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Network of Support For Addicts In Czech Regions Is Insufficient, Says Drug Policy Coordinator

The current network of addiction services is at risk without a rise in funding. Photo credit: Freepik.

Prague, Mar 6 (CTK) – The network of services to help those addicted to alcohol, tobacco and gambling is not sufficient in Czech regions, and they are thus finding it difficult to access care, national drug policy coordinator Jindrich Voboril told reporters yesterday after a meeting of the Government Council for Drug Policy Coordination.

He added that even the current network of services is at risk without a rise in funding.

The government council was debating the annual report on the state of regional addiction support networks in 2021.

Voboril also told CTK yesterday that by the end of this month, he is hoping to submit a draft three-year plan to the government for the fight against addiction. The document outlines five priorities. Along with prevention and treatment, these include changes to taxation, the introduction of a controlled hemp market, and promotion of the approach at an EU level to mitigate the impact of drug tourism.

If implemented, the plan would see up to CZK 15 billion more annually for the state budget thanks to new taxes on addictive substances and more efficient tax collection, he added.

According to the latest annual reports on addiction in the Czech Republic, between 800,000 and 900,000 adults use alcohol in a risky way, and doctors estimate that between 150,000 and 170,000 are addicted to alcohol.

About one-third of Czech adults, more than two million people, smoke every day. Up to 110,000 people are gambling in a risky way.

Voboril says about 37,000 users of prohibited substances and 30,000 alcohol addicts are using support from addiction services.

“In the 1990s, the network of aid for people with addiction problems disintegrated,” said Voboril. “In every district, there used to be ‘AT care,’ which has now almost disappeared. There are some low-threshold facilities and some outpatient advisory centres, but these are primarily for people addicted to illegal drugs. When it comes to alcohol and other addictions, which represent a much bigger problem, the network is insufficient, and does not even exist at all in many places.” 

He added that in the Central Bohemian Region alone, addiction treatment experts reject around 500 applicants for treatment a month because of limited capacity.

The situation in large cities is a bit better, he said, but outside of those areas most people in need have no access to addiction treatment at all.

Regional spending on drug-related measures varies considerably. It was CZK 350.6 million in 2018, but declined by about CZK 25 million in 2019, before rising again by several million in 2020. In 2021, spending totalled CZK 449.2 million, of which CZK 364.6 million was provided by the regions, and CZK 84.6 million by municipalities. In 2021, the state allocated over CZK 2 billion to drug policy responses, CZK 1.3 billion of which went to the police.

Funding from the regions and municipalities on such programs comes from subsidies, for which addiction care providers must reapply every year, which is why they have no certainty about their future operation.

Voboril has argued that the funding system must be changed; funding should be provided for several years in advance and the total should be higher. He proposes this could be distributed by a new agency under set criteria, taking into account the need for care from area to area and the number of applications.

Voboril is negotiating changes to the current provision of services with the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, which is drafting an amendment for a new system of funding social services.

Society loses millions of crowns every year due to tobacco, alcohol and gambling addiction, Voboril warned.

He pointed out that if sufficient means were invested in prevention and in-time treatment, the results would become apparent in a few years, meaning the positive impact would only be visible under the next government. This is why it is so difficult to push through changes in funding in this sphere, he said, especially at a time when the state debt is rising significantly.

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