GREECE: University saves youngsters from drugs

The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki has found an unusual way to strengthen its links with the community at large: help youngsters addicted to drugs. Teams of experts, staff and students approach drug addicts and try to open a dialogue in the hope of persuading them to take part in the psychology department’s self-help programme. For a significant percentage, the result is eventual rehabilitation.

The programme is called Streetwork and it is now in its seventh year. The three-member teams who go out and meet addicts at their designated haunts are made up of a professional psychologist, a post-graduate student and a former addict.

“We normally approach drug addicts during the evening hours either in their own particular hide-outs or in the university compound where they are protected by the asylum and cannot be arrested,” says Phebos Zafiridis, professor of clinical psychology at the Aristotle University and scientific advisor of the programme.

“Every night we find eight, maybe 10 people, some regular others not. We have a chat with them and it is not unusual for one or two of them to be persuaded to participate in the self-help programme of the university. It is a hopeful sign that as a result of this activity law-breaking incidents have been substantially reduced while at the same time some young people have been saved from the scourge of drugs,” Zafiridis said.

Streetwork is an open programme which means that addicts do not receive any substitutes and they stay in their own homes. There is no waiting list, it is completely free and participation is voluntary. “The only obligation for those who agree to take part is to stay ‘clean’ for one day,” said programme co-ordinator and psychologist Alexandros Georgiou.

The university’s Addicts Support Centre is open from 8am to 8pm on weekends and from 1pm until 8pm at the weekends. In 2006, nearly 900 people visited the centre for different kinds of problems connected with addiction.

From those, 657 were addicts themselves and 104 family members or friends of addicts. Of the 657 addicts, 599 had a problem with drugs and 58 with alcohol. Another 136 people participated in different parts of the programme.

The Streetwork scheme is the only one of its kind in the country with such frequency and duration. More than 20% of those who visit the centre and participate are eventually rehabilitated. It is undoubtedly an effective way for a higher education institution to serve the community.