Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
Mr. President of OKANA,
We bring to your attention this letter with the opportunity of the closure of the pilot Drug Consumption Room, ODYSSEAS. As users but mostly as representatives of this community that has no other way of expression, we are extremely frustrated by the fact that ODYSSEAS, one of the most indispensable and crucial units of OKANA, has been shut down with quick procedures, turning its back to all users and dooming them to constant insecurity and severe danger. Its even more important, especially during this period, that Athens experiences an outburst in terms of infections and a rise in homeless drug users that inject in very harmful and dangerous ways.
We also want to protest against the fact that we haven’t received any previous information concerning the background of this decision. Our only sources were some press releases, reporting that ODYSSEAS was shut down by an unexcused and sudden order of the Public Prosecutor.
We were shocked and utterly upset. Therefore we would like to know all the details behind, which was the accusation that led you take this decision and shut down the unit and also if you did everything within your powers to resist on these accusations, to fight in order to keep the unit open and most of all, to get the DCR fully legalized, a pending issue since the beginning of its function.
Additionally, having access to some non-official information about what has happened but also knowing the non-stop war that OKANA fronts, coming from conservative and antiquated perceptions concerning treatment some policy makers embrace, we would like to know what was the answer that the Ministry of Health has given to you in possible calls of yours about ODYSSEAS.
The greek DCR which was very well received by the world civil society as it was a radical movement regarding the greek background, made us proud because despite the economic crisis, public opinion’s taboos and serious lacks in harm reduction interventions, it was an exception that gave hope to other countries too. It seemed that the way was opening little by little for more DCRs in order to save more lives, also leading more people to join substitution services.
Our feeling is that nothing was done from what it should have been done. OSYSSEAS kept functioning for months without legal cover,however, the ex President of OKANA, Mrs Meni Malliori, feeling the urgent need for safer use and having ensured the structural funds by the EU, backed for this unit -even under these difficult circumstances- as it was now or never.
What do you really think about programs that run under community and institutional funds coming form the EU that they start but remain uncompleted?
After her removal we feel that no effort has been made by the legal department of OKANA to ask the Ministry of any legal amendment or any other legal procedure that could guarantee the function of the unit. If it has been and we are not aware of, we ask you to inform us about it.
Finally, while you have committed that we would have a collaboration, no meeting has ever occurred between us even though we have requested for it. For the first time during all those years, we haven’t even received a reply to our calls.
The war against OKANA and the resistances produced by the progressive actions that introduces in the society are caused by the way the organism itself uses or doesn’t uses all its means in order to inform about the necessity of such interventions, the understanding of its role and the outcomes of such interventions.
Finally it seems that this lack of strategy doesn’t only affect the image of the Organization but its costs go far beyond financial limits.
We wait for some answers concerning all our questions that are connected to real lives, who’s future is based from such decisions taken by people who finally need to wonder if they really value drug users as equal human beings, if they really care about our lives and what is the future they plan for our population.
With full indignation
Greek Drug & Substitute Users Union
Co-signed by: PRAKSIS Hellenic Association of People living with HIV POSITIVE VOICE – Hellenic Association of Liver
Patients PROMETHEUS DIOGENIS Center of Life
Read the EMCDDA country report of Greece – Harm reduction responses:
Harm reduction responses
Low-threshold services in Greece implement a broad range of interventions in the area of harm reduction, and prevention and care for infectious diseases, including overdose prevention. Following an outbreak of HIV infection among people who inject drugs (PWID) in Athens in 2011, treatment and harm reduction service provision has been scaled up. Nationwide information for drug users on the risks of drug use is provided by counselling units at the drug treatment centres, which refer their clients to OKANA facilities and/or public hospitals laboratories for infectious diseases screening. So far, specific harm reduction programmes remain limited to the Greater Athens area. Their capacity was increased following the HIV outbreak among PWID, and services include medical care, psychological support and information about the prevention of infectious diseases. Sterile injecting equipment is provided at thirteen different sites (including three fixed locations), by teams of outreach workers and at eight mobile units. Approximately 407 000 syringes were distributed through the existing needle and syringe exchange/distribution points at fixed and mobile outlets in 2012, which is almost six times as many as in the year preceding the outbreak (61 500 in 2010). Low-threshold services also provide condoms, printed material and training to drug users in safe use and first aid. It is estimated that in 2012 needle and syringe exchange served more than 5 000 PWID, which is three times more than in 2011.
The street outreach programmes provide printed information about the services available to drug users, how to prevent infectious diseases and safer use practices; they also distribute clean syringes and condoms. In late 2011 the OKANA replaced high dead-space syringes exchanged/distributed through the programmes with low dead-space syringes, to reduce the risk of HIV infection. Furthermore, in 2011 the EXELIXIS low-threshold programme (ΚΕTHΕΑ) developed a ‘support at home’ service. This programme provides psychosocial support to the users and to members of their support network at their place of residence (home, hospital, houses inhabited without permission, etc.). The specially trained workers visit drug users at the users’ request. The staff of the ΟΚΑΝΑ street work programme also support its clients in prisons and hospitals. Some low-threshold programmes also provide free testing on drug/related infectious diseases. Free vaccination against hepatitis A and B viruses is provided by two low-threshold facilities in Athens.
In 2012 two street work programmes were implemented for the first time in Thessaloniki, as a measure to prevent the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic to other areas of the country.
In 2013 the first supervised drug consumption room in Greece was opened in OKANA premises to serve PWID frequenting street-based drug-taking areas in the city of Athens.
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