There has been a dramatic increase in the sale and use of drugs by minors in Greece over the past 10-15 years, independent of social and economic factors, with the onset of use now starting on average as early as 13-14 years old.
Drug related crime is also up, with the Hellenic Police recording 529 arrests of minors relating to narcotics in 2022, with two arrests related to minors as young as seven and twelve years old.
The Therapy Center for Dependent Individuals (KETHEA) corroborates the increase in cases. In 2022, 352 teenagers reached out to the organization’s counseling centers, compared to 292 in 2020 and 296 individuals in 2021, while 144 teens were admitted to rehab as opposed to 132 and 127, respectively in the two years prior.
Head of Department of Mental Health & Social Welfare at the Institute of Child Health George Nikolaidis explains to “Ta Nea” how the landscape surrounding teen drug use has changed over the past 40 years, how the profile of users has changed, and how much easier it is to get a hold of different substances than a few years ago. Previously, he explains, a person had to be quite wealthy to use cocaine and other drugs, but they have now become much more affordable.
Research Department Director at KETHEA Gerasimos Papanastasatos continues stating that “minors are not really aware of what they are using, and precisely because they experiment with various substances and combinations, it is possible for drug synergies to occur, which unfortunately can have fatal consequences.”
According to KETHEA’s research on drug use in minors, 90 percent of teens start experimenting with drugs through the use of cannabis.
After experimenting, users move to their primary choice for substance of abuse around the age of 20, which is likely the one they will seek treatment for down the line. Looking at users in Greece and their drugs of choice, 37.5 percent mainly use cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids, 31.5 percent use heroin and opioids (through smoking, nasal inhalation or injection) while the other 27 percent take cocaine in various forms and amphetamine-type stimulants.
Among the overall users, four out of ten individuals have completed high school, and only one-fifth (19.4%) is in or has completed university.
The Municipality of Athens’ Prevention Center “Athina Ygeia” (Athens Health) President Fotini Leobilla mentions that there is no distinct social profile for underage users. “We see children from wealthy suburbs and working-class neighborhoods using drugs. The reasons for experimentation and subsequent addiction are multifaceted, but I believe family relationships and the environment the child is exposed to are the most influential”.