‘Halfway areas’ for addicts in central Athens

Drug addicts in the city center are to be provided with areas where they can gather and receive basic sanitation services in a bid to stamp out the pockets of crime where drugs are dealt and taken that have mushroomed across the downtown Athens area.

The initiative also aims to contribute to a revamp of run-down parts of the capital, including areas near popular tourist attractions such as the National Archaeological Museum.

Local resident groups have for years been lobbying for a crackdown on drug use and drug dealing in the center of Athens, as well as on burgeoning prostitution and petty crime.

Speaking at an event on public health on Thursday, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos and Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis confirmed that they had signed a memorandum to set up what are being termed ?halfway areas? near key points of the capital that are notorious for attracting the drug trade.

These areas, whose exact character was not made clear, are expected to provide basic support services to addicts, such as showers, meals and clean syringes, but also to gradually draw users off the streets and into organized methadone or rehabilitation programs by providing counseling services.

The program will be run jointly with the Organization Against Drugs (OKANA), which ran a clinic in central Athens before the Health Ministry transferred all methadone programs to state hospitals earlier this year.

?If they want to use drugs then there?s not much we can do about it. But they shouldn?t be allowed to do it in plain sight, and they should be using clean needles, in a protected environment, where we can be close by to make sure they don?t die,? the head of OKANA, Meni Malliori, said.

Loverdos added that some 2,000 drug addicts have joined methadone programs in Attica since they were moved to hospitals, while the waiting time to join a program has gone down to less than five years from more than seven, and is expected to be trimmed down to just 20 days by spring.

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