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Heroin addicts ‘ told to leave hospital’

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Kimberley - The Northern Cape Department of Health’s commitment to assisting drug-addicts with rehabilitation has come under fire after two heroin users were told to leave Kimberley Hospital, shortly after admitting themselves in an attempt to come clean.

The Kimberley couple, who had been using the highly addictive opiate heroin for many years, told the DFA that they had decided to seek medical treatment at Kimberley Hospital after deciding to stop using the drug, but were largely ignored by personnel.

They admitted themselves to the hospital, hoping to receive medication for the treatment of withdrawal symptoms associated with the drug.

Heroin withdrawal is known to be extremely painful and, in severe cases, can even be fatal.

They were assigned beds and told that the hospital would be able to help them but the couple never received any further assistance. They were apparently not put on drips and did not receive any medication, despite experiencing painful withdrawal symptoms, which included abdominal cramping, lower back pain, muscle aches, nausea and cold sweats.

Less than 48 hours after being admitted, the couple were told to leave the hospital, and they were back on the street, using heroin again.

The couple spoke openly about their addiction, saying they knew they either had to ask for help to stop using the drug, or they would die.

“We have lost everything because of heroin. Our families have written us off and we are living on the street, while we are qualified in various trades and had good jobs. We smoke heroin daily just to feel ‘normal’. We can’t think clearly, or continue with our day if we haven’t used heroin. It has become the one thing our lives revolve around, but we want to stop,” they explained.

In a last desperate attempt to save themselves, they checked into the Kimberley Hospital.

“We were given beds, but not even put on drips to strengthen our bodies during the withdrawal phase, which started about 12 hours after our last ‘fix’. Despite crying out in pain, no one assisted us. After begging to receive some pain medication, as it felt that our insides were on fire, we only received some Panado tablets. We were not even seen by a doctor. It was pure hell and it felt like we were dying,” they stated.

Thirty-six hours after admission, during the most intense withdrawal phase, they were told to leave the hospital as there were no beds available... without a prescription for medication.

“We were both in excruciating pain and crying uncontrollably. We couldn’t even focus enough to pray. We immediately phoned our dealer to bring us some heroin, which we smoked to feel a bit better. Now the cycle of addiction starts again, despite our attempts to come clean.

“We do not know where to go to receive help in breaking this addiction. Suicide now remains our only option to stop this nightmare we are living. We really feel that we have been failed by the Department of Health. It is like they don’t want to help us, even though we made the very difficult decision, which took a lot of courage, to help ourselves,” they said.

They added that going through heroin withdrawal was not something that could be done without supervision.

“We live on the street and we are scared we would die and no one would know, if we attempted to do this alone. I have gone into cardiac arrest during previous attempts to rehabilitate myself without medical supervision,” the man said.

The two said that although they were mature enough to make the decision to stop, they were concerned about younger heroin users in the province.

“In a province where heroin is cited as one of the most widely-used drugs, it is astonishing that the department would shun those who were in the grips of this addiction. Methadone is known to be extremely successful in the treatment of heroin, if dispensed correctly, but we don’t think the department is even aware of this medication. We really feel the system has failed us and the thousands of drug-addicts in the province,” they said.

The couple also indicated that they had tried to get help from various churches and other organisations, without any success.

“We don’t know where to go anymore. Churches promise assistance, but nothing happens. Sanca puts us on a waiting list for three months for a government drug rehabilitation centre in Upington, but they don’t come back to us. We are desperate to be rehabilitated but can’t afford to pay for a private rehab,” they said.

The two added that heroin, and other drugs, were easily available in Kimberley and said they were even willing to work with police in an attempt to root out dealers of the life-threatening drug.

“The police, however, don’t seem to be interested.”

Spokeswoman for the Department of Health Lulu Mxekezo denied that the patients were shown the door and said they absconded from the casualty section while doctors were preparing for admission and treatment. This is despite the fact that both patients were wearing hospital armbands and short drips, two days after being admitted.

Mxekezo said the Kimberley Hospital is one of the facilities in the province that has a 72-hour observation system for mental health conditions.

“If patients need more mental health care at these observation facilities, they will be referred to West End Specialised hospital for further management, but if not, they are discharged. We do, however have to differentiate between mental health care and rehabilitation of drug addicts. Rehabilitation of drug addicts remains the competency of the Department of Social Development.”

Sanca Kimberley representative Beatrice May said on Wednesday that there were definite treatment facilities available for addicts who voluntary wanted to be rehabilitated.

“For those who want to be rehabilitated the first step is always admitting that they have a problem. Denial is always the biggest part of the problem but for those who want it, there is help available. Patients wanting to be rehabilitated and know, accept and admit they have a problem will be put on a waiting list. They will be required to fill in documentation and an investigation will be conducted into their case.

“This documentation, together with reports from a social worker will then be submitted to the Department of Social Development, which will co-ordinate with the Resilia Clinic in Upington. Those who cannot afford treatment will be accommodated at the clinic at no cost and the department will even make transport arrangements if the patients does not have the means,” May said.

She added that although Sanca Kimberley referred patients from the entire Northern Cape, the waiting period for admittance was at most two months and denied that any patients had to wait three months to be admitted.

May also said that all patients’ cases were handled with the utmost confidentiality and that she could not divulge any information relating to the couple in question.

Department of Social Development spokesman Lesego Pule said social workers could assist addicts who acknowledged they had an addiction problem.

He added that the department assessed these addicts by means of interviews with them and their significant others and a social worker then determined whether in-patient (detoxification at a hospital) or community-based treatment is required. “With both options the department provides continuous after care and support services,” Pule said.

He added that although the province did not have many rehabilitation centres the department had procured fifteen beds at a private in-patient treatment facility in Upington.

“The department also provides community based treatment services. We have social workers who received intensive training on the Community Based Treatment Model,” he added.

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