Heroin becomes drug of choice

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Heroin1 AP

Mpumalanga has become South Africa’s heroin capital. And after alcohol and dagga, heroin – and its knock-off, nyaope – has become the most sought-after drug.

The province has recorded the highest number of addicts admitting that the drug is their first choice, according to a profile on people who sought drug rehabilitation last year.

According to the report, although the popularity of dagga has nearly doubled in the last seven years, it is the trend in heroin addiction that is spiralling out of control, and that is the greatest cause of concern among researchers and drug rehabilitators.

Their other worry is that drug users are becoming younger and no longer opting for a single drug; instead, they are multiple users, making rehabilitation more difficult.

The figures are from SA National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) centres nationally. Of 10 000 people who sought drug rehabilitation in 2012, 40 percent were teenagers with a grade 8 to 10 qualification.

Shedding light on heroin usage, the report shows that 980 of just more than 10 000 people who sought rehabilitation between April 2012 and March last year admitted that heroin was their drug of choice. This was up by 9 percent from the previous year, which itself showed a 9 percent increase from 2010/11.

“The highest incidence of clients reporting heroin as their primary substance of abuse, at 38 percent, occurred at Sanca Witbank,” says Dr David Fourie, convenor of the council’s research portfolio committee.

“The trend by young people to use heroin in combination with other drugs, such as cocaine and dagga (whoonga), remains a serious concern.”

Sanca’s latest report, the eighth of its kind, is in line with private rehabilitation initiatives.

According to Andrew Stoller from Home Detox, which offers home-based detoxing to heroin and alcohol addicts, the company receives between five and 10 requests for help a day.

Between last September and the end of the year, its website had 8 421 visits.

Many of the queries did not define which drug people needed rehabilitation from, but 30 percent of those who did specify a drug named nyaope.

Nyaope, a cheaper heroin derivative, is a white substance smoked by sprinkling it on top of a dagga cigarette. It is blended with anti-retrovirals, rat poison and bicarbonate of soda.

Although most enquiries do not specify what help is needed, nyaope is responsible for at least 40 percent of the site’s web traffic. And in most cases, visitors to the site are looking for help for multiple people.

“In reality this would raise the figures on people wanting help for addiction to 65 percent and more for nyaope (if we include all family members as opposed to only website visits),” said Stoller.

Although the initial hits came from Gauteng, since last September the site had received hundreds of hits from Mpumalanga, Limpopo and now the Eastern Cape, he said.

Fourie’s research reveals that there has been an increase of 5 percent in Sanca clients younger than 17 in the last six years, and that children as young as 14 are seeking help with drug addiction.

Just under half of the 10 000 people Sanca helped were in Grade 10 or below. A total of 1 642 referrals to centres – 15 percent of the total – came from schools.

“It is alarming to note,” says Fourie, “that 3 percent of clients were 13 years and younger.”

Noting the increase in dagga use from 18 percent to 31 percent of clients in the last seven years, Fourie says it has become “crucially important to emphasise the harmful effects of dagga use, especially for young people in the 14 to 17 year age group”.

Dagga use has increased by 4 percent. And of those who preferred dagga, 44 percent were between 14 and 17.

According to Fourie, the increase in clients receiving out-patient treatment, which is more cost-effective, may reflect the preferred mode of treatment for younger clients.

He says there has also been a “significant” 6 percent increase in black people seeking rehabilitation.

Methamphetamine use in the Eastern Cape needs monitoring, says Fourie in his report, as does the use of methcathinone (known as CAT) in Joburg and the Northern Cape.

CAT has similar effects to cocaine but is cheaper.

The report states that in general, Gauteng had the most patients, followed by Mpumalanga, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Home Detox, which is also implemented in the UK, according to Stoller’s partner, Grant Allman, offers treatment for alcohol and heroin addicts.

The rehabilitation process needs to be medically managed for 10 days to two weeks because of the horrific physical withdrawal symptoms.

When addicts try to stop without medical help, they get so ill that they typically resume using drugs. - The Sunday Independent



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