The news agency Bloomberg has given the Czech Republic the inglorious distinction of first place on its Global Vice Index – a combined list of alcohol, drug, cigarette and gambling prevalence in 57 countries. While Czech primacy in beer consumption may be incontestable, the index also cited the country as 12th in the world in gambling, 5th in cigarette smoking and 2nd on the planet in drug use. What’s more, the amalgamated information from the World Health Organisation, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and others, gave the Czech Republic a damning six point lead on the second most depraved country, Slovenia. Humbug, say public health workers, among them Dr. Tomáš Zábranský from the Centre of Addictology.
“I don’t think it’s correct. This is an index of indices, and it’s very artificial and internally inconsistent. So, no, I think it makes a good headline for Bloomberg, but it tells you basically nothing.”
Where would you rank the Czech Republic, if you were to rate these four items (alcohol, drug, cigarette and gambling prevalence) together?
“I probably wouldn’t rank it. Because I think first of all it makes no sense – you should really go substance by substance or by groups of substances, and look into the harm that they really inflict. Not mix together the volume of alcohol – which here does not include moonshine – the number of smoked cigarettes that are reported – without taking into account unreported smoking – then the annual prevalence of drugs and say they are all the same, because they are not, and then for some reason add gambling but not abuse of pharmaceutical drugs. So, I don’t play these games.”
Would you say the problem with drug use is indeed very high? Bloomberg says it took its information from the WHO and other sources that put the Czech Republic in second place. Would you say there is a worse problem here than elsewhere?
“No, I wouldn’t. Because, again, if you look carefully into the methodology used to create this index, then it’s not World Health Organisation statistics that are sued but estimates from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which does not actually estimate the volume of drugs used but the last year’s prevalence of any type of drugs. The UN does estimate various kinds of drugs, but Bloomberg is saying that all these types of drugs are the same, which I certainly don’t agree with. If you think about it in terms of your own kids, you probably see a difference if your kid is using heroin or marijuana. Then they don’t count to the volume but last year’s prevalence, put together statistics of various quality from 57 countries – so the statistics from Zambia are expected to be of the same quality as those from the United States, the Czech Republic or the UK – and create this very artificial ‘ladder’. And again, the biggest mistake is to not take into consideration the abuse of pharmaceutical psychotropic drugs, which is globally the biggest problem in the developed world right now.”
In your own work, do you get a sense of whether the volume of addictions is rising or falling in the Czech Republic?
“If you compare the comparable, then in the European Union for example, the Czech Republic has the highest percentage of people who have tried marijuana some time in their lifetimes. But then, if you look into problematic drug use, addictions, drug use that is causing problems for health and public order and the economy, then we are somewhere on the lowest third of the ladder.”
Does that make the Czech Republic an average European country on par?
“Below average actually. If you look at it as a public health worker, which is my job, then we are below average.”