Pubdate: Fri, 22 Oct 2004
Source: Cape Argus (South Africa)
Copyright: 2004 Cape Argus.
Author: Di Caelers


Cape Town is home to an estimated 15 000 heroin users - who blow hundreds of
millions of rands each year on their highly dangerous habit.

From Durbanville to Fish Hoek, Claremont to Mitchell's Plain, thousands of
addicts are paying more than R2 000 a month each, including the cost of
their other habits, like cigarettes and alcohol.

This emerged yesterday at the latest Cape Town report-back of the South
African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use, where one researcher
said heroin here had "really settled in".

And research conducted just months ago on 250 local heroin users found that
at least a quarter were injecting the drug - the majority of them having
shared a needle at least once.

Most used heroin daily, a third had experienced an overdose at least once,
and almost half knew of someone who had died as a result of a heroin

That was the shocking picture painted by Andreas Pluddemann of the Medical
Research Council's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Group, who spent six
weeks in July and August studying addicts from across the city, including
Claremont, Durbanville, Fish Hoek, Mitchell's Plain, Observatory, Somerset
West, Woodstock and Wynberg.

Perhaps worse was his finding that heroin users used a wide range of other
drugs too; three-quarters reported using methamphetamine, commonly known as
"tik" in the three days prior to their interviews, and a third had used
dagga in the same period. Almost all (98%) smoked cigarettes, and 60% drank

Pluddemann said that although many of the people involved in the study
wouldn't answer questions related to HIV/Aids, the threat was obvious in the
fact that 80% of heroin injectors had shared a needle at least once.

Eight participants reported they were HIV-positive.

Close friends and regular sex partners were the chosen people with whom to
share needles.

And the financial cost was of equal concern.

Pluddemann said the participants had spent an average R342 on heroin in the
seven days prior to their interviews.

Overall, they spent an average R548 on drugs in the same period, translating
for the total 250 to almost R135 000 spent on drugs in just seven days.

"This would translate to more than R7 million in one year for these drugs
alone," he said.

But Pluddemann pointed out that the heroin problem was far more widespread;
researchers estimated the adult heroin-using population in Cape Town to be
about 15 000.

There may also be at least a further 1 000 teenage heroin users, aged
between 12 and 17.

The total amount local users were likely to spend on drugs could be in the
region of R450m a year.

"That indicates the muscle behind the market and what we're up against," he

It was clear that heroin use had become a major concern in the city, and may
be increasing.

"The drug is being used in many suburbs of the city, and is no longer
confined to white youth, but is increasingly used by coloured people and,
although less commonly, by blacks," he said.

Among some of the solutions mooted by Pluddemann to address concerns were:

The need for a needle-exchange programme.

The possibility of unrestricted access to needles.

The desperate need for state-funded rehabilitation services.

Post-treatment support networks and follow up systems needed to be
encouraged and supported.

"The estimates suggest that our capacity for treating heroin addiction in
this city is completely inadequate, and that's not helped by the lack of
state-funded rehabilitation services," he said.
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