Neighborhoods becoming drug hangouts

With an estimated 10,000 drug addicts in Athens alone, piecemeal, police-centered efforts to deal with the problem have clearly not succeeded. Few users enter rehabilitation programs; most do not even join methadone programs. Despite the heroic work of organizations such as the KETHEA therapy center for dependent individuals, fund-starved services simply cannot cope with the increased demand. Meanwhile, there are some 5,000 users on the waiting list for the OKANA anti-drug group’s methadone programs. Former Health Ministry officials have admitted, off the record, that the parents of drug users have offered them bribes to get their children into a methadone program. Police officers have told Kathimerini of cases where parents have bought methadone from dealers in an attempt to help their children. Begging Many users who have severed ties with family and friends roam the streets with other users, their lives ruled by drug deals. They resort to begging and crime to buy food and drugs. «Users hang out in places like downtown alleyways, parks and abandoned buildings, where they can be anonymous,» said Tasos Panopoulos, head of OKANA’s drug dependent individuals’ unit. They also frequent places in Piraeus, near the OKANA center, and in parts of western Attica, such as Zefyri, where they take shelter in suburban railway carriages. With few exceptions, users don’t hang out in the same place where the deals are done, a member of the drug squad explained. The dealers shift locations to avoid arrest. «Now they fix the meeting place by mobile phone. It might be near the hangout but, with the exception of Omonia, it’s never in the same place.» As the users follow the dealers, the problem moves with them and another area goes downhill. Residents and business owners in Psyrri, which is popular with users, complain that public drug use has become an everyday occurrence, and that users beg and relieve themselves in the street. Piraeus faces similar problems. «Many storekeepers in Defteras Merarchias Street no longer open in the evening, said the Piraeus traders’ association president, Vassilis Korkidis. «Users often cause damage, and shoppers avoid the streets near OKANA.» Shoplifting is common, as is the theft of cell phones and bags from cafes and restaurants in such areas. Users are arrested every day for crimes related to drugs and other misdemeanors but rehabilitation programs in prisons are so ineffective that users end up on the street again when they are released, sometimes committing more serious crimes. In 2009, official records showed that more than 50 percent of the Greek prison population had been convicted of drug-related crimes.

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