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April 16, 2014
April 16, 2014

Greece: The uncertain future of the Public Drug Dependence Unit 18 ANO

Author: Katrin Alamanou Translator: Lena Theodoropoulou
Source: TVXS  Category: On the crisis
This article is also available in: eles
Greece: The uncertain future of the Public Drug Dependence Unit 18 ANO

The future of the public drug dependence unit “18 ANO” remains uncertain, due to the planned closure of the Mental Hospital of Attica, where 18 ANO’s administration belongs. The situation becomes even worse after the funding cuts and the withdrawal of employees through the “availability” governmental plan, as mentions Katerina Matsa, psychiatrist and scientific coordinator of 18 ANO, stating at the same time that there is a need for therapeutic interventions in the prisons, where huge amounts of psychotropic drugs are being prescribed to the prisoners, having as a result their addiction to them.

“There is the danger that the unit will collapse, having to cease its operation”, notes Mrs. Matsa, adding that for that reason, “18 ANO gave a press conference on Tuesday 15th of April, calling society to stand by its side”.

The funding cuts have created problems “with regards to the nutrition of the residential service-users and other operational expenses”. At the same time, the scientific coordinator stresses that “new measures were taken, that deteriorated the situation”. In more details, “for the toxicological tests that are essential for the process of recovery, the funding was cut to the ¼ of what the unit needs. While 280,000 € were needed, only 50,000 € were given”, as she states. Consequently, not all the toxicological tests can take place, one of the “most basic elements for the correct operation of the unit”.

In addition to that, “the drivers of 18 ANO -hired after specified call, with specific skills and specifically trained to operate as therapists- have been included in the governmental ‘availability plan’, mentions Mrs. Matsa, explaining that “not anyone can drive a car transferring service-users”. Besides that, after the drivers’ withdrawal, the “psycho-educational activities”, part of the therapeutic process, are automatically ceased. Meaning that there was a provision for the “service-users to be transferred to museums, exhibition spaces and other venues where they could get in touch with culture and society”. These experiences would “become part of their treatment through art therapy and other group settings”. Basically, the government puts an end to this important part of the therapeutic process.

Furthermore, “many employees have retired or left the country due to the crisis, leaving empty posts for which there have been no job openings announced. We ask that none of the personnel is made redundant and that all the preconditions are met for the correct operation of the unit. This is the only hope for the service-users to live”, Mrs Matsa says.

The school for service-users also under suspension

One more highly important harm for 18 ANO is the fact that “the ministry refuses to send professors at the school of the unit”, which basically “does not operate properly and continues to exist only thanks to the efforts of the volunteering professors”, underlines the psychiatrist and ex-director of the drug dependence unit. The school of 18 ANO “offers the opportunity to the service-users that haven’t finished high school –that is the vast majority– to continue their studies. There are even service-users that have succeeded in the national exams and entered the University”, she notes and adds that “now the government blocks the way for these people to conquer knowledge”.

According to Katerina Matsa, “the government highly depreciates the recovery programme”, indicatively mentioning that, “according to a recent government decision, 18 ANO from now on will be represented in institutional forums –like the Committee against Drugs that reports to the Prime Minister– by the manager of the Mental Health Hospital of Attica (ΨΝΑ)”. This is an unprecedented decision, as “mental health disorder is not the same as addiction”, comments the scientific coordinator of the unit. “The manager of ΨΝΑ, who was appointed a couple of months ago by the minister, cannot follow the philosophy of the unit; he is not aware of it. How could he represent a unit he has no knowledge of?” she wonders.

The operation of 18 ANO remains uncertain after the closure of the Mental Health Hospital

The manager of ΨΝΑ recently stated that the closure of the institution will take place by the end of 2015, while “no one has designed a valid plan for the future of 18 ANO after the closure of the Mental Health Hospital”, Mrs. Matsa mentions. “The greater danger is that the depreciation of the public drug dependence unit is happening in favour of private organisations who will take over recovery from drug addiction” she states.

In any case “there are already plenty of such centres that are far away from operating according to scientific demands. They operate illegally, without having the permission of ΟΚΑΝΑ (Organisation Against Drugs), while the State is “looking the other way”. If 18 ANO shuts down and recovery is left to the hands of private corporations “people will be dying like flies, as the families of drug addicts, already exhausted and having lost everything while their children were drug misusers, cannot afford to pay private centres” she underlines.

Prisoners, suppressed by psychotropic drugs

Among the demands of 18 ANO is to be given the possibility to make a “substantial intervention in prisons that till now has only been on a consultation level”, notes Mrs. Matsa, adding that “we ask for this intervention to become therapeutic”. Besides the fact that “drugs enter prisons very easily” and that “half of the imprisoned population is addicted, the amount of psychotropic drugs prescribed to prisoners in order to keep them suppressed is that high, that they end up being addicted to these substances”, Mrs. Matsa finally stresses.

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