Ladies and Gentlemen
It is both an honour and a pleasure for me to be able to speak to you here today and make my contribution to the fight against drugs. I should like to take this opportunity of welcoming our guests from overseas to this conference and to our country. I hope your stay here will be both profitable and enjoyable.
What is no less important is that states should exchange ideas on ways to tackle other aspects of the drug problem and share their experience, for example regarding ways of reducing the harmful social effects of drug abuse, methods of prevention and approaches to rehabilitation. Regarding international involvement in this area, I should mention that Iceland has joined the Council of Europe's Pompidou programme. This is a broadly-based co-operative forum that addresses all aspects of the drug problem. My hope is that our work with the other states in the Pompidou programme will be of great benefit to the Icelandic authorities in all fields: policing, social affairs and the health services. Experts in these three main fields, which are most affected by drug-related problems, must be involved in evolving a co-ordinated policy on how the authorities can best deal with the drug threat.
I would also like to stress the importance of co-operation between the police and the local communities, especially concerning prevention. As an example of this approach I would like to mention a new initiative which will be introduced later today. I will formally sign an agreement between the police and the second biggest town in Iceland, Kópavogur, on co-operation in the field of prevention against drug abuse. The agreement will guarantee much closer co-operation and hopefully better results.
On the question of policy in combating drugs, giving policy in resources to the police and the customs authorities is an effective way of clamping down on the import and sale of dangerous substances. In accordance with Icelandic government policy, the number of police and customs officers has been increased, their working facilities and technical resources have been upgraded and they have received additional training, both at the Police College and with the assistance of police officers from the USA and European countries. The Narcotics Division of the Reykjavik Police has been expanded, with staff being added both to the division's team of detectives and to the police involved in special on-the-street surveillance. More customs inspection officers have also been put on duty at points of entry into the country, for example, at Keflavik Airport. Police operations directed at the drug problem have also been stepped up in the rural areas. Special police involved both in investigations and preventive work are posted with the local police forces all around the country. They work closely together in a number of ways, and this arrangement has produced very good results.
The number of policemen dealing specifically with the drug problem has more than doubled over the past five years. I should also mention that sniffer dogs have been added to the rural police forces, and there are now far more of these dogs in the country than there were five years ago. All this represents a considerable upgrading of anti-drug policing in Iceland in recent years.
The police have achieved great successes in the wake of these improvements and structural changes, and a lot of drug-smuggling operations have been uncovered and investigated, as has been reported in the media. Greater quantities of drugs have been confiscated in recent months than ever before, and on the basis of their surveys of market prices, the police believe they have succeeded in keeping the supply of drugs in check.
But there are many other aspects of the problem that must be borne in mind in connection with policymaking The Icelandic authorities have recently been giving more attention to the question of how best to use the time that offenders spend in prison to help them to break free of their addiction, whether this is to drugs or alcohol. The fact is that many types of crime are the related to drug or alcohol abuse, and many white-collar crimes are committed by drug addicts as a way of financing their expensive addictions.
It can be taken for granted that a drug addict who receives no help or encouragement to shake off his addiction to drugs while serving a prison sentence will run a high risk of becoming ensnared in crime once again after he is released. This means he has no hope of going straight and will be caught in a vicious circle of repeated offences and spells in prison. It is also an unfortunate fact that drugs make their way into the prisons, with the result that offenders continue to abuse drugs during their sentences.
This situation calls for urgent action, and I aim to see to it that it receives attention.
There has been a turn of the tide in preventive work against drugs in recent years, not least in connection with the "Iceland Without Drugs" programme and the establishment of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Council and the Drug Abuse Prevention Fund, which has done good work. Obviously, success will depend on whether or not we manage to bring about a systematic reduction in the demand for drugs. For this reason, we must regard it as our priority to apply a wider range of preventive measures and treatment opportunities, and this is something we must give more attention to in the years ahead.
A lot more has been done recently to research and document the extent of the drug problem, including an examination of the situation among schoolchildren in the final years of compulsory schooling. Surveys have shown that smoking, drinking and cannabis consumption by teenagers have been on the decline in the past few years. In my view, this is a clear indication that the measures we have taken to combat drug abuse over the past five years have produced significant results.
We sometimes hear the pessimistic view that the battle has already been lost. Those who believe this point out that when all is said and done, drug abuse is still a common and serious problem throughout society. Admittedly, the abuse of various substances is a common problem in Iceland, and no final victory is in sight. However, this criticism is of very limited value, and does not justify giving up the struggle.
We can ask ourselves these questions: How would things be now if drugs had been allowed to pour into the country without any resistance, and if nothing had been done to warn people about the dangers of addiction? Where would we be now if nothing had been done to build up the police drug squads, to provide more treatment facilities and to increase preventive action? Those who find fault with the situation as it is today and call for a change of policy must first answer these questions and then explain what would have been gained by following the opposite policy.
Over the past few years the Icelandic government has been deliberately working to step up the fight against drugs on all fronts, and there are clear indications that these efforts are producing results.
Firstly, the police have achieved visible successes and are more active. Secondly, drug and alcohol abuse by children of school age appears to be on the decline. And last but not least, it should be pointed out that so far no cases of heroin abuse have been known in Iceland. Heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs, and its abuse has been becoming steadily more of a problem in some of our neighbouring countries.
To some extent, it is reasonable to attribute these successes to the government's policy and the measures it has taken, both as regards preventive action and law enforcement.
Considering the prospects for the future, I believe we have used the past few years to lay down a firm foundation for action against drugs. Our future vision must be of an Iceland without drugs. We cannot accept the view that that drugs should be a part of our world, and we do not intend to give an inch in the struggle against them.
Finally, I should like to thank all those involved in organising this conference. The fight against drugs is one in which people all over the whole world are involved, and a conference like this one gives us a good opportunity to harmonise ,our efforts and make plans for the next move in the campaign. We must not rest on our laurels.