“Drug use by high school students has become the norm. There have been cases where 9-year-old children have come to the hospital. These are special cases that come from families with many economic and social problems.” Miga Mataraku-Toxicologist
E.Y. was only 13 years old when he first consumed drugs. Driven by curiosity as to why his friends were happy after consuming narcotics, he decided to try them, not knowing he would be fighting addiction even 15 years later.
“The loss of my mother, when I was 12, alienated me. I transformed, as I lacked control. I lacked nothing from my family, but I was always closed to myself and did not tell them that I had started taking drugs. At the age of 15, I started consuming cannabis, and at the age of 18, heroin,” – he said.
E.Y. has failed to get an education. After finishing eighth grade, he did not continue high school following an expulsion.
“Until the 7th grade I was a student with high results, I even received a certificate of commendation, but the lack of accountability at home, the departure of my mother from this life and staying more on the streets than at home did their own thing,” – he added.
The 28-year-old admitted during the interview that he has also turned into a drug dealer, as he was still a minor at the time and could not have a secure job.
“Narcotics were distributed to minors and adults. The ‘client’ was not differentiated by age,” – he sais.
Consumption of narcotics increases significantly
The consumption of narcotics by minors has increased significantly, which has been ascertained from the interaction with them in four 9-year schools in the city of Elbasan.
In the interviews conducted with 36 ninth grade students (18 girls and 18 boys), from four 9-year schools in Elbasan, it resulted that each of them was aware of the use of narcotics in school, while 70% of them admitted to knowing other students consuming narcotics. In response to the request for information, addressed to the Local Education Office of Elbasan, it is acknowledged that during 2021 only 2 students were identified as users of narcotics, a very low figure compared to what is claimed by the students themselves.
One of the reasons why there is no evidence of cases earlier, is the lack of trust of students to express their problems, concerns to psychologists and teachers.
“If I had any problems , I would not turn to the school psychologist or the teacher,” 90% of the students interviewed answered. According to the psychologist, Elona Mustafaraj, one of the reasons why students do not turn to the school psychologist is related to the fear that if the psychologist knows the problem, she will tell the teacher.
“Within the school environment, they can easily see that they are consulting a psychologist and are afraid of the fact that they may be bullied by their peers. Also, this approach to the psychologist relates to reliability. Children think that the fact that psychologists are close to other teachers and students, their data may not be safe and others may be aware.”
Mustafaraj admits that while working in one of the 9-year schools in Elbasan, she consulted with students who had tried narcotics.
“He was not a regular user. He came in during the first stage of use and during that time had experienced anxiety, panic. More than with drug users, I conducted treatments with juveniles who gambled. Mostly these were cases referred by family members, but they may have done the first sessions and then resisted, not following the treatment for the effect of high level of addiction, but also because it was left to them to choose the moment they felt it was appropriate to return to the sessions,” – she added.
The age group which consumes drugs is getting younger
According to the toxicologist, Miga Mataraku, the age group that consumes narcotics is getting younger, which has made the consumption of drugs by high school students to be seen as acceptable.
“There have been cases when 9-year-old children have come to the hospital. These are special cases that come from families with many economic and social problems.”
The mixture of drugs and poor quality has often led to patients being found in overdose shock by the police.
“There are patients who come from families with good economic conditions and buy cannabis, while poor consumers buy substances that are provided with less money. Drug quality remains a problem that consumers are aware of, but still consume it mixed, which increases the chance of overdosing,” – she added.
Elbasan does not have a rehabilitation center
The city of Elbasan lacks a rehabilitation center and the only point where customers turn to for help is the Methadone Center or otherwise known as Aksion Plus. Genc Muçollari, Director of the humanitarian center Aksion Plus , has shown that in the branches of this center, which are distributed in Tirana, Elbasan, Korça, Durrës, Berat, Fier, Shkodra and Saranda, receive treatment daily 920 persons.
“In 2020, approximately 6.6% of students (minors), have tried narcotics at least once, compared to 4.4% in 2014,” – he said.
Muçollari admitted to the ACQJ that drug users have become more widespread, and in recent years even cannabis and cocaine users have increased significantly. According to the official data of the center, from 2018 to 2021 the number of people receiving treatment in the center has increased by 25%.
The Elbasan Police, after confirming that the persons are addicted to narcotics, dismisses the case and refers them as cases to this center. As reported by the police, there is no database of users and distributors of narcotics, although their number remains high.
During the period January-June 2021 the police have hit 33 cases of distribution of narcotics by 54 perpetrators, based on police data.
Although the number of juveniles who consume and distribute narcotics has increased, the Prosecution at the Court of First Instance in Elbasan during the period January-14 December 2021 has registered a single criminal proceeding against a juvenile citizen. The case continues to be under investigation.
Furthermore, based on the study of the FOL center in Tirana for 2021, only 1 citizen was prosecuted for committing the criminal offense of “Incitement to drug use”, provided by Article 286 CC, but in this case the victim of the criminal offense was a juvenile.
Poverty, the main impetus to become a dealer
Unemployment is the main reason why minors in Elbasan turn into drug dealers, while recently there has been a massive increase in users of hard drugs.
Economic factors remain the main influencers that send juveniles and young people towards the distribution of narcotics. According to INSTAT, Elbasan is ranked in 1 of the 3 poorest counties in the country.
“A good part of the patients at a young age have shown that they start distributing narcotics just to make money ‘easily’, regardless of the risk of becoming consumers”, – added toxicologist Mataraku.
The number of unemployed in the Elbasan region has increased mainly during the pandemic year, according to the Regional Employment Office.
From 9,117 unemployed in 2019, 10,892 were registered in 2020, otherwise, unemployment has increased by 17% during the pandemic year.
According to data from INSTAT, the GDP per capita in Elbasan for the period of 2015-2018 is among the lowest in the country, leaving behind only Kukes, the poorest region in the country. Furthermore, according to official figures, only in the first half of 2019 the “laziness rate” in the city increased by 5%.
Aksion Plus Center remains the only rehabilitation center in the country, as the state ones are missing. In order to do their job better, helping the narcotics consumers even more, the center needs support from the state.
Finding a solution
“In order to have proper treatment and results, a more concrete support is required from the state in monetary, human and infrastructural resources. Better motivation of the staff engaged in this sector is needed, as well as a closer cooperation between the actors that are involved in providing treatments for people who use substances. We are at the stage when the quality of service needs to be improved, as well as the establishment of a multi-functional center, with all the possibilities and all the protocols, adapted to the needs of individuals seeking a salvation from a certain addiction”, sais Genc Muçollari.
The lack of employment or finding activities that rehabilitation practitioners can engage in, increases the chances of being tempted again, or of coming into contact with other users.
The Education Office of Elbasan has announced that in cooperation with other institutions, such as the Elbasan Police and Community Policing Specialists, has organized awareness focus meetings with certain focus groups of school psychosocial service employees, principals and teachers in some of the Educational Institutions, according to a calendar plan for the implementation of the Education, Awareness and Demand Reduction program for hazardous substances.
These meetings are conducted by community policing specialists for school education and youth work from area inspectors, school board representatives, psychologists and school social workers. So far, the Education Office of Elbasan says, that the topics “Alcohol” and “Drugs” have been taught in all schools of Elbasan.
According to E.Y., the city needs to have a state-run rehabilitation center, as drug users do not know who to turn to, as they acknowledge addiction.
“The center gives the maximum for us, the patients, but again state intervention with a large center, known by all, is necessary. In my opinion, the real pandemic of this city is drug addiction. We need to go back to our previous lives, but we need a structure to help us rehabilitate, to employ us, to get it together and to succeed. ”