OPINION

Illicit drugs are everyone’s problem

«My God, please tell me it’s not Dimitris… No, it can’t be him.» This was a mother’s anguished cry upon hearing the news that a young drug addict had escaped from the police and shot an innocent man in cold blood. But it was Dimitris. The tragic mother had feared this moment. «My boy is sick; he is not a criminal,» she lamented, begging forgiveness from the family of the bus driver her son so unjustly shot dead. Yes, Dimitris was sick and he became a criminal. He committed murder, for no reason, and now he will pay for his crime. How many sick Dimitrises wander among us, capable of committing equally brutal, if not worse crimes? Tens of thousands. They may not all end up killing someone, as the 32-year-old from Sindos did, but they will almost certainly kill themselves and their loved ones over time. The tragic case in Thessaloniki brought to light, albeit for just an instant, the tragic state of drug addicts, people who, with little help, just fritter their time away until the inevitable happens and who, in the meantime, may commit the gravest of crimes against their fellow man. The case of Dimitris was a hard slap in the face of a dormant society which watches the spread of drugs and the consequences they have on the country’s youth on their television screens. Drug deaths are on the rise; heroin is making its way into the veins of children as young as 12 and we simply hunker down on the couch looking for a more comfortable position, certain that it is someone else’s problem. Only when this problem comes knocking on our own doors do we start to panic, but usually by then it is too late. Let’s just take a look at what is going on around us. Ten years ago, if a young man died of a drug overdose it would make the news for days. Now, as their numbers grow, they don’t even get a mention. A chill went down my spine when I heard what Aristotle University coroner Matthaios Tsoungas told Kathimerini recently: «I’m sick and tired of performing autopsies on people who have died of drug use for over 30 years and nothing is being done about it. Today, 99 percent of drug overdose deaths are due to heroin. If the state was to ensure that addicts could get into rehabilitation programs using substitutes (methadone, buprenorphine) and could receive treatment from any hospital in Greece upon presenting a special card, that would go a long way to solving the problem. That is a way to ensure that they do not die, that their health improves, that drug-related crime is curbed and that gradually the addicts can be weaned off the drugs.» All of this, however, takes money the government does not have, at least not enough to deal with the magnitude of the problem. Even when the state does take some steps to set up such centers, local communities go up in arms because they don’t want a rehabilitation center in their neighborhoods. So, the public continues to sleep quietly until another Dimitris comes along to interrupt their slumber, at least until the noise once again dies down.