Saturday 22 June 2024

The connection between crime and drug addiction

This column first appeared in Malta Today

During a cursory look at the headlines this week, I noticed (not for the first time) that quite a number of news reports were linked to drugs.

On Tuesday, a 46-year-old man from Lija was charged with assaulted his 80-year-old mother while under the effects of drugs. The man’s parents testified that they were afraid of him and did not want him inside their house

On Wednesday, a 52-year-old woman from Serbia, who is an architect, was charged with stealing 3 vases and a clock from the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta, which are valued at €13,000. She was employed as a project manager with the restoration company commissioned to carry out the restoration works which gave her access throughout the palace. In Court it was revealed that she has a drug addiction.

Also on Wednesday, a man from Bormla was charged with a series of six thefts from cars in Paola, Bormla and Zabbar to sustain his drug habit. 

On Thursday there were a flurry of headlines all in one day

•    The Labour Deputy Mayor of Pembroke was charged with threatening his mother “during a drug-fuelled rage.”

•   Three men were arrested on suspicion of trafficking heroin in Swatar.

•   A 16-year-old girl, along with four young men, was charged with stealing her father’s Porsche SUV, in order to sell it for drugs. The young men were also charged with violent robbery of a bakery and the attempted hold-ups of several shops. 

•   An-18-year-old was charged with sexually harassing his ex-girlfriend and after a police search of his home, was found to be in possession of drugs.

The headlines continued on Friday:

•   Father and teenage sons were arraigned on drug charges after 100 sachets of illegal substances found in their car
•   Man charged with trafficking heroin after car chase arrest

When such news reports emerge one after the other like this, day after day, within less than a week, it starts to feel like an epidemic. It is a sobering and scary thought that there are so many people who are hooked on drugs all around us, including those who are in roles and professions where you might least expect it. It makes you wonder how many are blithely driving around, high out of their minds, and how many incidents where people flip and violently lash out at others for seemingly no reason are in fact due to substance or alcohol abuse.

The ever increasing drug culture is a scourge on the country not only because it devastates the person who becomes a slave to their addiction, but because of the ripple effect which it has on every part of society. It destroys family relationships as the addict resorts to stealing from parents and becoming violent if they do not get their way. Marriages are irretrievably broken and children are deprived of a normal upbringing and in worst case scenarios even end up in foster care. When the money dries up, addicts turn to stealing from anywhere they can, as long as they can get their hands on cash to buy more drugs. These crimes also often turn violent with horrific injuries to the victims. Let us not even begin to mention the many car accidents which have led to people being maimed and killed because someone got behind the wheel while they are off their head on drugs or booze.

And while it is true that all the above headlines mean that the culprits were caught and charged, it is still not enough to reassure the public because it feels very much like these cases are just the tip of the iceberg. For every person who is caught and brought to justice, there are so many who are still roaming around, driving, stealing and going to work while getting physically violent behind closed doors and living an ostensibly ‘’normal” life because they are not reported…until they make one mistake too many. But the trail of destruction they leave behind does not end when they are caught because it is their victims and their families who have to pick up the pieces.

Of course there are success stories of people who go through rehab and come out on the other side to start afresh, but it is disheartening to read how many are in fact relapsers who just go back to their old lives despite being given second chances. Meanwhile it is common knowledge that our prisons are bursting at the seams ….in fact I’m surprised we haven’t yet built another prison to house all these people who are sentenced to jail.

The new drug policy launched in June of last year mentioned random drug testing for drivers but as far as I know this legislation has still not been passed. I’m not sure what exactly they are waiting for.

We are becoming an increasingly angry nation

Road rage, a passenger screaming abuse at a driver for not stopping, a car driver smashing a bus door because the bus could not reverse – these and other examples which are often captured on video – are testament to a nation which is growing increasingly angry.

Whether it is due to over-population, the horrendous daily traffic or the seething resentment against “all these foreigners”, it is getting steadily worse. Either the powers that be are completely oblivious or else they are afraid to address it because addressing it would mean actually having to do something which will upset the status quo. And currently, the status quo is allowing more people to enter the country without a job who start looking for one when they arrive because the word on the street is that there are plenty of jobs in Malta, and work permits are relatively easy to obtain. These same hapless workers are then mercilessly exploited by everyone they meet as we know all too well from the harrowing stories which circulate on social media.

Unless this issue is tackled head on by those running the country, we had better prepare ourselves for more people lashing out at complete strangers out of sheer frustration. The problem is not going to magically go away and no amount of rhetoric about ‘a booming economy’ will cancel out the fact that temperatures are rising ….and it is not even summer yet.