'Sisa', the drug of the poor
In 2010, at a moment when the financial crisis was reaching a fever pitch, the brand new drug ‘sisa’ appeared for the first time in Greece. It is the only drug that can be found exclusively in Greece and is produced under special circumstances. The drug can mainly be traced in central Athens. Sisa’s exact chemical nature is disputed and obscured. However, it is circulated in the drug market as a colourless crystalline substance and is believed to be consisted of methamphetamines and of the liquid coming from cars’ batteries. According to the Greek Focal Point findings, sisa is mostly smoked and sometimes injected. 14 user reports revealed that mainly immigrants coming from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and India, as well as heroin users and young drug users were the groups that made most use of sisa.
The greek newspaper ‘Kathimerini’ informs us that sisa is produced in illegal laboratories in Athens and is called the drug of the poor or the cocaine of the poor. The fact that it is made of ingredients found in the batteries of cars makes this drug particularly strange. Sisa is sold for 1 or 2 euros at the streets and drug circles, which affirms that it is particularly low cost, easy to use and justifiably called the ‘drug of the poor’ or the ‘drug of the crisis’.
The main side effects that seem to be associated with the use of sisa are mainly insomnia, hallucinations, anorexia, palpitations and anxiety, psychiatric and heart problems. According to the relevant article recently published in ‘Kathimerini’, sisa is responsible for causing aggressive behaviour and increased sexuality to the user. This new and cheap drug is associated with the rapid increase in HIV rates-and this increase is attributed to the intense sexual attitude caused by the drug, which leads in the absence of the necessary precautions. However, some other public health professionals tend to think that sisa is responsible for the expansion of the HIV rates among the IDU’S because they believe that the drug is mainly injected rather than smoked.
KETHEA, one of the biggest therapeutic communities for drug addicts in Greece, is currently running a direct intervention programme in the streets of Athens aiming to provide accommodation, food and a friendly environment to the sisa users that are found in the streets.
Some of them questioned by KETHEA described the symptoms of sisa as such: ‘You feel like your mind is totally escaping, you feel the urge to beat up people and steal’. Another user said: ‘You can’t sleep, you can’t eat and you keep talking all the time. ..It reduces the appetite. Five people committed suicide.’
It is interesting to see that between June and September of 2011, it was noted that 95,3 % out of 148 of the drug users who consulted KETHEA were familiar with the drug ‘sisa’ , 68,5% made use of it and the dominant age group that used it was between 31 and 35 years old.
Martha Fosteri, the special assistant manager of KETHEA, says that exactly as methadone is used as a substitute of heroine, in the same way sisa seems to be used as the substitute of cocaine. She explains that the economic crisis influences the drug markets and forces drug users to resort to less expensive drugs and substitutes such as sisa. The outcomes of recession are misery, poverty and social stigmatization, factors that impact dramatically on the health of drug users. She adds that the crisis makes the rehabilitation of young drug users more difficult because their families need to work ceaselessly and don’t have the luxury and the time to take part in the treatment programs of their children.
According to the article in ‘Kathimerini’ newspaper, the sisa users face serious health problems: most of them are undernourished, 64% suffer from hepatitis C, 84% inject heroin, 17,7% of them have suicidal tendencies and 7,5% are homeless. The issue is about life and health and not about criminal behaviour, as many people still tend to think.