Hello brothers and sisters! I am Efi Kokkini, co-founder and Chairwoman of the Greek Drug & Substitute Users Union, a union created with tones of difficulties and zero budget in a country that has been financially and ethically collapsing. The union began with the hopes and dreams for a fairer future for us and the next generation of people who use drugs, (against a background with no drug users movements) but mostly with the commitment that any harmful decisions concerning our community would crash against our wall of resistance and fight – in a State that considered drug users incapable to react.
Having political systems which never had the slightest idea about Harm Reduction policies and practices, we demanded systematic change starting with interventions and suggestions on training and an understanding of the proven effectiveness of Harm Reduction in society. Our Union, in meetings and discussions with the President of OKANA (Organisation Against Drugs) continually requested a Drug Consumption Room*, concerned about the zero hygiene our mates were experiencing while injecting on pavements and streets. We had no safe or sterile materials to prevent exposure to several types of viruses (mostly HIV and Hep C) and lacked health services to take care of open wounds and abscesses or check general health and test for viruses or infections.
When the announcement was made that the first DCR called ODYSSEAS opened its door to the public on October 3, 2013, it was a relief and a victory for us. Finally, in the Greece of misery and austerity, a miracle had happened, a miracle that updated the image of our country in the eyes of many worldwide organizations and the press. But the miracle did not last..not even for one year. Suddenly, we were informed that the DCR stopped providing its central services leaving these people that thought they finally found a shelter, to return to the streets and their usual, well-known dangers feeling once again cheated and deceived. We wrote a letter as an initial act to try and get some answers to ‘why’. If we feel misled and patronized and the answers we get are not well-grounded, we’ll get even more furious. If we do not receive a commitment about a quick re-opening of the Greek DCR, we shall declare war!
Efi Kokkini, co-founder and Chairwoman of the Greek Drug & Substitute Users Union; below letter to the president of OKANA, translated from Greek to English.
This is the letter written by the Greek Drug& Substitute User’s Union, co-signed by 5 more organizations (PRAKSIS, POSITIVE VOICE, PROMETHEUS, DIOGENIS Association, CENTER FOR LIFE) and was addressed to the President of OKANA (Greek organization against drugs), to the National Drug Coordinator, to the Minister of Health and the Deputy Minister of Health. The main issue has to do with the ban of the Greek drug consumption room, ODYSSEAS.
* Drug Consumption Room is a safe, legal and clean place with health professionals and medical equipment on site, where people can use their drugs without fear of arrest and get sterile drug using equipment and health and harm reduction information.
Letter Demands Re-Opening of DCR
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. It is 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 from 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
Hellenic Association of People living with HIV POSITIVE VOICE
Hellenic Association of Liver Patients PROMETHEUS
DIOGENIS Association, Drug policy dialogue in South East Europe.
Center for Life PRAKSIS
To read a news item on the opening of the Greek Drug Consumption Room from The Fix’s website click here