What about a National Task Force/Framework for alcoholism?

By TP Saran

“Just as there is a National Policing Strategic Framework and a Framework for Tobacco control, it has become imperative to have a similar Framework for Alcohol Control. This issue deserves a PQ, or perhaps even a PNQ. We hope that some parliamentarian will dare make the leap…”

Two weeks ago the Prime Minister answered a parliamentary question (PQ) on drug control, and his answer outlined some of the measures adopted by ADSU in dealing with the local drugs problem.

These include: increased patrols by ADSU personnel with the support of the local CID, the Divisional Support Unit and the ERS; regular targeted stop and search operations; crack down/joint operations against drug traffickers with the support of other units of the Force, such as the SSU and the SMF, whenever reliable information is received; intensive surveillance over high profile drug targets and their movements monitored by ADSU officers; increased raids and searches at the premises of suspected drug dealers/traffickers and their facilitators; and drug mapping carried out where drug transactions, drug traffickers, pedlars and addicts are located to formulate specific strategies to deal with the problem in each region.

He went on to state that since the launching of the National Policing Strategic Framework in February 2010, much emphasis is laid on prevention whereby the Police work in close collaboration with various stakeholders, including ministries and NGOs to sensitize population through campaigns. ADSU Officers participate in seminars, workshops, and meetings in the region. The grievances of members of the public are captured through Community Policing Forums, and remedial actions are taken, accordingly. Since January 2010, 243 Community Policing Forums were conducted in Constituency No. 20.

Last Tuesday, again the PM answered a PQ about two new types of illicit drugs known as Magic and Ben Laden in response to a PQ put by Mr Ameer Meeah. He cited the Commissioner of Police and the MRA to affirm that there was no evidence of such new drugs being on the drug market, and that it was quite common for drug addicts to use their own jargon and attribute nicknames/codes when referring to dangerous drugs with a higher percentage of purity.

On the same day, the Minister of Health and Quality of Life was called to answer a PQ about Methadone Substitution Therapy being carried out for people who inject drugs. The Minister gave a detailed reply about the findings of an evaluation report carried out by Australian experts, which overall rated the programme a success, and also outlined the multitude of measures already implemented and those planned for the future.

There is no doubt that the drug problem is a major one in Mauritius and indeed worldwide, and it is quite correct for parliamentarians to take an interest in its control. However, drugs concern a minority of people, whereas alcoholism affects hundreds of thousands of our compatriots. According to the website of the Anti-Drug Smuggling Unit (ADSU), ‘The consumption of alcoholic drinks is also a matter of concern as its abuse is presently noted at different levels of the society and is a cause of havoc among families and neighbours.’

We have deliberately highlighted in bold the statement ‘havoc among families and neighbours’ because this is precisely what is happening around the country, affecting all communities and all social strata.

It is a fact of daily life that alcohol abuse is rife in Mauritius and is destroying whole families and neighbourhoods. Everyday the media report cases of drunk driving leading which are invariably associated with fatalities and crippling injuries, and often involving the young in particular; of drunken brawls in tavernes all over the place, leading to fatal injuries caused by stabbing with sharp instruments or broken bottles; of family disputes, often between drunken spouses or an overbearing, abusive alcoholic husband, under the very eyes of their children – and the list goes on.

It is a wonder why parliamentarians do not seem to be as concerned with this much commoner scourge of widespread alcoholism and focus their attention on illicit drugs which affect a lesser number of people. Is it because the latter have stronger lobbies and there is more money involved? If only they gave at least equal attention to the issue of alcohol abuse in society, which is creating more extensive damage, and if only the government devoted a fraction of the resources it spent on illicit drug control to lead a similar campaign against alcohol abuse, that would no doubt go a long way to stem the problem. More so as alcohol, like tobacco, is socially acceptable and therefore perceived to be less of a problem – which it is not; in fact the statistics, including those relating to health, show quite the opposite.

In the same manner that the government has passed legislation about tobacco within the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, it high time that it came up with a similar framework on alcohol. This has become an urgent task, and any further delay in getting on with it will only result in the continuing destruction of the social fabric, starting even at school level, meaning affecting adolescents who are our future adults.

Just as there is a National Policing Strategic Framework and a Framework for Tobacco control, it has become imperative to have a similar Framework for Alcohol Control. This issue deserves a PQ, or perhaps even a PNQ. We hope that some parliamentarian will dare make the leap.

* Published in print edition on 13 July 2012

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