The appeal from San Patrignano: “Heroin among the very young. Prevention is essential”

Heroine has never completely disappeared; though, what has dramatically changed in the last two or three years, is the age range: having drastically diminished. It is used more and more by the very young.  Immediately after their experience with cannabis, they start with heroin, and very soon they end up using the syringe.

It is a phenomenon that we observe in many adolescents that we welcome at San Patrignano in our minors centers, which unfortunately are insufficient to respond to continuously increasing requests for help and admission. During the last two years we have already welcomed 53 minors. Initially, the minor program mainly was a preventive measure: most of them arrived here because of their first experiences with substances and occasionally aggressive behavior. Whereas we now increasingly accept youngsters with a long history of heroin use, hepatitis C, prostitution and social degradation. And more and more often this problem affects young girls.

Compared to other Countries, Italy has one of the most structured networks of public health services, with more than 500 centers called SerD, created for the treatment of people with addictions. Despite the huge commitment of those who work in these centers, we believe that SerD alone could not overcome this new emergency. The poly drug use makes the substitution treatment, such as methadone or buprenorphine, not very effective. Moreover, in our opinion, substituting drugs is not an ethically feasible intervention in case of adolescents: very often you only know when the therapy begins, but not when it will be concluded. Drug addiction has many root causes, including family problems and severe traumas occurred in childhood: we believe they cannot be solved with medication.

The initial intervention of SerD, is of course necessary; it reduces damage such as diseases, crime, prostitution, overdose or death. Although, SerD should quickly move forward towards the identification of a protected environment, a Centre for Minors, or a Therapeutic Community, to provide them with an educational and socio-rehabilitative program; if the youngsters don’t understand how important and necessary it is for his life, it then could be mandatory.

The therapeutic community must return to networking,  and be a point of reference for the Services involving addiction. Also important, is to allocate funds to support public services, intended to place minors  in community, since it turns out that in many communities there are vacant available places that cannot be occupied due to restrictions in the budget.

Not to forget that the adult world, including the parents, have not clear and often contradictory ideas about drugs. The use of substances is wrong, no matter how much can a particular drug be harmful or induce addiction. It’s senseless to weep over poor kids that have died due to an overdose, when we promote the legalization of cannabis. It is widely and scientifically proved that it causes damage to the nervous system and has a gateway effect, in biological and social terms, to the use of other drugs, heroin included.

Rather, it is essential to focus on prevention. In fact, San Patrignano, in addition to welcome and take care of people with addiction problems, free of charge, since long ago has been implementing prevention projects at a national level. It is really a positive news, that the current Government has returned to set up a fund for this kind of activities, aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles among youngsters. We must educate our youths to see the beauty of life. It is not a set phrase, but it is what we try to do in the community, day by day. Teaching them, once again, to rediscovering the pleasure of the small things. We must offer the kids a personal fulfillment, through education and training, skills that are essential aspects in giving them the capacity to look to the future with confidence.