"Cocaine of the Poor" Plagues Greece

By Sarah Beller 05/16/13

Economic disaster leads to rising use of a cheap, synthetic drug by the nation's homeless.

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"Sisa" is Greece's drug of choice in hard
times.
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A new documentary from Vice investigates "sisa," a cheap synthetic drug that is "destroying the lives of Athens' homeless people." Although little is known about the drug, it is rumored to be a cheap derivative of crystal meth cut with anything from shampoo or cooking salt to battery acid and engine oil. Charalampos Poulopoulos, director of KETHEA, a government-funded anti drug and rehabilitation organization, says Greece's economic crisis has exacerbated general drug use in the country, and led to sisa's emergence on the market. The nation currently has a 27% unemployment rate—58% for youth under 25. In a "perfect storm," the economic crisis has also led to a collapse of the health care system, leading to a deficit of treatment centers, methadone clinics and healthcare workers. Addicts who’ve been priced out of using heroin, crack, and crystal meth have increasingly turned to sisa, which costs as little as two euros a hit. The epidemic is only the latest example in a global trend toward synthetic street drugs, from the skin-eating krokodil in Siberia, to souped-up anti-AIDS meds in South Africa, and to the synthetic craze in North America and the UK.As with most drugs available to the poor, sisa comes with some nasty side effects, including “insomnia, delusions, heart attacks and aggressiveness,” says Poulopoulos. In the video, sisa users describe the drug's damaging effects. "I think it's the worst drug ever" says a man in the video, "You can kill someone and not even realize."

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Sarah Beller is a writer and the Executive Director at Filter. She has written about drug policy with a focus on harm reduction for Substance.comThe Fix and Salon. She has worked as a social worker with formerly incarcerated people in New York for a number of years. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’sThe HairpinThe ToastReductressThe Rumpus and other publications. You can find Sarah on Linkedin and Twitter.

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