Turkey is continuing a struggle against the problem of drug addiction, which although minor compared to regional neighbors, is still a priority for the government seeking to keep more from falling victim to addiction.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş, speaking yesterday in Ankara before a meeting of the High Council for the Struggle Against Drugs, which brings together cabinet ministers for coordination on the issue, said the government was working on amending laws to help fight addiction.
Kurtulmuş said proposed amendments would allow addicts to seek rehabilitation treatment without having to reveal their identities, citing that this obligation deterred many addicts. He was referring to a motion to revoke two articles in the Turkish Penal Code, which as they stand, require public officials and healthcare workers to inform law enforcement if they are aware of drug addicts.
Another landmark initiative to help addicts to kick addiction and adapt to their former lives is to provide health benefits, even if they do not have insurance.
Kurtulmuş said the fight against drugs was a social crisis, one in which all countries have to engage. "It is vital for governments to tackle, and we see anti-drug efforts as important as anti-terrorism efforts, since it is in the interest of our society," he said.
The deputy prime minister said it was important to keep youth vigilant against drugs and keep them from falling into the trap of taking drugs through pre-emptive measures. "One of the most important angles of our counter-narcotics fight is helping our youth succumbed to drug addiction. It is easy to blame people or judge them but it is the state's duty to try to understand the needs of our addicted brothers and sisters, and to save them from addiction," he said.
He said that another motion in the works to amend laws was for health benefits for drug addicts seeking treatment. "The majority of addicts unfortunately have a low-income background, and they have difficulty in covering their health expenses if they don't have social security insurance," said Kurtulmuş.
The government adopted an action plan in 2014 to boost the country's efforts against drug abuse. The plan was drafted in cooperation with nongovernmental organizations, to pursue a more effective policy against drugs, which in Turkey are abused by approximately 2.7 percent of the population.
The Rapid Action Plan Against Drugs covers all aspects of the struggle against narcotics, from raising awareness of their dangers and curbing demand, to the rehabilitation and treatment of addicts through facilitating social inclusion. The action plan focuses on an awareness campaign and more effective law enforcement measures. This paved the way for the establishment of "narcoteams," specialized police units active in neighborhoods where drug sales are concentrated. The Turkish National Police established a new department for counter-narcotics efforts, which is tasked both with fighting drug dealing and helping addicts. The police will also set up liaison offices in 28 countries for counter-narcotics activities. New security units were also deployed on the borders for efficient search for smuggled drugs.
As part of the awareness campaign, the government has reached out to 10 million people, particularly students and their parents, about the dangers of drug abuse. A hotline was also set up for consultation to drug addicts and concerned parents, offering advice on how to detect drug addicts and how to help them.
Turkey has increased the capacity of clinics to treat addicts as part of the plan. New clinics have opened since the plan was implemented, and more clinics are planned in the near future.
Turkey also increased prison terms for drug-related crimes. Drug production or smuggling now carries a minimum prison term of 20 years, while marijuana cultivation carries a sentence of at least four years in prison. Penalties will be increased for the sale of drugs at schools and dormitories, through increased prison terms under new amendments.
Numan Kurtulmuş said the government also mulled a new regulation for prizes for "narcoteams" for each captured and convicted drug dealer. He said the "narcoteams" are one of the most successful aspects of the action plan, and arrests and detentions had increased sixty percent in drug-related crimes since the deployment of these teams in 29 cities, which "covers 78 percent of the risk map for drug addiction."