A drug addict takes a dose of methadone. File picture: Bazuki Muhammad

Durban - Fifty Durban drug addicts are to take part in pioneering substitution therapy trials, using methadone in a bid to wean them off whoonga/heroin.

The ground breaking demonstration project is scheduled to start in October and will last 18 months. It will evaluate improvements to the quality of life of drug addicts under treatment, as well as looking at the cost-effectiveness of using opioid substitution therapy in the state health system .

The provincial and national Departments of Health and the Department of Social Development would be watching the outcome, said Professor Monique Marks, head of the Urban Futures Centre at the Durban University of Technology.

“The hope is that substitution therapy will eventually be rolled out in the public sector at government hospitals in Durban and around the country,” she said.

The methadone will be supplied by a pharmaceutical company with head offices in the UK. International support has also been given by the Open Society Foundation for a project doctor, while funding still has to be found for a social worker.

The Urban Futures Centre, which co-ordinates the KwaZulu-Natal Harm Reduction Advocacy Group, will be working on the drug substitution therapy project with the TB/HIV Care Association.

Marks was talking on the sidelines of Sunday’s “Support, Don’t Punish” campaign at the Durban University of Technology City Campus courtyard, part of a global protest calling on governments for more affordable and effective harm reduction responses.

The Durban gathering, hosted by the Urban Futures Centre, and attended by some 80 whoonga addicts, many living in local shelters and under a nearby bridge, appealed for the decriminalisation of drug use.

South Africa’s enforcement approach in dealing with drug use had not led to a reduction of it or drug markets, “but instead a growth of problematic drug use”, Marks said.

“We have got to stop the war on drugs, which is not working, and start the support,” she said.

“What is required is support that breaks cycles of trauma, disconnect and inequality that fuel problematic drug use.

“Harm-reduction services such as needle syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapy are examples of innovation solutions which contribute to normalising people’s lives and making them safer and healthier.”

Only about 10% of drug users were problematic users. It was not a problem to be dealt with by policing and imprisonment, she told the gathering.

There were between 5 000 and 7 000 whoonga users in the Durban area, Marks said later.

Psychiatrist, Dr Hemant Nowbath, an executive member of the South African Addiction Medicine Society, said the country spent more money enforcing laws against drug addicts than on treating them.

Former heroin addict, Nombulelo Dlamini, 28, told how she had left her home in Hammarsdale for Durban after she had been bullied at school and did not want to tell her parents what was happening.

Because of peer pressure, she started sniffing glue and graduated to heroin/whoonga without realising what she was getting into.

At the beginning “it was cool, but as you go on, you realise you are digging your own grave”, she said.

She said in an interview earlier that it took her a week to get hooked.

“When you don’t smoke it, you get sick, you get stomach cramps, your whole body is weak, your ears and nose bleeds and you get headaches.”

Dlamini kicked her addiction with the help of the Denis Hurley Centre in Durban.

Daily News