Albania Losing Drug Addiction Battle

Young drug addicts in Albania have no one to turn to for help.

Albania Losing Drug Addiction Battle

Young drug addicts in Albania have no one to turn to for help.

Wednesday, 10 October, 2001

Youngsters, many barely into their teens, are falling victim to a drugs scourge which the authorities here seem unable to tackle.


The trouble is Albania has no anti-drugs programme. When addicts go to hospital it's usually because of an overdose. After a few days they leave with no prospect of continuous care or therapy.


"One fifth of the users that come to our toxicology clinic are under 15 years of age," said Dr Zihni Sula, of the Tirana military hospital. Two years ago the average age of new addicts was between 16 and 17.


The extreme youth of addicts, especially in Tirana, is a major concern. Last year some 700 youngsters sought care at the hospital and the number is expected to rise this year.


Artan Isufi, father of a 17-year-old girl in Tirana, said he learnt two years ago that she had become an addict. "I went crazy," he said. "I thought of looking for some help but where? The state? Forget it...


"I'd done my best for my daughter. I took her on holiday every year. I urged her to paint pictures for which she has a clear talent. I have a good house in central Tirana, a good car to take us round the country at weekends."


Shkelqim Demiraj, 15, was forced to go to hospital by his father Iliaz. "I was told he was injecting drugs," Iliaz said. "There was hardly any space on his arm not marked by the black spot of a syringe. Shkelqim was too young to work but he sold copper and aluminium, which he probably stole, to buy drugs."


Shkelqim went to the hospital twice, but each time left before doctors could see him. Now his father stays at his bedside to make sure friends do not bring in drugs. "If I don't keep my eye on him for a moment he is gone," Iliaz said. "He is not at all himself and might jump out the window."


Most drug addicts at present are boys, but girls are also being caught up in the vice.


Dalina, 18, told how she and her boyfriend were both on drugs but had no money. "We could not become thieves or beggars," she said. "So my boyfriend urged me to sell myself for money." She went to a man who paid her with heroin instead of money.


"I was afraid I could be abducted and taken by speedboat to Italy to work as a prostitute," Dalina said. "I was depressed for days but luckily I started going out with someone else. He saved my life by persuading me to give up drugs. I will never forgive my first lover."


It seems the government is now looking at steps to combat drugs, but funding is in short supply. The authorities though are determined to tackle the problem. Recently, police tore down hundreds of kiosks, bars, and restaurants in central Tirana because they had become thriving centres for the drug trade. They grassed over the entire area.


While parents with addict children welcome such action, they want the government to do more to assist them directly. Some are simply losing patience and are resorting to increasingly desperate measures to get their kids off drugs.


Ardian Hoxha, 19, was betrayed to the police in Tirana by his own family, who believed it was probably the only way to get him to kick the habit. They actually planted drugs on him - many other families have done the same in recent years - but when Ardian was sentenced to five years his mother shrieked in court.


Such harsh sentences are unlikely in future. The government is now reviewing legislation which treats drug users and traffickers with equal severity. From now on, addicts will be treated more leniently.


Denisa Xhoga and Zylyftar Bregu are reporters for Shekulli newspaper in


Tirana.


Albania
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