AS TOWNSHIPS in Tshwane struggle to grapple with the phenomenon of a new drug high called Bluetooth, the city is embarking on an intensive drive to clean up the streets.
Mayor Solly Msimanga has announced a partnership with the University of Pretoria (UP) that will see a change in the approach to the fight against the scourge of drug abuse and addiction.
The new system is expected to cost millions of rands but the exact figures are not yet known.
Despite the high costs that will be associated with it, the partnership will result in a shift from the victimisation of drug users, which was often characterised by sending users either to jail or to short rehabilitation in centres where withdrawal and total abstinence were the sole aims.
“Community-oriented primary care (COPC), brief interventions, opioid substitution therapy (OST) and a needle exchange programme are central to this approach,” he said.
The shift in approach follows failed attempts to help addicts get rehabilitated.
At the beginning of March, the social cluster MECs led by Gauteng Social Development MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza in conjunction with the City of Tshwane held an anti-substance abuse awareness campaign in response to the outcry about the Bluetooth phenomenon.
The campaign saw addicts volunteering to go to rehab but within two days half of them discharged themselves.
This was despite the fact that the department of health was footing their bills, spending about R11 000 on one patient.
“At the end of the day, 301 service users volunteered to go to rehab, but by 3 March 2017, 159 participants had discharged themselves. This is deeply regrettable and the City in consultation with the provincial government is in the process of ascertaining all the reasons that led to these patients abandoning this state-sanctioned care and how we can better retain these patients in rehabilitation facilities until such time as they are able to be re-integrated into society,” he said.
The Bluetooth phenomenon saw one addict taking the drug or drugs and then taking his blood with a needle for others to inject themselves to get high.
They regarded it as a cheaper alternative despite the numerous health risks it poses. The city has for many years been dealing with Nyaope addiction.
The new phenomenon is compounding already what is a monumental task for the municipality.
Parents have been complaining about their children who steal utensils to sell in order to feed their addictions and cravings.
Taps and gates have also been stolen in various townships and taken to scrap metal dealers in order to get a quick buck to buy the drugs.
Following the failure to keep addicts in rehab and having learned from past mistakes, the new system has already visited homes of hundreds of people needing assistance.
Msimanga said the city was now trying to ensure that addicts don’t relapse and once they are clean it’s for good.
“This programme has so far been able to screen 688 substance users in their homes who have been identified as needing care. Altogether 392 have been initiated in care and harm reduction, and 32 patients have been initiated in self-funded OST. Furthermore, 5 sites are functional already and two additional sites are in the process of establishment,” he said.
Msimanga added that the Local Drug Action Committees (LDACs) are currently being handed over by the provincial department of social development to the City of Tshwane.
“The City of Tshwane, together with the Provincial Department of Social Development and the Local Drug Action Committees, has launched 48 Ward Based LDACs to date.”
The new system, however, does not come for free. Patients and their families have been paying for the medicine. Despite that, Msimanga said it was clear from the evidence and international experience that OST was essential for effective management of heroin addiction and will, therefore, be a central part of the project.
Only time can tell if the project will be successful or if it will be money down the drain and send them back to the drawing board.