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Support instead of Prison for Under-age Drug Addicts

30 July 2014 / 08:07:27  GRReporter
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A year ago the Greek Organisation against Drugs OKANA launched a pilot programme to help juveniles of 13 to 18 years, and young people of 18 to 24 years, who are caught breaking the law on drugs for the first time. The programme offers an alternative to the offenders, providing them and their families with psychological support immediately after their arrest, and then guiding and including them in programmes in order to help them quit drugs.

Pilot Programmes, Alternatives to Prison for Offenders who are Drug Addicts, which is the name of the programme, is applied by the emergency social intervention service provided by OKANA.

"We are currently cooperating with 21 police stations in the centre of Athens and 15 in the Thessaloniki area. We intend to expand our activities in other regions of these two cities, in places where we found that there are potential participants in the programme", Eleni Kerasioti, a psychologist specialising in forensics and a member of the emergency social intervention office, said for GRReporter.

According to her, the majority of cases they are asked to intervene with concern offenders in the age group of 13-18 years, and very rarely, an offender aged between 18 and 24 years happens to be arrested for the first time on such an accusation.

"Immediately after the arrest of someone who meets the programme requirements, if they and their family agree, the relevant police station informs us and asks us to intervene; said intervention starts from the moment we go to the station until the arrested person is sent to the prosecutor. We inform the Office about him, collect information about the frequency of drug use, violations of law on his part and inform him about the programme, in which he can be included in order to quit drugs", said Kerasioti.

Then the representative of the Office reserves a day and time when the person is supposed to attend the office, where he receives guidance to what treatment programmes to refer to. In most cases, the people arrested with small amounts of drugs are released, unless the authorities have evidence that the drug is not intended for personal use and for sale.

"When a person comes to us, we conduct an investigation. Our task is to determine to what extent the person is dependent on drugs, how often they use them, what their social and family problems are, if they have any health problems, previous criminal acts or other problems concerning the law. All this information helps us create an individual programme according to the needs of each person and also helps us to solve their personal problems as well as the problems of their families. If we find that the person needs more specialised medical care, we include him/her in another programme and then observe his/her development there".

The purpose of OKANA is to reach as many young people as possible, including those using drugs rarely in order to inform and influence them to break away from drugs entirely. This is done because according to some experts the risk for these young people to start using hard drugs in the future is too high.

Kerasioti pointed out that most of the juveniles prefer marijuana, and in recent years its use has increased. The pilot implementation of the programme will continue until April 2015, after which it will become part of the regular activities of OKANA. Now, employees of the organisation are using all possible ways to reach representatives of specific age groups who use drugs, in order to inform them and help them to participate in treatment programmes for quitting drugs.

The office, which operates under the programme, consists of seven people: a social worker, a psychologist, a medical employee and four social therapists, two of whom used to be drug addicts and have personal experience in terms of addiction and drug withdrawal. "All of our employees are highly qualified and trained to provide the right advice to people in terms of rights, and issues related to drug use and withdrawal".

According to Kerasioti, the cooperation between the police authorities and the office for emergency social intervention is very good, and excellent results are achieved. The pilot programme is conducted under the National Strategic Reference Framework 2007 - 2013 and co-funded by the European Social Fund and national funds.

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