Highway to hell hits a speed wobble

By Time of article published Dec 8, 2007

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By Thabiso Thakali

Gauteng is home to the shady drug laboratories that produce the Western Cape's tik - but drug counsellors warn that its abuse is on the rise in the Western Cape too.

On Wednesday, Social Welfare Deputy Minister Dr Jean Swanson-Jacobs announced that a legal loophole would be plugged in the 2003 law that had made ephedrine (or "speed") a schedule-5 drug (only available to patients with a doctor's prescription).

She said the law had failed to curb production of its synthetic form, pseudoephedrine, which is a decongestant used in flu medicines and cough mixtures.

According to Andreas Pluddemann, a senior scientist with the Medical Research Council's alcohol and drug abuse unit, only 14 patients out of 3 250 in 19 Gauteng drug-treatment centres during the first half of 2007 reported tik as their first choice drug.

"Obviously this is a small number, but it has increased from 2005," Pluddemann said.

But while Gauteng has fewer tik addicts than the Western Cape, where it is devastating poor communities, the province appears to be home to the drug's manufacturers.

In April, police raided a smallholding between Meyerton and De Deur, south of Joburg, arrested six Chinese nationals and seized 10kg of tik worth about R150 000. Also in April, a man was arrested after a tik lab was uncovered in Northcliff.

Then in May, another tik lab in Weltevreden Park, west of Joburg, was raided, and chemicals to manufacture at least R18-million worth of tik were seized.

"We picked up a trend of more manufacturing operations being in Gauteng than in the Western Cape, which seems to be a strategy for drug dealers," Pluddemann said.

"It's possible the use and availability may start to increase. In Cape Town it started this small, if you go back to 2000, but has since increased drastically," he said.

At this stage, Pluddemann said, it seemed the drug was marketed in Cape Town exclusively.

Alex Hamlyn, director of the Houghton House drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, said tik was gaining ground in and around Joburg.

"Tik is moving up in the market. It is becoming widely used here," he said.

"It will spread out from here and become a major problem."

But Senior Superintendent Deven Naicker, the national head of the narcotics desk in the SAPS's organised-crime division, believes tik isn't a problem outside Cape Town.

"There are isolated incidents of its usage in Gauteng but we have tightened control and managed to dismantle a large number of tik laboratories in the area. As long as we can control the supply of its ingredients, we will control the spread of the drug," he said.

Today, the Social Welfare Department was due to launch a programme in Franschhoek, Western Cape, called Ke Moja - meaning "I'm fine" (without drugs) - aimed at preventing tik abuse among the youth.

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