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How The "Cocaine Of The Poor" Is Spreading Across Crisis-Ridden Greece

By Guttz, Jun 26, 2013 | | |
  1. Guttz
    Known as sisa, this Greek methamphetamine-based concoction is spreading across the streets of Athens -- the latest sign of the side effects of the economic crisis plaguing Greece.

    ATHENS - Leonidas, Ismail and Christos are sitting in the back courtyard of Kethea Exelixis, a therapy center for drug addicts, and they’re talking about sisa, the "cocaine of the poor" — a new drug in crisis-shaken Greece. The three of them are experts when it comes to comparing sisa with other drugs. They’ve tried pretty much everything.

    "It eats you up from the inside," Ismail says. "It makes you angry, really angry," says Leonidas. And for Christos? "When you take sisa you don’t even know what 'angry' means anymore — it unchains the animal in you."

    Describing himself as "the kind of guy who takes what he needs — begging is beneath my dignity" — Christos spent 10 years in prison for bank robbery and has been out for five years. How many banks did he rob? "Like I would tell you. But I was convicted for three."

    Leonidas is 40, but looks at least 15 years older. He’s been taking drugs since he was 13. Christos has been using heroin since he was in jail. He claims to shoot up only occasionally, but the tracks on his arms tell another story. "Heroin is 10 times stronger than you are," he says. "I was seriously using for six years, and it was like I checked out of my own life. Only the drug existed for me, nothing else, not even sex. But sisa — that’s the real nightmare."

    Easy to make, cheap to buy

    It’s a nightmare that can be concocted in any kitchen. The key ingredient is methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth, a global drug scourge. Use leads quickly to psychological dependence, and listing all its nefarious effects would take up more space than this story. Among them is "meth mouth" — toothlessness due to loss of saliva production that makes users grind their own teeth into oblivion.

    In crisis-ridden Athens, crystal meth is sometimes replaced by battery acid, or if that’s not available, chlorine, shampoo, motor oil, kerosene or water softener Calgon. But strychnine and sulfuric acid have also been found in sisa samples. Sulfuric acid is so corrosive it can dissolve wood, paper and fabric.

    The drug’s appeal is its low price: Because it’s so easy to make (and dealers have mobile labs that make it more difficult for the police to pin them down), a dose only costs between two and five euros — pretty good in a country where even doctors now only earn about 900 euro ($1,180) a month.

    What Ismail, Christos and Leonidas relate about the effects of sisa sounds like a medical dictionary and horror movie combined: spasms, spitting blood, sudden violent attacks of diarrhea, bouts of psychotic violence. "You just start punching when that stuff is in your blood," Christos says. The men agree that the drug scene has become a lot more violent than it was two years ago. So knowing all this, why do people take sisa? Christos shrugs. "It’s the crisis drug. The country’s going to the dogs, just like sisa users. Kinda goes together."

    Now Charalambos Poulopoulos speaks up. In his mid-50s, he’s headed the Kethea organization for many years. Hearing Christos’s remark, he says it’s become difficult to get addicts to agree to withdrawal programs. The old joke about Greece being the first African country with white natives seems increasingly true. In fact, last year the Greek chapter of Doctors of the World withdrew its teams from Congo and Ethiopia because by its own standards Greece qualified for their aid.

    In the last two years, the HIV infection rate alone has skyrocketed 1,500%. "In 2008, there were 15 new cases. In 2011 it was 200, last year over 500, and all we can do is go out there and collect used needles," Poulopoulos says.

    Deadly needles

    Keramikou Street. Tuesday evening. It’s drizzling. The neon lights of a brothel go on and off. Homeless junkies sit in derelict doorways. A man with filthy fingernails is giving a young woman a shot under her tongue. A pregnant girl with a leg wound stumbles down the street holding four hypodermic syringes. Asked how often they take sisa, they don't answer. Do they know what’s in the stuff? Just then a bus drives up and stops. Suddenly the whole place jumps to life, everybody heading for the bus, needles and syringes in hand.

    The Kethea bus stops here every evening. Day after day, six street workers drive around to hotspots in the city handing out clean needles. It’s the same story every night: Anybody who brings a needle and gives their name gets a new set: syringe, needle, disinfectant wipe and a little aluminum cap for cooking the dose. This exchange system is the only way to try and get used needles off the street — critical at a time of rising HIV infection.

    Then why is HIV still on the rise? Kethea psychologist Eleni Marini blames brothels, at least in part. "Prostitution, like homelessness, is going up sharply. Women who have nothing else can still sell their bodies. Some charge as little as 5 euro, 10 euro without a condom," she says.

    And then there’s sisa. Though the new drug doesn’t do a lot for sexual potency, it does make users horny. "On sisa, you want three things: sex, sex and sex," Christos had said when we were sitting in the Kethea courtyard the day before.

    Marini looks tired. She’s been with Kethea for 12 years, but their former team of 500 in 2008 has been reduced to a skeletal crew of 100 social workers, doctors and psychologists earning half what they used to. She’s listening to a user explain why he needs three new needles even though he’s only returning two. But she can give him only as many as he brings back. She knows the man will resort to used needles to make up the difference. Despite Kethea's efforts, there are still plenty around.

    She goes on handing out new sets to some 70 or 80 junkies, the usual number for a quiet evening, she says. Suddenly a police car drives by and every addict in sight disappears. Not surprising in view of what Ismail related the previous day.

    Ismail, an Iranian who walked to Athens via Turkey 13 years ago, works as a tailor. "When I first got here, this place seemed like Hawaii to me. Now all I’m earning is 1.80 euro an hour. Every night, I get panic attacks." To cope, he wanders through the city where the police have instructions to make sure everybody’s off the streets. Only they don’t jail drug users because it costs too much. Instead, they round them up in buses, drive them somewhere outside the city — sometimes as far away as 80 kilometers (50 miles) — and dump them. This has given rise to an absurd form of commuting as the drug users head back on foot to the city center. Ismail got caught once, and after spending six hours down at the station with police shouting "Iranian pig" at him, he was driven out to the suburb of Koropi.

    Couldn’t their families take them in? "They did for a long time," says psychologist Marini. "But now things have gotten to the point where families can’t even pay their own medical bills. We’re talking survival here. It’s why the number of homeless people has risen so sharply. These people used to have homes, but they’ve been kicked out."

    The bus drives off after about an hour. It’s still raining. The next morning the government releases figures saying that unemployment in Greece has risen to 27.4%, an all-time high.

    By Alex Rühle
    Published on 2013-06-25 21:05:13


  1. Alien Sex Fiend
    "Easy to make, cheap to buy

    It’s a nightmare that can be concocted in any kitchen. The key ingredient is methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth.
    In crisis-ridden Athens, crystal meth is sometimes replaced by battery acid, or if that’s not available, chlorine, shampoo, motor oil, kerosene or water softener Calgon. But strychnine and sulfuric acid have also been found in sisa samples. Sulfuric acid is so corrosive it can dissolve wood, paper and fabric

    this does not make any sense. meth is sometimes replaced by sulfuric acid from batteries? how exactly is that supposed to make anyone high? i see how it melts your guts
  2. westie420uk
    I watched to VICE documentary about this drug on YouTube, it looks horrible! & its cheap too, i can't believe you can buy a hit for 2 euros. And the worst thing is is that the people who use it don't even seem to know what it is. All they know is that if they are still alive after taking it for more than 8 months then they are lucky! I mean WTF?!?!
    Man, the drug scene has changed beyond all recognition since i smoked my first spliff 19 & a half years ago.
  3. Willyzh

    Sorry but I call shenanigans. Journalist needs to get a fucking clue on this one. If they mean meth is sometimes snthed with those ingredients... then that's much much different.

    What a crock of shit. Thanks for teh lulz. :crazy


  4. Willyzh
    It turns out the article is vague and lost in translation. There are remaining impurities in the meth. Who cares if people in Greece do impure meth? People in america have been doing it for years. It has nothing to do with economic collapse- people like to do Methamphetamine.

    The stuff about becoming a raging lunatic is sensationalist garbage.

    no it isn't. The drug is. The rest are impurities, probably from the cheap, one-pot synth they are doing.

    This is so poorly written it makes it sound like they are concocting a new drug from methamphetamine, when in fact they are just making meth cheaply and inadvertently leaving in impurities. A completely different drug concocted from meth wouldn't be inexpensive or desirable.

    Why are journalists so fucking stupid? Their job is to get facts straight. I wonder if this was done intentionally to make the article more "interesting?"

    Man I am in a bad mood. It must be the sisa. I think I'll go fuck everything that moves, or punch stuff.

  5. enquirewithin
    I would say this a lot of journalistic nonsense too. It would appear to be just cheap meth. Injecting under somebody's tongue? That sounds made up.
  6. Diverboone
    Sounds like Greeks have taken a class in American Drug War Scare Tactics. Someone should advise them that this method is a total failure in the U. S.

    The article is so poorly written that it's obvious that the author did not research his/her information. But it's this sensational media hyperbole with total disregard to the facts and truth that sells. Sells/profits outweigh the need for truth in the media.

    What's worse is the amount of people that fall for such elementary tactics. It's these people that promote stigmatization and stereotyping of Drug Users that are unfounded and harmful.
  7. gal68
    It does read to me as well as they are creating a new "drug" from methamphetamine. Crazy how things are portrayed in the media. It can be an amazing source of information, good or bad for real.

    Sounds like the users are just "spun" out?? Who knows!

    Stay safe.
  8. Diverboone
    Both U.S. and European studies show that scare tactics, the over-use of authority figures, speaking condescendingly to young people, and conveying messages or ideas that are misleading, extremist or do not conform with young people’s own perceptions and experiences – also known as “manipulative advertising” – are ineffective and may have a counterproductive effect on the target audience.
    (Hastings, Gerard, and Martine Stead, John Webb. “Fear Appeals in Social Marketing: Strategies and Ethical Reasons for Concern,” Psychology and Marketing 21.11, Nov. 2004: 961-986)
  9. westie420uk
    For the 'proper' story i suggest that people watch the VICE documentary on YouTube. The best way to get to the bottom of a story is to hear it from the horses mouth, several addicts are interviewed, Greece is now off the holiday destination list!
  10. Booty love
    Sounds like to me that greece discovered just how dangerous methampetamine can be with the hundreds of different ways to make it. Just because traces of dangerous chemicals were found, doesnt mean anything. The media purposly takes things like that way out of context. You can find traces of all sorts of dangerous chemicals in food and drink products on the shelf at walmart.
    I remember we quit buying walmart apple juice for awhile because trace levels of arsonic were found in it.
    We actually get a monthly letter from our water company, saying that our water is contaminated with 2-3 different chemicals but the amounts are so small, they aren't dangerous.
    Really? How am i supposed to believe a letter. They only send it so they arent liable if something happends as a direct result of whats in it. Really, someone else could come along and take the same facts about our water and spin it like the writer above did but that would create panic in our city and then the city would be forced to actually do something about it.

    In my opinion, That article is about meth and its different forms, plain and simple!
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