The use of illegal substances in the country’s armed forces has shown a sharp increase over the past five years. One in three conscripts claims to have used some type of narcotic substance at least once in his life, with the most «popular» drug being cannabis – described as «harmless» by the overwhelming majority of users. The need to implement preventive measures from a very young age has been deemed imperative, as use begins from as young as 15. The number of users of addictive substances has more than doubled over the past five years, according to data from the army’s medical panel for exemption from military service which was made public by psychiatrist Pantelis Lazarides at Monday’s seminar on «Prevention of Drug Addiction in the Armed Forces.» There were a total of 1,478 drug users in the army in 2002 (of which 85 percent used cannabis) compared to 625 in 1997. The use of drugs in the air force is also a cause for concern. Military psychiatrist Lieutenant Colonel Petros Iliakis presented the results of an epidemiological study he conducted in the year 2000 on newly recruited airmen, of whom 29 percent were shown to have taken some kind of drug at least once. Of these, 14.8 percent admitted to have experimented with pills for the first time before the age of 15, with 10.5 percent saying they had been under 15 when they first smoked cannabis. A third (33 percent) of users were aged between 16 and 18 when they first tried cannabis, while slightly fewer (31 percent) tried pills for the first time between these ages. Of those who admitted to having used drugs, 83 percent said they had been given the substance by a person of the same age, while 82 percent said they regarded hashish as a harmless substance. The results of a study conducted between 1998 and 2002 by the navy’s Preventive Mental Health Bureau show a similar pattern. One in three navy rookies has used some kind of narcotic at least once, while one in 13 classifies himself as a regular user, according to navy psychiatrist Captain Vassilis Menousis. Before they enlisted, around 50 percent of rookies said they thought that having their first experience with drugs during their navy term would be easy, the same study showed. During his speech for the seminar, Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou referred to measures his ministry had taken to combat the use of drugs in the armed forces, including the identification of users and a crackdown on the distribution of narcotics. Further, the Defense Ministry has signed a memorandum for cooperation with the state Organization Against Drugs (OKANA) so that all military units can benefit from close cooperation with OKANA’s preventive centers. President of the Organization Against Drugs Anna Kokevi stressed the need for timely intervention with young conscripts who use drugs but have yet to become addicted, and for timely identification of potential users. The environment of the armed forces can be a protective one, as it teaches discipline, but it can also constitute a danger to those who are very sensitive.