By Bejay Browne
Every Monday, a single mother of seven children has to appear at her local police station in Paphos as she awaits trial for the possession of illegal drugs which is due to start on September 4.
In a case that has shocked even the state pharmaceutical services, 51-year-old Andriana Savva – who suffers from severe depression – is being prosecuted for possessing illegal drugs after purchasing a diet supplement online from eBay.
In theory, she could be facing a five-year jail sentence if she is found guilty.
In 2016, the pills were shipped to Paphos for Andrianna (not her real name) to collect from the post office, but they were seized by customs officers because they contained DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone).
DHEA is classed as a medicinal product to be marketed or sold in Cyprus only with a marketing authorisation, according to a spokesman for the pharmaceutical services of the ministry of health.
“It can only be sold or marketed with proper authorisation, and there is no official marketing authorisation given to sell DHEA as a medicine in Cyprus. If it is available, it is not legal,” he said.
But he said he was shocked that Andrianna’s case was being brought to court, saying it seemed ‘incredible’.
For years DHEA has been widely sold – and is still readily available on the internet without any warnings – as a dietary supplement, but according to a spokesman for YKAN, the drug law enforcement unit, in 2016 Cyprus included it in the list of anabolic substances.
“Its import, possession and use is illegal in Cyprus in accordance with the Law on Doping in Sport. The maximum penalty that may be imposed is five years’ imprisonment and/or a €50,000 fine, he said.
“It is possible that this substance is mixed with other substances in some medicines and is lawful in Cyprus, but only with prescription of a doctor.”
DHEA is a prohibited substance under the anti-doping code of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which manages drug testing for the Olympics and other sports.
“Obtaining it is a crime,” confirmed YKAN.
But Andriana had no idea what she was doing was illegal.
A few years ago, following a difficult marriage and subsequent break up, Andriana fell into a deep depression and tried to take her life.
She decided that one of the steps towards feeling better about herself and her outward appearance and gain self-confidence was to lose some weight.
She researched a diet supplement to assist her with her weight loss and information online led her to a supplement called DHEA.
“It was described as a miracle drug for weight loss and weight control for people over 40 years old,” she told the Sunday Mail.
DHEA is a natural hormone produced by the adrenal gland which declines as people mature past the age of 20, and is one of the most essential elements in the human body to help balance body functions, according to Bioveda, a leading online manufacturer, distributor and online retailer of health and beauty products. It is one of many that offer those containing DHEA worldwide.
Andriana said that she tried to buy it locally in Cyprus online but the outlets were rather pricey. She then checked eBay UK, and found a supplier (Puritan’s Pride) in the USA for a much-reduced price and went ahead and ordered it in 2016. It cost $20 for a 1+1 deal.
Promoted as a’ healthy ageing formula’, the pills Andriana ordered offered fat burning, weight loss, stamina and vigour, she said.
“As I had found it available at online shops being advertised in Cyprus, I didn’t for a minute think that it would be an illegal substance, and it was being sold openly on eBay.”
When the supplements arrived in Cyprus, Andriana received a phone call from the drug squad informing her that they had been seized by customs and were now in the possession of the drugs squad. A few months later, early in 2017, she was told to go to their offices, which she did, and was questioned.
“I explained that I had ordered them for weight loss, they told me that they realised this from the description on the bottle, but needed a statement from me and there was nothing to worry about.”
She duly did this and officers informed her that the supplements were to be sent to the lab for further investigation, but that she didn’t need a lawyer and it was nothing to worry about, she said.
A few months later she was contacted again and informed that the analysis had come back and that she once again needed to go back to the police for another statement.
“They reiterated that they understood I had ordered them for weight loss and there was nothing to worry about.”
However, around 18 months after the tablets were seized, she was formally charged with possession of anabolic steroids.
“I don’t understand how a supplement that can be bought online, through reputable companies can cause me to be in court, and I also have to make an appearance at the police station to sign in every Monday and I am bonded for 10,000 euros.”
As a single mother of seven with two of her children still minors, she is distraught that the prosecutor has attacked her personally in court over her ability as a fit mother, and also for spending twenty dollars on herself which should go to the care of the children
Her court appointed lawyer speaks little English and, although Andriana was born in Cyprus, she grew up abroad before returning to the island a decade ago, so she is unable to understand Greek very well, and does not read or write it. She also suffers from severe hearing loss and is being fitted with a hearing aid.
“The prosecutor was going on and on about the drug DHEA being a controlled substance for athletes as though I was competing in some Olympic team. The police were appalling as they kept telling me nothing would happen, but I have been told that I now I face a charge which carries a prison sentence.”
After the company she worked at for eight years was sold and her entire department laid off, Andriana is unemployed and receiving GMI assistance.
The stress and pressure of the ongoing court case has led Andriana, who suffers from depression and agoraphobia, to think again about taking her own life. She is currently on tranquilisers and other medication and regularly sees a therapist.
“I have never done any drugs in my life and I don’t even smoke. All I wanted was to control my weight and my eating, nothing more. If I deserve to be prosecuted and dragged through court as a common criminal, then what justice is there in this country?”
She stressed that she has a clean criminal record and doesn’t know where to turn to for help.
“I have appeared at court five times, I have to sign at the police station every Monday which is so humiliating and have been told that the trial will start on September 4.”
Andriana is constantly tearful and stressed, and finds that most days she is unable to even get out of bed as she feels ‘overwhelmed and engulfed.’
“I have no idea what I am supposed to do and whether I need to find someone that will be willing to take care of my children whilst I am in prison.”