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Drugs: A momentary way out of poverty, sex work and desperation

Refiloe Ntsekhe is the DA National Spokesperson and Deputy Federal Chairperson. She also serves as Gauteng Social Development Shadow MEC. and is the constituency head for Kempton Park and Tembisa. @refiloentsekhe

My colleague and I recently visited a drug rehabilitation centre, and I left with a new-found respect for those who work in these facilities. Furthermore, I left wondering what needs to be done to build a drug-free community and country, and how we can help those who have become dependent on drugs?

As a mother, I was emotionally overwhelmed when I saw what drug abuse, often the result of hopelessness and poverty, can do to our young people. I thought about how I can protect my children from being claimed by this scourge, as drugs can even be bought outside of the gates of a school.

Upon visiting the centre, we were welcomed by one of the managers. He gave us background into what their facility is about and who their patients are: mainly people battling substance and alcohol abuse.

In his office was a bag full of cables which he later told us was the results of addicts vandalising the property – one can only assume that the plan was to sell the cable and use the proceeds to get a fix.

When he explained to me the nature of vandalism in the centres, I realised that as ordinary South Africans, we have not begun to truly understand what drugs do to fellow South Africans and what they in turn will do to try and get a fix or something close to a fix.

Many of the patients come from very poor families and poor communities, arriving at the centre with nothing except the clothes on their back. The facility then gives them basic necessities: tooth-brushes, tooth paste, toilet paper, some clothes, night-wear and shoes. Once the treatment is completed then the patients will be discharged with these items.

Their records show that their youngest patient is nine years old with the oldest being 70 years old – the youngest having been on hard drugs. This facility has different sections for men, boys, women and girls. Sometimes they also have pregnant women and girls coming into the facility.

Inside some of the patients will break the porcelain toilets, grind the broken pieces to try and get a fix from that. We were later shown pictures of how electricity plugs were vandalised: the clients put the wires together to try and get a spark in order to inhale something that will give them a high or light a cigarette. Sometimes tissue is also used to get the small light for a cigarette.

In the sleeping quarters, the plugs have been removed because that is where the patients were accessing a means to get sparks going.

Televisions in this facility have to be put behind burglar bars to ensure that they cannot be reached: if reached, they could easily be broken for contents that the clients can use to get their fix.

One of the bathrooms that had recently been renovated had loose tap fittings – an indication that some of the patients were trying to forcefully remove them.

We were told about “blue-toothing” which I had heard about before: this is where one addict injects themselves with the blood of another addict who is already high to try and also get a high.

Nothing prepared me for being told about the new drug in the market: “Crocodile” – a drug which makes the body rot from the inside. It’s called “Crocodile” because of the crocodile like marks which it leaves on the skin – it also causes brain damage. It is highly addictive – and very cheap. Ingredients include painkillers (codeine) with household detergents. After a fix the user gets an “intense and short-term” high – people using this drug usually die within two years. This drug is more addictive than heroin.

I left with several questions and points of reflection: what happens to these people when they are finally discharged from the centre after their six weeks’ course? Do they not go right back into the community where they accessed the drugs in the first place? What is the role of peer pressure on them when they get back into their communities?

There is a great need for rehabilitation centres. Some of those which are established are not compliant with the law, but the sense I get when speaking to people in these communities is that the people who start them have their hearts in the right place.

Upon inquiring about the causes that lead to people become addicts we found there is not one simple answer but perhaps some of the responses we got give us food for thought. Some of the clients got into drugs because of peer pressure. Some were sex workers and the drugs helped them to cope with the demands of the job, while others were already addicts and sex work became “their way” of making money in order to sustain their habit. A few talked about access – sitting in the community without work and then running into fellow community members facing the same plight; finding comfort in drugs and then getting hooked. Domestic challenges including violence, poverty and looking for an escape from life’s challenges, even if the escape is temporary.

I salute those working in rehabilitation centres who have taken up the cause to try and fight this war. As a mother of three, I’m praying even harder that I never have to experience first-hand what it’s like to have a child who is an addict but I also pray for those families who do have to support an addict. DM


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