NEWS

Drug addiction is curable with help

Young people who fall victim to drugs are not a lost cause, according to Katerina Matsa, an official at the 18Ano (Over 18) drug rehabilitation program, and an activist who urges the state to do more to support the efforts of rehab centers. What is the current situation with the drug problem in Greece? The problem is growing all the time and people are getting into drugs at younger and younger ages. The main substance used is heroin, followed by pills. The greatest problem is that there are not enough places in rehab programs. What can be done? The first thing is to provide support for rehabilitation programs and establish new ones, particularly in the provinces. How long are the waiting lists? The 18Ano program tries not to leave anyone out. We place them in reception and support groups. Although this first phase should not last more than two to three months, it often continues for up to 10 months, just because there are no places. What happens afterward? Social rehabilitation, where the situation is quite difficult. There are no jobs for ex-addicts, neither in the public or private sector. Although the state employment organization (OAED) provides subsidies, employers do not make use of them. It was recently revealed that just 28 percent of these funds had been applied for. Unfortunately, employers discriminate. What is behind this mentality? I think that it has a lot to do with the fact that professionals view addicts as patients with an incurable disease that could relapse at any moment. Meanwhile «maintenance» programs were named rehabilitation programs, leading to confusion. What is the difference? Detoxification means getting off the substances. Maintaining dependence means taking a drug legally and remaining «officially» on the fringe. Our experience shows that drug addicts can be cured. We have a student in our high school who is 53 years old, and who was on heroin for 40 years. What about the problem with arrests? This is another category of problems, since trials disrupt the rehabilitation process. A drug user breaks the law to get a fix, but the case goes to trial many years later. If the accused is in a program, the judges are obliged to postpone the trial until later. However, if the program has been completed, it is up to the judges to decide whether or not to disrupt the social rehabilitation process.They often do not take it into consideration and these people are back in prison. It is a real nightmare. Half of all prisoners have been convicted of drug-related crimes. What happens to them? According to the law, if a convict joins a rehab program the court may release him on condition that he sticks to the program. There are networks of lawyers who exploit the ignorance and concern of families in order to earn large sums. That is why we are asking for a legal service to be set up in state programs to put a stop to this exploitation. Meanwhile, a person who has completed the program should not go to prison. A few days ago you were the victim of a mud-slinging attack on the television program «Yellow Press.» What was the purpose of the attack? I think it was an attempt to strike at the 18Ano program itself, and then at my position as scientific director of the program in order to impose a policy which 18Ano is opposed to, that is maintaining dependence, social Darwinism and allowing people with dependencies to beg. 18Ano demands a high standard within the National Health System. At the same time, the fact that as a member of the Athens-Piraeus Hospital Doctors’ Union (EINAP) and the Leftist Radical Doctors’ Cooperation, I am waging a major battle against corruption, also bothers some people. At the last congress of the federation of hospital doctors, we submitted a proposal to set up a movement against under-the-table payments («fakelakia») to doctors. We even suggested that doctors wear a badge saying «I don’t accept money» in order to raise awareness among doctors and patients.