Fewer Greeks abusing drugs but more users dying, study says

In the last five years, fewer Greeks have been using drugs, but more people have died after abusing them. More Greeks are also using a particularly addictive hard drug, heroin. So says the recently released annual report on the drug and alcohol situation in Greece in 2004, released by the National Center for Documentation and Information on Narcotics and Addiction (EKTEPN). Nationwide study The 2004 survey of 4,774 people in Greece between the ages of 12 and 64 was done by the University Research Institute of Mental Health. Preliminary data show a nearly 4 percent overall drop in drug use over the past six years. In 2004, 8.6 percent of those surveyed said they had tried illegal drugs such as cannabis, heroin, LSD, amphetamines, cocaine or crack, and ecstasy more than once. In 1998, 12.5 percent of respondents said they had. The decrease in drug use is greater among 18- to 24-year-olds, according to the survey data. In 1998, 21 percent said they used drugs, compared to 12 percent in 2004. Follow-up research this year shows that 4.6 percent of respondents in the 18-24 age group and 2.9 percent of respondents in the 25-35 age group use drugs, most often cannabis. More people in Athens – 12.4 percent – use drugs, compared to Thessaloniki (7.9 percent) and other big cities in Greece (7.3 percent). About 5.8 percent of survey respondents in smaller cities and towns in the country say they use drugs. Deaths from drugs, especially heroin, have increased by 4.1 percent over the past year, after dropping significantly between 2001 and 2003. In 2004, 226 deaths from drugs were recorded nationwide, compared to 217 in 2003, 259 in 2002, and 321 in 2001. Between 2003 and 2004, Thessaloniki saw its drug-related death count rise from 41 to 49, although in Attica it dropped from 123 to 108. EKTEPN’s head Manina Terzidou said this increase should not be considered absolute, since the data are only provisional. Meanwhile, Anna Kokkevi, the former president of the Organization Against Drugs, and PASOK MP Manolis Skoulakis attributed the increase in drug deaths to the lack of rehabilitation and detoxification centers for addicts. Heroin use up Between 2003 and 2004, an additional 1,834 people between the ages of 15 and 64 said they used heroin. EKTEPN says 17,767 people used heroin in 2003, compared to 19,601 in 2004. Terzidou says this increase may not be correct, since estimates only came from geographic areas which could produce manageable data. Most drug users – around 84 percent – are men. On average, drug users seek help when they are about 28 years old. About six out of 10 drug users are unemployed. Heroin is the drug of choice; about 88.7 percent of addicts use it. The rest use cannabis (7 percent), cocaine (2.2 percent) and various pills (1.2 percent). A majority of addicts say they started their drug use with cannabis at age 16. Meanwhile, the profile of drug users who seek admittance into some kind of rehabilitation program in 2004 has remained the same over the years. The study also shows that those surveyed believe it is easy to find drugs in Greece. One in two Greeks (43.6 percent) say it is easy to obtain marijuana, while one in four (22.7 percent) have no difficulty in procuring ecstasy. Another 23.4 percent find heroin readily accessible, 20.7 percent say cocaine is easy to get, and 18.6 percent say the same of LSD and other illegal substances. Finally, one in 10 students between the ages of 14 and 17 has tried some kind of addictive or habit-forming substance – most likely cannabis – at least once in their lives. Two out of every three students who have experimented with drugs have used them at least three times in their lives. The majority of students who say they have used drugs – 59.4 percent – say they were introduced to narcotics through a friend. In rural and small-town areas, a significant portion – 24 percent – admitted that they found the addictive substance at home. In this case, the substances were most likely sedatives or pain relievers. In any case, 33.7 percent of students in Athens believe they can procure marijuana on the street or in a park, while another 17.8 percent say they get it at home and 16.5 percent at school.

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