Pubdate: Wed, 16 Feb 2005
Source: Cape Argus (South Africa)
Copyright: 2005 Cape Argus
Author: Sarah Fisher
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


This week the Cape Argus has carried horrifying stories involving
children being traumatised and, in one case, horribly killed. On
February 14, headlines included: "I prayed, unaware my son was
hostage-taker", "Boy who saw mom die hides in fear of his life" and "I
did not plan to kill my nephew".

They all have one scary common denominator - drugs.

An 11-year-old was sodomised and killed by his uncle high on Mandrax,
another eight-year-old (now 11) hides in fear of his life after
watching his mother stabbed to death in a drug-connected killing.

A 10-year-old watches as police shoot dead his hostage-taker, who was
high on methamphetamine (tik) at the time.

The hostage-taker himself was little more than a child - a 21-year-old
who had no history of violence.

Let us spare a thought for all these affected families, who must be in
such intense pain.

We need to prepare ourselves to see more of these horror stories
unless this province takes some urgent action.

Although going after the kingpins and dealers is an essential part of
addressing the problem, it can only give us a partial solution - often
they are drug-addicted themselves, and by the very nature of what they
do, live in a culture of violence.

When they are arrested and put in jail or, like the ones found with R4
million worth of the ingredients for methamphetamine, let out on bail,
nothing changes. We know there are drugs in jail.

The people who have become dependent on these drugs don't just
spontaneously stop.

In the case of methamphetamine, research by the Koch Crime Institute
says that "because prolonged use causes changes in the brain,
willpower alone will not cure meth addicts".

The same research tells us that people who abuse methamphetamine
suffer from "homicidal and suicidal thoughts" and "acute psychiatric
and psychological symptoms that may lead to suicide or murder".

These are the worst-case scenarios, but at best we can expect
short-term cognitive impairment for casual users, and semi-permanent
damage for those who use heavily.

We also know that if people who are dependent on illegal drugs manage
to stop, they often cross-addict to alcohol, and the Medical Research
Council estimates that alcohol abuse alone costs this province at
least R1 billion a year.

We need a provincial plan that looks not only at supply reduction but
at demand reduction too - and that means effective, affordable and
accessible treatment and prevention strategies for users and their

It costs us 10 times more to send someone through the justice system
and to prison than it does to give them treatment.

Having said that, there is very little treatment available and
certainly not treatment that is affordable and accessible for most

Families and individuals are in crisis, and that crisis will continue
to worsen - children will lose their parents and parents their
children unless something major happens.

On February 25, the Western Cape Substance Abuse Forum is being

Representatives of all the government departments and everyone in the
substance abuse arena will be there.

This is our opportunity to begin developing a well-thought-out and
carefully planned strategy for the province that is driven by research
and best practice.

If we do that, we can indeed make the Western Cape a home for all, but
it will only be a safe home if we stop dwelling in the problem and
start living in the solution.

Sarah Fisher

Somerset West
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