Joining forces to assist town’s youngsters

«Most people think the drug problem has nothing to do with them and care only when it is thrust in their faces,» said Veta Spondi, the vice-president of the Kozani Association against Dependencies. The group’s members have found that while locals are now more aware of the drug problem, they are also very despairing. «There are parents who don’t know how to handle the problem, that is, what to do to save their children, what attitude or actions to take.» The association was founded last summer, just before the schoolgirl’s tragic death, by 30 people from different walks of life. Its numbers subsequently swelled to 70 and now number 140. It aims to inform and mobilize the local community against drugs. Recently, parents of children with drug problems have joined, and they, along with other local organizations (such as the municipality and the women’s association) are planning to set up a center for the prevention of dependencies and dealing with their effects. «We don’t think that Ptolemaida is any different from any other town in Greece with regard to the extent of the drug problem. It is simply that we decided to do something about it, to set out our demands and not to hide the problem,» said representatives of the group. On the feast days before the beginning of Lent, they held open days with the participation of a large number of young people. Recent statistics from a survey by doctors at the local hospital show that not only prevention, but providing information and actually fighting the problem are all aspects that need to be intensified, as the situation in and around Ptolemaida is far more serious than has been officially recorded by the authorities. For example, the police have only recorded three drug deaths in the entire prefecture of Kozani. There were 62 cases of drug overdose recorded in 2006-2007 among about 50 drug addicts of a young age, most of them male. Sixteen people were declared dead on arrival at hospitals and half of those were known to medical staff to have been treated previously in outpatient units. Ninety percent of all addicts brought to the hospital had used more than one narcotic substance. Those brought to the hospital in a comatose state were saved by the doctors, but none of them subsequently went into rehabilitation programs, the closest of which is in Thessaloniki. There are none in any town in Western Macedonia. Kozani Prefect Giorgos Dakis told Kathimerini recently that the prefectural council is stepping up procedures to found a rehabilitation unit in cooperation with the state drug rehabilitation organization OKANA and the Health Ministry, as well as an advisory center in cooperation with the Center for the Treatment of Dependent Individuals (KETHEA) something that local groups have been pressing for. Already the two largest municipalities in the prefecture have expressed an interest.

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