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Volume 11, No. 2 Fall 2008

Georgia: New Youth Program Focuses On Drug Abuse Prevention

IOCC’s “Healthy Lifestyles” program helps Georgian youth resist the national epidemic of drug abuse. The program trains clergy and monastics of the Georgian Orthodox Church and public school teachers to understand drug abuse and to help young people avoid risky behavior. Photo credit: D. Dzotsenidze/IOCC Georgia

Tibilisi, Georgia — “The ethnic conflict and economic problems definitely aggravated the abuse of drugs in Georgia,” says Dr. Thea Gogotishvili, Director of Psychology and Head of the Anti-Drug Center of The International Charity Foundation of the Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II. According to Gogotishvili, an estimated 200,000 individuals are abusing drugs in Georgia, a Eurasian country located in the South Caucuses with a population of 4 million.

While the causes of drug abuse in Georgia are as complex as in any society, many Georgians say that a “Soviet mentality” of trying to prove that you are cool by using drugs is a major temptation for their youth. Georgian youth are experimenting with Ecstasy, marijuana, and other illegal substances. They are also “cooking” prescription drugs to make them more potent, and, in many cases, lethal.

So prevalent is this problem in Georgia that intravenal drug users comprise 65% of all HIV cases. His Beatitude, Patriarch-Catholicas Ilia II, the primate of the Georgian Orthodox Church, has created an anti-drug center in his charitable foundation and made combatting drug abuse a priority for the Church.

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), IOCC Georgia has launched a new program to prevent drug abuse among young Georgians and empower the Georgian Orthodox Church to be the change agent in this process. IOCC’s “Healthy Lifestyles” program is training clergy, monastics and public school teachers to identify risky behaviors among young people. The programs are targeted at youth aged 11 - 21.

“We want to train the priests from a scientific point of view, and not just the spiritual point of view,” says Gogotishvili. Georgia has four monasteries that have set up rehab centers for drug addicts.

IOCC’s program also sponsors youth clubs to promote healthy alternatives to drug use among Georgian youth. Activities include athletics, art exhibitions, and service to the poor. A mass media component of the campaign featuring Georgian sports stars also raises awareness on drug abuse by using faith-based messages. An estimated 1.35 million Georgians will be reached through the media campaign alone.

“Our goal,” says IOCC Georgia Program Manager Darajen Dzotsenidze, “is to help teenagers express their creativity and to have close communication with the clergy and teachers.”

Georgian youth are encouraged to pursue athletics, art, and service to the poor as alternatives to the nation’s growing drug culture. The U.S. government-funded program also includes a media campaign with public service ads featuring Georgian sports stars. D. Dzotsenidze/IOCC Georgia

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