NEWS

Youngsters’ experiences with narcotics: ‘I sank into loneliness hooked on heroin’

Narcotics got into schools many years ago, spreading unhappiness and death among children. At some schools drug use is practically accepted. «We’ve got to the stage where teachers don’t comment on pupils using cannabis,» Pantelis, 19, a former pupil at one of the most ill-reputed schools in Athens, told Kathimerini. As for good neighborhoods, narcotics have their ways. Older pupils bring marijuana to school, small dealers besiege the schoolyard, and other people get into schools on some pretext – drug users or dealers looking for new victims. It is easy to get access to cannabis at school, say 65 percent of Greek pupils, according to a 1999 ESPAD poll conducted by the Greek University Institute for Mental Health. In Greece, 9.7 percent of pupils say they use illegal substances; 8.6 percent say they have used cannabis at least once; 2.1 percent use ecstasy; and 14.2 percent inhale illegal substances. The age at which children begin using drugs continues to fall. Eight out of 10 adolescents who sought the assistance of drug rehabilitation programs run by Strofi and Plefsi in 2000 had their first experience of illegal substances before the age of 15, in the last class of junior high school. «We used to see various people who had nothing to do with the school hanging around outside,» says Pantelis. «They’d come into the school, too. They might have been friends with some pupils, or be former pupils or complete outsiders; the usual suspects.» Costas, now 27, paid dearly for his involvement with the usual suspects. He has been drug-free for 550 days, after a nightmarish nine years on narcotics. He started using drugs during a sit-in at his school in Crete when he was in the final year of senior high. «I started going around with some of those outsiders who were constantly inside the school at that time. I started taking pills mainly out of ignorance but also out of curiosity. Then I went on to hashish and directly on to heroin.» He says he got deeply into drugs without managing to think about it. «They offered me a way out of my problems, which I had no way of dealing with. My love life, my family problems. My parents weren’t to blame, but they were elderly and we didn’t communicate.» Apart from himself, there were three other pupils who used narcotics. The other pupils didn’t know about it. Gradually Costas started mixing only with the other users, losing touch with everyone else. «When you’re into drugs, you act selfishly. You put yourself on the sidelines, cut yourself off. You function for one purpose only, to get a fix. There are no relationships; there’s nothing apart from that.» He has become friends with Panayiotis, whom he met at the 18 Ano drug rehabilitation group. Panayiotis, 19, got into drugs when he was 13. His first experience was at a party with schoolmates in Aegaleo. «I started with hashish, but I soon got into the hard stuff. In a month I was on heroin, pills and speed.» He was expelled from school, but did manage to complete junior high school at a private establishment, while still using narcotics. Wrong role models Now drug-free for almost a year, Panayiotis believes his involvement in the drug scene was almost fated. «My parents had separated. I had no contact with my father, and my mother was working two jobs to make ends meet. And I had the wrong role models. Like my friends, I thought that if you didn’t go to clubs and rave parties, you weren’t with it. So I got hooked on heroin and sank into loneliness. My friendships, my relationships were all with narcotics. I couldn’t enjoy sex or anything. The only thing that interested me from the moment I woke up was how to get money for a fix.» Panayiotis explains that he used to deal in drugs at school to get that money. «But I was sick, and I gave drugs to sick people,» he says. «It is easy for anyone to get drugs at school. But there is no information about narcotics. Most schools don’t have even a psychologist you can go to with your problems.»