Ms. Dögg Pálsdóttir
Attorney, Chairman of the
Drug Free Iceland Task force

A Drug Free Iceland -
a Five-Year Project
Aims, Means and Achievements
 
An Address by Dögg Pálsdóttir
to the Conference of the European Cities Against Drugs
Reykjavik, Iceland
April 25, 2002

 

Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen

In December 1996 the Icelandic Government introduced a comprehensive Action Plan on the fight against tobacco, alcohol and drug use. The Action Plan recognized that the drug problem is a common and shared responsibility that requires an integrated and balanced approach. The Plan included a comprehensive Governmental Policy that was adopted at the same time.
With its Action Plan and Policy the Government pledged to eliminate the drug use of young people and to decrease drastically their use of alcohol and of tobacco. Towards the new millennium the focal points of the Policy were directed towards prevention, discouraging initial use of drugs, decrease of drug-related crimes, elimination of tolerance towards teenage drinking and early intervention strategies. Budgetary allocations to both customs and police were increased in order to strengthen their work against drug trafficking and distribution. The number of treatment facilities for teenagers abusing alcohol, drugs or both was increased and special focus was on outreach work for teenagers in high-risk groups.

* * *

One of the elements of the Action Plan was the project Drug-Free Iceland. The project was formally launched in February 1997. It was a co-operative effort by the Government of Iceland, the municipality of Reykjavík and the association European Cities Against Drugs. In 1998 the Union of Local Authorities in Iceland became partners in the project.
From the outset the project had a time-span of five years. Initially the name of the project was Drug-Free Iceland 2002. The name thus both referred to the timeframe and to the fact that the Government was serious in its extensive preventive efforts. Many criticized the name of the project, claiming it to be unrealistic and thus untrustworthy. The Task force directing the project felt that this discussion was hampering the work of the program and decided in 1998 to change the name to Drug-Free Iceland.
The aim of Drug-Free Iceland was to mobilize the Icelandic society as a whole and reach a nation-wide agreement on the ambitious goal of a drug-free Iceland. By launching specific activities and demand reduction strategies we planned to raise the public's consciousness about the hazards of teenage drinking and of the use of illegal drugs and thus receive active support at all levels regarding the measures that needed be taken.
Allow me to further elaborate on the methods we have used in our work during the last five-years.

  • We initiated and supported research work in this field in order to improve the effectiveness of the preventive work carried out. Furthermore, we started regular surveys to measure alcohol and drug use, especially among teenagers. Thus we obtained a better overview of the situation and followed the results of specific measures taken.
     
  • We co-operated with parents´ organizations, to raise parents' awareness of the dangers of teenage alcohol and drug use. We wanted to make parents aware of the importance of a close relationship between parents and teenagers, the amount of time they spend together and parental supervision. The importance of these relationships has been illustrated through extensive research work carried out among Icelandic teenagers and it is supported by research carried out in other countries.
     
  • We actively involved the teenagers themselves in the preventive work against drinking and drugs. We developed a dialogue with teenagers to get their views on what types of measures are most likely to reach them and influence their behaviour.
     
  • We focused on the special needs of youths who have become alcohol abusers, drug abusers or both by introducing alternative treatment methods.
     
  • We forged partnerships by collaborating with the various bodies, official and private, that work in the preventive field. I would like to mention parents, teachers, health professionals and youth and community organizations. Partnerships of this kind are essential if we are to reach our goal of eliminating drugs from our country.

* * *

Some claim that an effective preventive work in this field needs three main elements in order to succeed: Firstly, a firm policy adopted by both the Government and local authorities carrying the clear message that underage consumption of alcohol and the use of illegal drugs will not be tolerated and all measures will be taken to eliminate both. Secondly, an easy access to treatment facilities for addicts so that they can receive treatment as soon as possible. Thirdly, penal code provisions that give a clear message that import, distribution and selling of illegal drugs will be severely punished.
I believe that the Government's Action Plan adopted in late 1996 included all these elements. Its message was clear: Illegal drugs will not be tolerated. The Project Drug-Free Iceland was an important part of that message. We increased budgetary allocations to both police and customs and in the year 2001 we increased the maximum penalty for the smuggling of drugs from 10 to 12 years in prison.

* * *

The five years are now over. The project Drug-Free Iceland has run its course and was officially closed as such on March 1st. The Task force is now compiling a final report to be published no later than June 1st.
At this junction the question is: Was something achieved by the work carried out by this project and if that is the case what are these achievements?
The frustrating aspect of all preventive work is that we can never with certainty claim that possible positive trends are the result of our work. Furthermore, we can never with certainty claim that the situation would have been different without the preventive interventions carried out by a project.
However, it was decided in the beginning that the project Drug-Free Iceland would be evaluated, bearing in mind the limitations of such an evaluation. We wanted an evaluation in order to learn from this experience and thus make it possible to increase the effectiveness of future preventive work in this field.
At the March 1st conference that marked the formal closing of the Drug-Free Iceland project as such, an evaluation was introduced. I would like to share with you some of the main findings of that evaluation.
Let me begin with the main negative aspects of the evaluation. The evaluation claims that the project was too focused on teenagers, that the project lacked a clear definition and that it was not visible enough.
Let's then move to the positive aspects.

  • One of the project's goals was to increase awareness of alcohol and drug abuse of teenagers. The evaluation shows that over 86% of the population had heard of the project Drug-Free Iceland and close to 60% believe that it was effective in the fight against drug. It is pointed out in the evaluation that the slogan Drug-Free Iceland is consequently very valuable and of importance to continue to use it in future preventive work in this field. The evaluation further stresses that discussion on prevention and drugs had increased considerably due to the project.
     
  • One of the project's goals was to increase parents' awareness of the importance of their parenting role. The evaluation indicates that parents have become more aware of their responsibilities in this respect. Parents show stricter attitudes in this regard in 2002 than they did in 1997 and there are indications that they are taking their parenting role more seriously now than five years ago.
     
  • Among the project's goals were plans to initiate various new preventive efforts and to have others carry them out, to increase co-operation between the various organizations and sectors working in the preventive field and to strengthen research. All these goals were met as they are especially recognized in the evaluation among the project's achievements.

On behalf of the members of the Task force I can honestly tell you that we are very content with this evaluation. We feel that it indicates very clearly that many of our most important goals were achieved by the work carried out.

* * *

I believe that the evaluation of Drug-Free Iceland illustrates that for the main part the project was a strong success. It was a daring project to launch nation-wide. Former Minister of Justice Þorsteinn Pálsson and Mayor Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir should be applauded for the courage and determination they showed when they proposed and got acceptance for this project. The evaluation illustrates that they were right in pushing this project forward and supporting it so strongly.
The idea of Drug-Free Iceland was born during a discussion between participants from Reykjavík and ECAD-officials at an ECAD-meeting in 1996. ECAD is to be commended for its part in Drug-Free Iceland. I would like to use this opportunity to sincerely thank the leaders of ECAD for their strong support and their participation in the project. We very much appreciate your help and your effort.
Many others should receive thanks for their part in the success story of Drug-Free Iceland. I will only mention one. Snjólaug Stefánsdóttir became Project Manager of Drug-Free Iceland as soon as the project was launched. For the last five years she has been tireless in her work for the project and totally dedicated to making it a success. Thank you, Snjólaug.

* * *

Chairman, ladies and gentlemen.
Drug-Free Iceland was a five-year project that has now come to a close. However, the fight against illegal drugs is a never-ending story. The Task force of Drug-Free Iceland is dedicated to doing everything in its power to make certain that the preventive efforts launched by the project will continue.
Thank you.

 
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