Drug abuse starts earlier; some users as young as 12

Panos was never good at his studies, but he was good at sport. Tall and well-built, he was the star of his class and of the whole school at sporting competitions. His first contact with narcotics was in the second class of junior high school, when he began to keep company with a group of older pupils. He played less football and began staying late at school to meet his friends to smoke marijuana. He sampled ecstasy, thinking one pill would do no harm. His teachers didn’t notice the change in him, and his family had never liked him playing football at the expense of lessons. They only started worrying when he stopped going to school. Panos became a heavy user of heroin, and is now in a detoxification program. Drug use is increasing rapidly among Greek pupils aged 14-18. On average they start using narcotics at 15, but a growing number of children experiment with drugs before the age of 12. It is a vulnerable age for pupils, and the pressure of exams makes many young drug users leave school. This is their first step toward complete submersion in the world of drugs. Of the teenagers who attended detoxification programs at Strofi and Plefsi in 2000, 56.3 percent had left school at an average age of 15.8 years. For most of them, leaving school marked their first use of hard drugs; it seems that remaining in school has a restraining effect on unbridled drug use. At this vital time, adolescents need direct support, not only from their parents but also from their school, the exam-centered nature of which often encourages pupils to quit, according to those who run drug abuse therapy programs. The personal crisis that many children are experiencing reflects a more general crisis in society, Matsa believes. «Young people live at a rapid pace, they are constantly being asked to memorize things, but at the same time they have no support, no role model and no point of reference. And schools no longer form the personality. Children need to get away from misery and routine. But when they get into drugs they realize they are experiencing another kind of routine that is even more intense.»

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