present law is merely bogus humanity. Even the drug law from the time of the Little Coalition that was in force up to now was based on the premise of "therapy instead of punishment", recalls Ofner. However, experience has shown that this system simply does not work.

In practice, drug traffickers exploit the rules as the mere claim of being an addict protects against punishment. However, there are no therapy places for those who are actually addicts and want to be treated. The consequence of these experiences should be "therapy plus security" and not "therapy instead of punishment", demands Ofner. The main interest should therefore be those who are not yet addicted, dealers would have to be withdrawn from circulation. That is why Ofner demands the compulsory imposition of pre-trial detention as well as the sentencing to unconditional imprisonment for drug offenses. Any relaxation of drug laws is out of place, especially in the interest of young people.

In addition, Ofner requests that the government bill be referred back to the Health Committee.

Deputy Mag. GUGGENBERGER (SP) describes the law as a sensible balance between health and social policy assistance on the one hand and criminal policy measures on the other. Austria has done better on this path than other states that have taken extreme positions in the direction of repression or laissez-faire. The fight must be waged against commercial drug dealers, but not against addicts, emphasizes Guggenberger.

The speaker also speaks out against the trivialization and release of cannabis and gives a clear rejection of demands by the Greens and the Liberals in this regard. Regarding the range of therapies, he believes that countries should also "roll up their sleeves" in this area.

MP MOTTER (L): Drug addiction cannot be combined solely by means of criminal law. Criminalization stands in the way of drug therapy and assigns the police and the judiciary to tasks that they cannot solve. Motter supports the principle of "therapy instead of punishment", but rejects the law because, in their opinion, it is too strongly repressive. In particular, she criticizes the fact that the financing of the therapy places is not secured, especially since the focus is primarily on the costs of the measures.

Motter urged a controlled release of cannabis and brought forward a motion for a resolution on this. The dangerousness of hashish is not in its substance, but in its criminalization, she argues. In another application, Motter, together with the Greens, demands the unrestricted use of cannabis in pain therapy.

Deputy Dr. LEINER (VP) speaks out against the liberalization of drugs, but in favor of further decriminalization of addicts. Drug addicts should be treated like sick people. Those who do their business with this disease should meet the full severity of the law, says Leiner, underpinning his point of view. Drug prevention and drug rehabilitation are also important to him. In Leiner's opinion, the present law strikes a reasonable middle path between the extreme positions of complete drug release and total drug repression. He also welcomes the now better possibilities for the use of drugs in pain therapy.

MEP HAIDLMAYR (G) fears that the law will not be able to fulfill the principle of "therapy instead of punishment" because the necessary framework conditions are lacking in practice. Therapy places are not available in sufficient numbers, drug addicts are often deported to psychiatry, and according to the wording of the legal text, the focus of therapy is also the cost factor and not the quality.

The government is only interested in continuing to criminalize drug addicts, criticizes Haidlmayr, who calls for the state to dispense heroin to addicts in pharmacies and, in a motion for a resolution, advocates the liberalization of cannabis for personal use and for use in medicine. Hashish isn't nearly as harmful as alcohol or tobacco, she says. In her view, releasing cannabis could reduce drug-related crime and prevent the switch to hard drugs.

Federal Minister HOSTASCH opposes the opinion of the FPÖ that "therapy instead of punishment" does not work. Studies have shown that the relapse rate drops after drug therapy measures. Locking up as an alternative, on the other hand, would only create more addiction, says Hostasch. The minister is also calling for strict measures to be taken against organized drug traffickers while at the same time expanding the range of therapies for addicts. Overall, she expects the law to improve health-related measures, provide greater protection for young people from fashion drugs, and provide better legal anchoring for pain therapy.

Deputy Dr. FUHRMANN (SP) sees the drug problem primarily as addressing health policy, but believes that it is still not possible to do without criminal law in this area. Contrary to the opinion of MP Ofner, he was of the opinion that a tightening of criminal law had been enforced in the area in question. He also reiterates the concern that all young people should be protected from dealers.

Deputy Dr. PUMBERGER (F) is outraged that the previous speaker made a plea for "criminals like Tony Wegas". The Austrian drug policy had failed, and this law was yet another testimony to this. The legal framework is not in a position to reduce the number of drug users, curb acquisitive crime and cope with the skyrocketing number of criminal offenses. This policy is one of belittling and continues to deliver Austria's youth to the risk of drugs. The Freedom Party did not go along the path of liberalization. They are calling for a drug policy that begins with counseling students, increases drug searches and does not improve the position of drug criminals over other criminals.

Deputy Dr. RASINGER (VP) thinks that the aim of his group is a drug-free society, which this law aims to achieve. Ofner's way of "Law and Order" is a sham solution, as the USA shows, while MP Haidlmayr's course goes to the other extreme. The release of drugs would result in a massive increase in consumption. The Austrian course, which is based on four pillars - prevention, repression, therapy and substitution treatment - guarantees the best possible results in the long term.

Deputy Dr. PUMBERGER (F) actually corrects that it is legally possible to use heroin as a substitute drug.

MPs Dr. GREDLER (L) speaks of promising therapeutic methods, such as those used in Switzerland, which Austria should follow up and also put into practice. The speaker advocates a separation of the milieu and suggests that substances such as cannabis that are not entry-level drugs should be exempted from the Addictive Substances Act and released in a controlled manner in order to prevent criminal access.

MP ONODI (SP) goes into the therapeutic aspects of the bill and explains that appropriate measures are taken to ensure that the therapy is always up to date. Onodi brings in an amendment, which on the one hand has citation changes and on the other hand the inclusion of the customs guard instead of the closest security guard to the content.

Federal Minister Dr. MICHALEK says at the outset that in the field of narcotic drugs there is always a need for medical measures in addition to criminal measures. This is also the basis of the drug law at hand, in which the principle of "therapy instead of punishment" is further developed. The criminal law should take a step back where drug addicts were driven to minor property crimes or falsification of prescriptions by their addiction. Of course, the mere assertion of being an addict cannot suffice, since appropriate medical certificates are required. In general, it could be said: the addict needs help, the dealer deserves punishment. The bill was shaped by this principle, affirmed the minister, that the previous dual strategy had been thoroughly successful and that it would therefore be pursued further. (Continuation)