As most, I fear the fate of our beloved NHS under the Shithead Coalition. I have previously suggested that current Government policy (punish the poor for the mistakes of the minted) may well be leaving the door wide open to another heroin epidemic, and we already see the country flooded with novel psychoactive substances such as MCat. Well it seems that the nightmarish repeat of the 80s unravelling before our eyes in Britain is already taking place in Greece.
A new ‘cocaine of the poor’ is sweeping the poverty-stricken country. At €2 a hit, and reportedly a variant of crystal meth, ‘shisha’ sounds likely to me to be MCat by another name. Similarly, it brings aggression, violence, mental health problems, and burns users from the inside out. And as with MCat, it is cheap, easily accessible, and currently has ripe pickings of the desperate poor.
And who can blame people for wanting some escapism. With Greek youth unemployment apparently at 64% and a total of 400,000 families without any income at all (not to mention those who have jobs but aren’t getting paid, or are earning so little that they are unable to sustain their families), it is no surprise that suicides have increased by over 60%. Prostitution and homelessness have also massively increased – and I don’t know about you, but if I was reduced to living a brutal life on the streets, I think I’d prefer to be the nutter than the nutted, battered than the battered. Shisha use could be seen as a strategic line of defence.
In terms of the back-drop to the growing drug problem in Greece, I have been dipping in and out of an amazing blog (a really excellent example of why the Internet and its self-publishing is a wonderful thing) which challenges pretty much everything written in the mainstream media, and uncovers some fairly scary truths about the state of the world and those running it. The author, John Ward, writes about the ‘Troika’ – European Commission, International Monetary Fund, and European Central Bank – crippling Greece’s economy by forcing austerity measures. His comparisons between the Troika’s policies and those of the Fascists during the Second World War are genuinely frightening. John has exposed the corruption within the capitalist structures of Europe, and warns that, as in the past, ‘austerity’ can be a label given to international looting by those in power. And last time round, he says, when the Nazis stole Greek resources as part of ‘German reconstruction costs’, 40,000 Greeks starved to death.
So what does this mean for the Greek people now, and are there lessons we can learn? A new book, as reported in the Guardian this week, looks specifically at the health impact of austerity measures, and brings the tag line “Recessions can hurt, but austerity kills”. Strong words – but they are backed up with hard facts by this Yale, Oxford and Cambridge-educated expert in health economics, David Stuckler, who says that Greece is facing a public health disaster. With a reduction to the health budget of 40%, he quotes the Greek health minister, “These aren’t cuts with a scalpel, they’re cuts with a butcher’s knife”. And the cuts weren’t made under the guidance of the medical profession but by the financially-motivated Troika. They are not even representative of financial requirements being met by other countries, but are in fact much harsher than the cuts being imposed in other areas of Europe. It seems that John Ward’s shocking comparisons may be more accurate than is comfortable to acknowledge – and that the concepts of public health and indeed humanity appear to have been lost in a calculated move for money and power.
And the results for Greek health provision so far? Hospitals without surgical gloves, pharmacies without necessary medication, and seriously diminished resources to support the ever-increasing population of substance users. Stuckler has spoken to drug services in Athens to see how close they are to meeting World Health Organisation guidance that 200 clean needles should be made available for each IV drug user every year – and the current availability per person is 3. No wonder then that cases of HIV have shown a 200% increase (which is probably a conservative estimate given that testing is no doubt harder to access, and will not be helped by the increasingly desperate prostitution trade), and I dread to think of the rates of hepatitis C, venous damage and bacterial infections as people continue to use drugs without access to harm reduction advice and clean equipment.
As Professor Stuckler points out using multiple examples from history, destroying welfare, healthcare and employment programmes is never a positive move for the economy, aside from the human cost. A country that fails to invest in its people has not the strength to recover – very much like a person, there needs to be belief, hope and investment for recovery to take place. And if austerity was a treatment programme being clinically trialled, “It would have been discontinued” says Stuckler. “The evidence of its deadly side-effects – of the profound effects on economic choices on health – is overwhelming”.
So, just to bring it back home.. Cuts to public services: check. Increase in unemployment: check. Money being taken from the poor and disabled to pay for the rich: check. Increase of depression presentations (especially in the north of England where unemployment is highest and suicide is on the rise): check. Easy access to dangerous, damaging new drugs and a bumper opium crop due in from Afghanistan: check. Right then, we’re all set! Addiction is the new black, I’d get taxing the stuff if I were you, David.