As the economy of a country rises and falls, so does its preferences for street drugs. More expensive drugs give way to cheap substitutes, especially among hardcore addicts and street people. Such is the case in Athens, where a new drug is decimating the poor and killing young people without mercy.
Sisa, also called the “drug of the poor” in Greece, offers users a temporary respite from grinding poverty, but at the cost of their health – and their lives. Although sisa seems not to have entered the United States yet, in today’s global village, it may only be a matter of time before sisa crosses the ocean to infiltrate America’s cities. Here’s what you need to know about sisa, and how to help someone abusing sisa or its elder cousin, methamphetamine.
Here’s what you should know about sisa, a new drug in Greece that is dangerous and a potential threat in the United States.
Sisa is a Colorless Compound that Smells Like Roses
Users interviewed for a British Vice documentary claim that sisa is manufactured from a base of methamphetamine and cut with chemicals such as battery acid, engine oil, shampoo or salt. The drug’s name may also be spelled shisha, a word that means glass and refers to the glass pipe used to smoke sisa.
Users purchase the street drug at a cost of one or two Euros from small, mobile labs cruising the streets of Athens. The labs are kept on motor homes, buses and cars, according to the previously cited documentary, which makes them difficult for police to shut down.
Sisa is smoked, snorted or injected. Users place sisa inside a glass pipe or on a piece of aluminum, heat it and smoke the vapors. Injected sisa is said to be the most dangerous. It delivers the poisonous chemicals directly into the bloodstream. There, they not only affect the nervous system, but also the circulatory and respiratory systems. They also corrode the internal organs and create pus-filled sores inside and out.
It’s hard to imagine why anyone would trade their health for a drug like sisa, but when you look into Greece’s economic situation, it becomes apparent why a cheap street drug is taking hold among Athens’ youth. After Greece accepted the European Union’s bailout money, the country descended into a dreadful economic spiral, and it still hasn’t recovered. Greece’s unemployment rate is 27 percent overall — 60 percent for youths under age 25. It’s that latter population – unemployed, despairing and homeless – that turn to sisa.
Sisa is Derived from Methamphetamine
To understand sisa and its effects on the user, it’s important to understand the parent drug from which it is derived: methamphetamine. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine was created in the 20th century as an offshoot of amphetamines. This category of drugs creates alertness, promotes weight loss and was often used as a bronchodilator in the early 20th century. However, methamphetamine has a much stronger effect on the brain than amphetamines. It lasts longer and has more potent effects on the entire central nervous system.
Many Sisa Users are Former Heroin Addicts
Because sisa is so cheap, it’s easy for them to buy a hit of sisa on the street. Sisa is typically smoked, but it can also be injected or snorted. Users say that the deadliest form of sisa abuse is by injection. Not only does injected sisa deliver the drug straight to the circulatory system, but also most drug abusers reuse needles, increasing the chance of picking up HIV from dirty ones.
Sisa Users do Incredible Damage to Their Health
As you can imagine, a drug made from a combination of methamphetamine and dangerous chemicals like battery acids does intense damage to the human body.
Sisa drug side effects include:
- Severe burns inside the mouth, throat, tongue and respiratory system
- Damage to the heart and cardiovascular system
- Pus-filled sores inside the stomach, kidneys and liver
- Similar sores on the legs
- Open sores inside the mouth from inhaling sisa
- Shakes, nausea, vomiting
- Weight loss
Sisa also produces intense psychological effects. The previously mentioned documentary interviews sisa users, who claim that the drug causes almost pure rage, an adrenaline-fueled rush that can lead to mindless violence. Anger seems to be the primary psychological effect.
The psychological effects of sisa include:
- Rage so powerful that users report they have no control over their actions
- Increased sexual drive
- Feelings of power and euphoria coupled with anger
In the Vice documentary, sisa users say they often return to the drug to avoid an intense, painful feeling after they come down off of their high. Sisa produces a mysterious head-to-to body pain that users say is unique to the drug. When they take another hit of sisa, the pain disappears.
The By-Products of Sisa Use: HIV, Prostitution and Crime
Drug abuse is heartbreaking, but so are its unintended consequences. According to researchers such as Eleni Marini, a British-trained researcher with Greece’s primary drug-fighting program Kethea, HIV is on the rise because many sisa and heroin users turn to prostitution to support their habit. Although prostitutes offer cheaper prices for their services if clients use condoms, many men demand unprotected sex, and many of Athens’ prostitutes are HIV positive.
Clean needle programs cannot keep up with the street demand, so heroin and sisa users share needles. Users sharing sisa pipes can also spread HIV through open sores in their mouths, another physical side effect of sisa abuse.
Finally, because sisa users experience mindless rage, violent crimes are on the rise. One sisa user interviewed in the Vice video previously cited claims that during a sisa-fueled rage, he beat a woman after having sex with her. “You can kill someone and not know it,” the man said in the video.
The Greek Response to the Sisa Crisis
Because Greece continues to suffer from an economic collapse, many social services and programs have been dramatically cut. Crime runs rampant in sisa-fueled communities throughout Athens simply because the police cannot stop the number of homegrown sisa labs. Athens’ solution to the problem is heartbreaking; it rounds up the homeless and drug abusers and buses them outside the city limits, dumping them away from the city. In return, the homeless and addicts simply walk back to the streets they know. It’s a vicious poverty-fueled cycle.
Sisa addicts themselves worry about their future. Many of the sisa addicts interviewed in the Vice video and in subsequent articles state they want to quit the drug. Its deadly effects are well-known among Athens’ homeless community. However, since 2009, Kethea has lost funding for 70 staff positions. As demand for its services increases, economic strictures have forced it to cut back just when it should be ramping up to treat the impending epidemic.
Should You Be Worried?
Around the world, health officials are worried about the rise of cheap, easily made methamphetamine substitutes and derivatives. Many of these drugs are easily made in homegrown laboratories and don’t require the extensive setups of previous drug labs. The ingredients to concoct the deadly drugs are also easily obtained.
Synthetic drugs such as sisa are on the rise worldwide. According to a report on CNN, more than 300 synthetic drugs have flooded the United States in recent years. Many of the drugs entering the United States come from China, where they are packaged and sold as research chemicals. Drug dealers purchase the chemicals online, import them from Asia, and then package and sell them in the United States. While sisa has not yet made its debut, the ease with which it can be made has law enforcement and medical professionals taking note.
Like krokodil in Siberia, sisa use in Athens may be an isolated phenomenon limed to a region or city. However, with the rise of cheap, easily imported street drugs, law enforcement and medical professionals are worried that sisa may become the next street drug they have to battle.
Signs of Sisa Abuse
So far, sisa appears to be contained within Greece, but like other synthetic drugs around the world, it’s possible it could come into the United States. It’s important to recognize the signs of sisa abuse and indeed of any potential drug abuse.
Families should be aware of the following signs of drug abuse:
- Sudden, rapid mood swings, especially rage – in the case of sisa abuse
- Fast talking or excitability
- Bleeding sores, dental problems, mouth ulcers
- Weight loss or a gaunt appearance
- Poor grooming and lack of concern over personal appearance
According to HelpGuide, the telltale signs of stimulant abuse include dilated pupils, rapid talking, hyperactivity, euphoria, anxiety and weight loss. Since sisa is derived from methamphetamine, a stimulant, it may also produce these symptoms in users.
Help for Abusers
If you suspect that someone you love is abusing sisa or any methamphetamine derivative, it’s critical to seek help immediately. Sisa and similar stimulants damage the nervous system and can have powerful effects throughout the body. Consult with a physician or other health care provider about the best course of action.
Sisa users in Greece have limited access to rehab programs due to budget cuts. Here in the United States, addicts have many options. A rehab program that helps meth addicts recover may be useful for sisa users since the two drugs are related and produce similar effects.
Recovery models can help individuals overcome addiction through a holistic approach to recovery. A treatment plan created by 12 Keys Rehab’s medical director and clinical director offers an individualized approach to recovery that addresses each person’s unique needs. Mind, body and spirit are healed in an open environment.
The 12 Keys staff includes board-certified professionals with decades of experience helping people overcome addiction. Our recovery model includes detox, group and individual counseling, sponsorship, and 12-step techniques. It also includes family counseling, aftercare and support. Our staff works to remove obstacles and help people move from addiction to recovery as seamlessly as possible.
No matter what drug is being abused, help is available. It can be frightening to enter recovery, but the rewards of sobriety are worth it. For more information, call the 24-hour addiction hotline at 888-854-3911 or browse the 12 Keys Rehab site today.