Cape Town - Intravenous heroin use is becoming more and more popular on the Cape Flats, burdening limited drug rehabilitation services.
Shafiek Davids, head of the Sultan Bahu rehabilitation centre in Cape Town, warned that while tik was a problem, more attention needed to be given to heroin use, which was placing a burden on rehabilitation resources.
Popular drugs such as heroin and tik are generally smoked, but a new trend appears to be developing in Mitchells Plain, according to Davids.
In some parts of the city tik remains the drug of choice.
At the Hesketh King Treatment Centre in Muldersvlei, administrator Valerie Potgieter says 60 percent of patients are being treated for tik addiction, and about 10 percent for heroin.
“Tik is definitely still the drug of choice, with dagga as an underlying drug,” Potgieter said.
According to Davids, heroin usage has increased to 18 percent.
“Everybody’s talking about tik, but since about 2005 there has been a clear indication that there has been an increase in heroine usage,” he said.
“And now we’re slowly starting to move to intravenous usage - we’ve recently had three patients coming forward who have been injecting the heroin.”
Davids said studies showed that in 2000 there was 4 percent heroin usage, but by the first half of 2007 the proportion had increased to about 11 percent.
By this year the figure had jumped to 18 percent.
“We’re now seeing a new generation of users coming in and we need to start taking good care, especially because in the past people predominantly smoked heroin,” Davids said.
“If we keep going at the rate we are, in the next three to five years we will probably see people sitting in [the] Town Centre injecting the drug.”
Since the beginning of the year the Sultan Bahu centre had seen 646 patients, of whom 320 were heroin users.
“We saw that there was an increase a while ago already,” Davids said.
“Now we need to get people to understand how serious [the problem] is.”
Of the 7 307 people who went to the centre for treatment, 1 506 named heroin as their drug of choice.
“And these are only people who came in for treatment. Imagine how many others there are without treatment,” Davids said.
He said it was a lot more difficult to manage the treatment of heroin users. Also, the costs for the city would be high if heroin users were not treated effectively, relapsed and returned for help.
To treat heroin users effectively, they needed to be admitted to complete detox programmes.
Davids said the injecting of heroin using shared needles put users at risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis.
There was also a chance of their indulging in risky sexual behaviour.
The Sultan Bahu centre had beefed up its programmes in response to the growing use of injected heroin, Davids said.
“When we read about or watch movies about the drug being used in places like the United States it seems like a fairy tale, but now we see our own youth with needle marks in their arms. It’s so unreal.”