Standing in the Athens police headquarters, interviewing the director of the drug unit, I realised I had a bag of chemically enhanced crystal meth in my pocket. I’d bought it the night before from a Greek homeless man and had forgotten to throw it away. After the interview, I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, which is when some officers noticed the film crew I had brought along, who were recording from a distance.
Minutes later the cops dragged us into a holding room, the little packet of drugs still stuffed in my pants. They made some calls, glared at us and eventually, reluctantly, released us – without ever searching me, thankfully. On my way out, I threw the baggie into the first garbage can I passed.
Several Greek police stations have been firebombed in recent months, so the cops have reason to be nervous, especially when they notice that they are being filmed. On our first evening in Athens, a different group of officers approached us and, after spotting our film crew down the street, demanded to see our papers. They deleted our footage and detained us for a couple of hours, until we’d managed to get our passports delivered to the station. Greece is a paranoid place at the moment. The police, fascists, anarchists, dealers and drug users are all fighting for local supremacy and no one trusts anyone else.
The night before our close call at the Athens police headquarters, I was approached by a group of homeless people, one of whom was smoking some horrible-smelling stuff through what appeared to be a meth bowl made from an old lightbulb. Although I don’t speak Greek, I managed to let him know that I wanted to buy some of the drug, colloquially known as sisa. The homeless guy wandered off with my five-euro note, and afterward an old man grabbed my arm and shouted, “No, no take! Very bad.” I wasn’t going to smoke it, but I was very curious about Greece’s infamous new drug.
In 2012, Charalampos Poulopoulos, director of KETHEA, a government-funded antidrug, rehabilitation organisation, authored a research paper titled “Economic Crisis in Greece: Risks and Challenges for Drug Policy and Strategy” for the journal Drugs and Alcohol Today. In it, he detailed the ways the Greek economic disaster has exacerbated drug use in the country, claiming that “rates of drug and alcohol consumption… as well as the associated mental-health problems are set to rise the longer the recession continues.” At its essence, the report provides data for the obvious: the instability that results from widespread and increasing nationwide poverty leads to hopelessness, health problems, and self-medication by way of street drugs.
“In the last two years drug users have become more self-destructive,” Charalampos wrote. “Especially in the region of Athens where the effects of economic crisis are more obvious.” According to him, it was around this time that sisa emerged on the market.
The basic ingredient of sisa is methamphetamine. Addicts have reported that it can also contain filler ingredients like battery acid, engine oil, shampoo and cooking salt. “There is no official data on that,” Charalampos told me. “The General Chemical State Laboratory of Greece hasn’t gotten enough samples to reach any conclusions yet.”
by Alex Miller, Vice Magazine