NEWS

‘They give away heroin in Omonia’

After the tabling and debating of several points of view under constructive and frank dialogue this week, the deputies in the committee of Parliament on countering drugs in society fell short on agreeing on a tabled draft bill that calls for a new approach to the problem. The bill, tabled by deputies Maria Damanaki, Spyros Vougias, Petros Tatoulis, Fotis Kouvelis and Stavros Benos, proposes a new approach which calls for «state-regulated supplying of narcotics, classifying cannabis separately from other drugs, and making legal penalties more tenable.» During Wednesday’s session of the committee, the defenders of the bill and those opposed to it debated their views but failed to reach common ground. Champions of the bill On one side of the table were those favoring a liberalized approach to the drug problem, challenged by those who prefer a stricter enforcement of preventive methods. Views varied on several basic issues, ranging from how dangerous the abuse of hashish is to the effectiveness of the existing legal framework, all the way to debating the possible results if drug traffickers were to drop the street value of drugs. «How much does a dose of heroin cost in Omonia Square; 1,500 drachmas? 1,200 drachmas? They even give it away free if you plead,» said one deputy who challenged the draft bill. Champions of the bill were the representatives of «anti-banning groups,» including Elizabeta Kazaloti, N. Kanellakis, G. Economopoulos and Lina Karanasopoulou. Kazaloti described the draft law as the minimum of the measures that need to be taken, while in response to queries by deputies Marietta Yiannakou-Koutsikou and Costas Kiltidis she underlined that state-run hospitals are already issuing drugs such as methadone as substitutes. When Kanellakis was asked by committee chairman Manolis Skoulakis to provide insight into what could be the response of drug addicts to a potential state-regulated issuance of drugs, he admitted that initially only a few will take advantage, but then slowly they will bring along their circle of friends, as they will have secured their daily dose free of charge. The drug user must be protected from the black market and criminal actions that come with it, declared Economopoulos, who took a stance in favor of classifying cannabis separately from the rest of the drugs, as it does not cause dependence and is harmless. He suggested that it is rather the «pesticides and nuclear waste from the Albanian environment» that create side effects to cannabis users. «We cannot penalize an act of self-determination,» declared Karanasopoulou, who compared the problem of drugs with that of prostitution. «It is legal under certain conditions and the same can apply for drug users who wish to turn to a doctor or a clinic,» she said. The opposing side The presidents of the union of justices and prosecutors, V. Markis, presented the view of the majority of justices, K. Valmantonis which is a product of their experience from the bench, that the use of «soft» drugs is the first step before moving on to harder substances. He went on to stress that stamping out the negative factors, such as the fear of death and the daily cost of buying the dose, by the implementation of such proposals could lead to an unprecedented rise in drug users. Markis, also a member of the board of directors at the community of rehabilitation centers (KETHEA), is himself in favor of preventive methods. «The issue is not to take the first step, and we shouldn’t make it any easier,» he noted. Following a question by deputy Maria Damanaki, both Valmantonis and Markis admitted that there is a lack of homogeneity in court rulings of drug-related offenses, both in felonies and misdemeanors, as well as in the sentencing, and they expressed the need for a clear definition of what constitutes the minimum amount of drugs for which a person can be charged for possession. Markis attested that there is no report by a medical examiner considering the user of cannabis by an addicted individual, prompting a reaction by former Health Minister Eleni Spyraki and PASOK deputy Giorgos Kirkos, who declared that recent studies have demonstrated that it can be addictive. Theodoridis and Koutras, who spoke before the committee as representatives of the rehabilitation community OKANA, underlined that Greek society is not yet ready for the changes proposed in the draft bill, nor is the health system, which lacks the infrastructure for such programs. They stressed that «any legalization sends the message of ‘harmlessness’ to youths» and the result will be an increase in demand, to levels much higher than today. One startling development was the testimony of S. Anyfantis, spokesman for the Association of Families of Rehabilitation Communities, who challenged any attempts to classify drug users who have no chance of rehabilitation in order for the State to issue them a daily dose. «Who is going to determine if someone is ‘finished’ so as to be systematically and legally issued the drugs?» he asked. «I know people through the ‘drying out’ programs who were rehabilitated and now they are clean and back in society. Besides, the cost is not all that great. With 1,200 drachmas you get heroin from Omonia and if you plead they give it away for free.» «Who is going to determine if someone is ‘finished’ so as to be systematically and legally issued the drugs?» he asked. «I know people through the ‘drying out’ programs who were rehabilitated and now they are clean and back in society. Besides, the cost is not all that great. With 1,200 drachmas you get heroin from Omonia and if you plead they give it away for free.»