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Cape Town -
Tristan Jagers was just 12 when he became a heroin addict.
A full 14 years of hell followed.
So the step he took this week when he started work as a porter at a top city hotel will literally be life-changing - thanks to a new drug treatment campaign for outpatients, funded by the provincial government.
“It began at school, and just progressed,” he told the Cape Argus.
“After school, I went to sea, working on an I&J factory ship, where it got worse. I lost my job.
“At my worst, I was using 12 ‘quarters’ a day” - street slang for a small bag of heroin. “I would smoke all day, every day.”
Aside from the cost of his inability to function, the financial cost was crippling too - about R250 a day.
In 2010, desperate, he checked himself into the Sultan Bahu Centre in Westridge, Mitchells Plain, but relapsed numerous times.
That all changed in January, for another heroin addict, Edwina Alexander, too. Life had also fallen apart for the 44-year-old mother of three adult children.
“Every cent I earned as a silkscreen printer went to heroin.” That included money for rent, for food, “for everything - it all went to drugs,” Alexander said.
In January, the Sultan Bahu Centre, a private not-for-profit centre, became the site for a pilot programme, funded by the Western Cape Department of Social Development - the formally-named “Opiate Substitution Treatment”.
The OST programme couples cognitive behavioural therapy with supervised intake of drugs such as buprenorphine, administered by a registered psychiatric nurse, says Shuaib Hoosain, treatment co-ordinator at the centre.
The first three months are key - a “statutory programme” of psycho-social rehabilitation comprising group psycho-education, cognitive behavioural therapy-based individual counselling sessions, family counselling sessions, aftercare groups and family psycho-educational lectures.
“Clients” spend full days at the centre, Monday to Friday, with family sessions on Wednesday evenings, and further counselling on Saturdays.
Throughout, urine testing takes place, to ensure the “client” hasn’t relapsed, and the staff are vigilant for any potentially dangerous influences among close family members too. Each programme is “tailor-made” for each recovering addict.
Jagers’ three months ended at the weekend, and on Monday his new life began - albeit still registered with the centre for a further six-month “integration” period.
“It’s a struggle, but I’ve learnt to live life again,” he told the Cape Argus.
Alexander is similarly grateful for the life-saving intervention, saying that after eight years of heroin she is again being asked to bake “pretty cakes” for people.
Melany Kuhn, spokeswoman for the Social Development MEC Albert Fritz, said: “There are parents out there who think it’s hopeless. This gives people hope.”