Doctor Ľubomír Gábriš hung up the phone with a bitter smirk on his face. "It's sad," he remarked.
A desperate mother of an 18-year-old girl had just been on the phone to the Center for Drug Addiction Treatment (CPLDZ) in the southern Slovak town of Nové Zámky, of which Gábriš is the director. The mother found out that her daughter had been smoking heroin for the last two years. She wanted the daughter to enter treatment at the center, but the girl refused much to her mother's dismay, and Gábriš had no choice but to make matters worse by telling the mother that the center had no vacancies anyway.
The mother is typical of the relatives and friends of Slovakia's 40,000 mostly juvenile drug addicts. That figure, recently released by the Save Our Future foundation, is not exaggerated, Gábriš said. "The number of drug addicts has been climbing rapidly since 1991," he said. "After the 1989 revolution and the subsequent changes, the youngest generation was confused. There was chaos in society and in children's souls. That chaos played an important role in increasing the number of drug addicts in Slovakia."
A typical Slovak hard drug user is a male who first comes across hard drugs at 14 to 18 years of age. A typical Slovak drug addict also uses heroin, usually by injection with a syringe, commonly referred to as 'shooting up'. The addict undergoes treatment fairly soon afterwards, mostly because the money has run out, but quits the treatment fairly soon after, either because of a lack of state funds to continue the rehabilitation or because the addict's patience has run out.
"When drugs first appear, the average age is low," said Ľubomír Okruhlica, director of the CPLDZ clinic in Bratislava. "[It] will rise as the current drug users grow older. In 10 to 20 years, we will be on par with the age levels of heroin users in the West."
The reason why it is primarily teenagers who try drugs is quite simple, said Okruhlica. "It is the drugs availability and the youth's curiosity," she said. "Teenagers are very curious, and want to try many things. Often it's the more curious and creative ones who try drugs."
"I started with smoking marijuana, then I tried LSD and later I started on heroin, just out of curiosity. A friend offered it to me," said a former addict, who wished to remain anonymous. "I took heroin for three years - in the first year only once a month, then once a week, and finally I ended up using it daily with five to seven shots per week."
One gram of heroin costs the addict between 800 to 1,200 Sk ($23-34). "Dealers get it for 600 to 800 Sk, and sell it for more," said the juvenile heroin addict. "If you buy for the first time, you have to have somebody with you, otherwise the dealer will not even open the door to his flat."
While in the U.S. drugs are available on the street , in Slovakia one can rarely find a hard drug dealer in a public place. "Most of the trading here occurs in apartments, which makes it really hard for the police to track it down," said Barbara Kuchárová, a specialist in the Ministry of Interior for Drug Addiction. "Even if you find the dealer, you have to have a permission from the court to enter his apartment. By then, all drugs are gone."
The available methods of treatment seem to be in place: a long-term treatment at state or private facilities or an outpatient program. But when it comes to reality, the centers often do not have available beds. "If there is a free bed, there are forty people who want to take it right away," said Gábriš.
The Bratislava center with its fancy but clinical white-and-blue interiors offers treatment to about 400 addicts per year. The usual treatment consists of three months of necessary detoxification and a year of regular meetings. "The treatment is voluntary," said Okruhlica. "It depends on the individual patient, as to how long it will take them."
The Nové Zámky center is part of the town's hospital complex, inside an old building with white walls faded yellow, locked doors and the buzzing of flies. The center takes care of only 25 patients. "[Our] detoxification lasts about three to five days, because we do not use any kind of substitute drugs," Gábriš said.
Gábriš said that addicts come to the center because they have run out of money or under strong pressure from their families. But very few have the strength to continue, he added. "They come, but about 99% of them do not want to participate in the treatment," Gábriš said, adding that most of those who stay have a good chance of getting out of the rut.
The center would like to hold more people, but it faces all sorts of adversities. "In a way, to have 25 addicts here 24 hours a day is plenty," said Gábriš.
In addition, Gábriš said, because of the drug addicts' presence, the neighborhood is growing hostile towards the center. "We have received anonymous phone calls saying that people do not want to have this treatment made available in their town," he said. "We feel as though we are not wanted here."
The center wants to become independent from the hospital and move to a separate building on the edge of town. "The problem is money and the lack of support from the Health Ministry," Gábriš said. "We need about 1.5 to 2 million Sk. That cost depends on whether we will get an old building or will have to build a new one."