Sisa: A Poor Man’s Cocaine with Athens in Its Grip

In the wake of the financial crisis that paralyzed the world economy in 2008 and which wrought financial chaos on the euro zone, no European nation is featured in the news as much as Greece, the beleaguered and heavily-indebted Mediterranean state that has watched its society collapse as the state’s ability to combat social ills has withered along with its sovereign bank account.

Sisa, a new street drug rising in popularity in Athens, is very much a product of these turbulent times: Its users are primarily impoverished street dwellers who cannot afford more expensive drugs to get high. VICE sent a team to Athens to investigate the drug and its effects on the people who use it and the city they live in.

Faced with a collapsing domestic economy, crippling foreign debt, and mass unemployment, Sisa’s rise and Greece’s economy mirror one another in terrifying ways.

Ever since the Greek bailout, the situation in Greece is a tenuous one – with collapsing governments, interim technocrats, and fascist politicians all entering the political arena in what was once a bright spot among Europe’s democracies, Greece having been a dictatorship only some five decades ago.

Youth unemployment has approached 60%, the national debt is 160% of the gross domestic product (GDP), and homelessness has increased significantly. To escape this misery, many have turned to narcotics to escape economic realities. This is clear on city streets, where the refuse of discarded syringes and drug paraphernalia highlight the extent to which this poison has crept into Athens’ society.

A deadly cocktail of mystery ingredients (but believed to be similar in composition to crystal meth) Sisa users describe its effects as ranging from euphoria to mania, with many experiencing violent, psychotic reactions to the drug brewed in homemade stills throughout the city. In addition to the effects widespread drug use can have on the quality of life for those in Athens, it also burdens society with even further expenses in terms of increased disease transmission and mortality, robbing Greece of its much needed youth if it is to staunch the bleeding from its economic (and increasingly social) evisceration.