Glue loses high to save street-kid addicts

Published Nov 14, 2000


A South African glue company is leading the way to "detoxify" the glue that streetchildren sniff in such large amounts that it has left many wheelchair-bound.

Although the months-long, expensive effort by Qualichem/Genkem addresses the immediate health concerns in respect of children who sniff glue, they are now looking for partners to help them push the government for legislation that will slap an age restriction on glue sales.

Qualichem's chief executive officer, Donald Perry, said press reports on the physical effects of sustained glue sniffing had set them on their path after his company had bought Genkem in October last year.

"Genkem is a prominent national brand and, over the years, has become the generic name for all the glues used by glue-sniffing children," he said.

Last month, Qualichem officially launched its reformulated glue, created after eight months of work at a cost of tens of thousands of rands. Called Solutac, it has a less than two percent n-hexane content, the component in the glue that has adverse effects on the human peripheral nervous system.

In October last year, Cape Argus featured the story of four affected youngsters. One, 17-year-old Thembela, was in a wheelchair in Conradie hospital without the use of his legs as a result of sniffing glue.

When the Cape Argus visited Thembela again in September this year, he had recovered to the point where he walked with only a slight dragging of his feet, after months of intensive therapy at both Conradie and Groote Schuur hospitals. He said he now sniffed only thinners, not glue.

A neurologist at Tygerberg hospital in Cape Town, Dr James Butler, and the hospital's registrar, Etienne van der Walt, who have seen 11 affected children in the past 18 months, said that peripheral neuropathy effectively, but slowly, rendered the hands, arms, feet and legs dysfunctional.

It was reversible, but took time and a commitment from the affected children to stop sniffing glue.

Dr Butler said they had first noticed a pattern developing with two brothers who ended up at the hospital in wheelchairs.

He and Van der Walt had conducted nerve conduction studies on the children.

The speed at which the children's electrical impulses travelled down their nerves was considerably slower than normal.

Perry said on Monday that in their new glue, 98 percent of the problem n-hexane had been eliminated, but that that did not mean Qualichem was not concerned about its new user-friendly glue becoming "user-friendly sniffing glue".

Their next step was to approach major retailers like Mica and Pick 'n Pay to get their help in an effort to get the government to recognise the need for legislation to stop children buying glue.

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