Greece Launches First Methadone Maintenance Program For Inmates

Agios Stefanos prison

Agios Stefanos prison, Greece 

Agios Stefanos prison in Patras, Greece is the proud new home of the country's very first "prison" methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) program, where inmates struggling with addiction can now be provided with proper treatment, medical care and compassion they so desperately require to treat their addictions while incarcerated.

The issues of substance abuse and addiction among prison inmates in Greece is no secret. A 1999 study of 861 randomly selected inmates from 10 correctional institutions in the country found that 33.6 percent reported injecting drugs, and of those, 60 percent had reported injecting while in prison. Not surprisingly, 54.7 percent of the inmates engaging in intravenous drug use during their stay in prison were incarcerated due to drug-related offenses. With statistics like those, it is abundantly clear that effective treatment options needed to be made available not just to the general public, but to those who are incarcerated in jails or prisons as well.

This article first appeared on Studio L. Read the original here

A group known as OKANA, the Greek Organization Against Drugs, has played a large role in setting the foundation for the pilot MMT prison program in Agios Stefanos. Run by a seven member administrative board, OKANA has been operational since 1995, and functions as "a legal person that is governed by private law and reports to the Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity." The organization has the following purposes:

  1. "Plan, promote, coordinate and implement a national policy on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts."
  2. "Address the drug problem at a national level, provide valid and documented information, and raise public awareness."
  3. "Establish and effectively manage prevention centers, treatment units and social and professional reintegration centers."

Clearly some of their efforts have paid off, as the very first pilot methadone program in a Greek prison has officially begun. While the program is still in the beginning phases, once fully developed the MMT program will be able to provide a wide range of services for 150 prisons inmates struggling with addiction. The support services available range from psychological to social, involving two psychologists and one social worker, as well as qualified medical staff.

Currently, nine prisoners struggling with opiate addiction have begun undergoing all of the necessary medical evaluations and toxicology testing required in order to participate in the program. There are also plans to open a similar MMT program and related services in Greece's infamous Korydallos Prison.

Marinos Skandamis, Chief Secretary for Penal Policy of the Ministry of Justice has high hopes for the program, and shared words of appreciation for the work accomplished by OKANA.

"The Ministry expresses gratitude to the Organization against Drugs for this unprecedented initiative. We hope that it will lead to significant results that will be used in favor of the prisoners in other prisons in Greece."

Accessible and stigma free addiction treatment programs should be available for all members of society, regardless of whether or not one happens to be serving time in prison.

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Studio L is a freelance writer living in Southwestern Ontario. She is a recovering IV drug user, methadone patient, and harm reduction advocate, and covers these issues in her blog.