Mapping the anthropogeography of people who use psychoactive substances in the centre of Athens: a comparative study
Background and Aims
In 2010 and 2012, the Greek Organization Against Drugs (OKANA) conducted two surveys aiming to elucidate the anthropogeography of people who use psychoactive substances (PWUD) in the centre of Athens, as well as their living conditions. Based on these past initiatives, the current research study implemented in 2018 is a follow-up effort with the aim to assess potential significant qualitative and quantitative changes or new developments that have occurred in the human geography and social characteristics of this target group in Athens, during the past eight years.
To be eligible to participate in these surveys, respondents had to be adults, to have used psychoactive substances during the previous week and to sign a written informed consent form. Participation was anonymous, voluntary with the right of withdrawal at anytime during the interview. Semi-structured interviews based on the research questionnaire were conducted by assigned street-work team members, who approached individuals in open drug scenes around Athens. The research questionnaire included sections on demographic characteristics, including homelessness, drug use, areas they frequent etc.
In total, 275, 206 and 200 PWUD participated in 2010, 2012 and 2018 survey, respectively. In 2018, 80% were men. The mean age of respondents increased over time (33.7, 37.0 and 38.0 years in 2010, 2012 and 2018, respectively). The proportion of migrants was higher in 2018 compared to 2012 (35.0% vs. 13.0%, respectively, p<0.001). A large number of participants in 2018 reported being homeless (54.5%). Regarding the places of concentration in the center of Athens, despite the population's movements there is a common element in all three surveys, as the largest concentration of population is located in the same areas. In the 2018 survey, 56% of drug users reported that they stay out for more than 10 hours a day, with one in two reporting that they stay out during the evenings. In addition, 44.5% engages in injecting drug use while a high proportion of the sample (74.5%) does not participate currently in any drug treatment program.
The population of psychoactive drug users in the center of Athens is "getting older, whereas the association of this particular population with a high risk of premature death begins to be challenged. The increase in the number of migrant PWUD in the center of Athens suggests an urgent need for services tailored to their specific needs. Also, the high amount of time that people using drugs spend in the center of Athens, combined with the high prevalence of homelessness, raise serious issues of personal and public health safety and protection of human rights.