Pubdate: Thu, 04 Sep 2003
Source: Times Of Malta (Malta)
Copyright: 2003 Allied Newspapers Limited
Author: Ariadne Massa


Just days before he died of a drug overdose, a distraught George Cefai told 
YMCA he had been "thrown out" of Mount Carmel Hospital leaving him with 
nowhere to stay.

"Who killed George Cefai? He played a part in his own death, but as 
organisations and the state, how many more such deaths do we need before we 
tackle this problem," YMCA Valletta chairman Jean Paul Mifsud asked.

After seeing all the media representatives, police officers and court 
officials gathered around his corpse on Sunday, YMCA felt it could no 
longer remain silent and continue to watch similar cases fall through the gap.

"Every time someone dies of an overdose, the problem is highlighted and 
there is a lot of talk on what can be done. But this is soon forgotten 
until we have the next case of overdose," Mr Mifsud said.

He recalled that on Tuesday, the day Mr Cefai was discharged from hospital, 
he bumped into him in Republic Street, Valletta stopping passers-by to ask 
them for 50 cents.

"George was intoxicated at the time I saw him. He was wearing a pair of 
shorts and an orange T-shirt but he had no belongings. Why was he out on 
the streets?"

That evening YMCA took Mr Cefai and his friend in and cooked them a plate 
of pasta.

"George was in an awful state and extremely tired - he was annoyed that he 
had been thrown out of Mount Carmel," recalled Kerry Hermitage, who works 
at YMCA.

"He admitted to drinking four bottles of wine but he never once mentioned 
drugs, even though the symptoms were there. He was extremely grateful for 
the food and kept thanking us," she said.

Unfortunately, YMCA did not have the facility to put him up for the night 
since their shelter houses women and children - mixing these client groups 
would be a detriment to the children, so Mr Cefai and his friend said they 
would sleep on the beach.

YMCA kept in touch with Mr Cefai the next day but that was the last time 
they saw him.

On Sunday he was found lying face down on a bed in an advanced stage of 
decomposition in an apartment in Steps Street, Valletta.

The block of three apartments, where he was found, is in a dilapidated 
state and a stomach-churning smell permeates the stairwell which is 
littered with empty bottles of wine, beer and cigarette stubs.

Mr Mifsud believes one of the solutions could be the setting up of a "crash 
centre", where people like Mr Cefai could be set up for the night, offered 
food and directed towards counselling.

"These people are sick and need help. We are not pointing fingers so that 
someone will be 'hanged'. Let us learn from what happened and work together 
to avoid such cases," he appealed.

When asked why Mr Cefai was not retained at Mount Carmel, health director 
general Ray Busuttil said the existent drug problem compounded social 
issues and, unfortunately, some became victims.

"I object to the word 'thrown out'. I believe that from a health aspect 
George was discharged because those responsible felt he did not need to be 
there," he said.

"I also have to say that the unions' concern towards the presence of drug 
addicts in Mount Carmel does not influence the decision on who should be 
discharged," Dr Busuttil insisted.

The fact remains that Mr Cefai had nowhere to stay and Suret il-Bniedem 
Foundation general manager Terry Gosden said Mount Carmel had referred him 
to their residence for the homeless two weeks before.

"I have to insist that Mount Carmel is not the place for drug addicts. 
However, we could not take him in because he was still an active drug 
addict and we do not have the resources nor the facilities to offer drug 
rehabilitation," he said.

The foundation had looked after Mr Cefai for two years but he was 
eventually asked to leave after he relapsed and started taking drugs.

When questioned about the situation, Sedqa chief executive Sina Bugeja said 
the creation of a hostel for drug abusers made sense.

"However, in the long run this will only serve to create a situation where, 
contrary to what the Chinese proverb says, rather than teaching a person 
how to fish you provide the fish," she said.

Ms Bugeja said the step ahead was bridging the gap between all the 
available services to ensure that nobody fell through the social safety net.

"There has to be a concerted national effort to work together because if we 
continue working independently there will be more cases like that of George 
Cefai," she said.

Charles Miceli, Caritas head of harm reduction services, agreed that at 
present the resources to offer shelter to drug addicts for a night were 

"We have a sort of day centre for these people and George often visited. 
However, there is a vacuum in the services when it comes to providing 
shelter for the night," he said.

"This a problem of all society and something has to be done - we have to 
pull the same rope ".

Mr Gosden pointed out that a proposal he had made to Caritas and Sedqa 
three years ago to set up a unit for those who could not or did not want to 
give up alcohol or drugs fell on deaf ears.

"I suggested setting up a unit in the middle of nowhere where together we 
could provide these people with the basic healthcare, food and shelter but 
this offer was never taken up seriously," he said echoing Mr Mifsud's 

"I do not agree with the lifestyle of these people but they are sick and 
they have a right to care. It seems when addicts reach a certain level they 
are left to their own devices and abandoned by society, which believes 
there is no cure," he said.

"We can either do nothing and continue allowing these people to die in this 
sordid manner or do something about it. There are more people like George 
on the streets who are still alive - we cannot give up hope on these 
people," both Mr Mifsud and Mr Gosden concluded.
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