A haven with a new twist is making a major difference in the lives of drug users in central Pretoria, Pretoria East Rekord reports.
The Step Up Project sought to help addicts use drugs safely, said human rights manager Connie van Staden.
“We assist them in safe usage and provide intervention so that they know how to use safely.”
Apart from these “harm reduction services”, the NGO also offered drug users food and amenities. The ultimate objective is to reintegrate current and former users back into society.
“We create a safe space for people who use drugs by offering them food, a shower, internet usage as well as harm reduction services. By harm reduction services we mean sterile water, syringes, 28 alcoholic swabs and a pot used to cook drugs.” said Van Staden.
Van Staden, who is a recovered heroin user himself, said Step Up was an organisation that helped him kick the habit.
“Step Up saved my life, they helped me so much,” he said. I was a heroin user for 20 years and living in the streets of Pretoria as a homeless person for eight years injecting heroin.”
Step Up, located on Pretorius Street, in Arcadia, was started two years ago and had nine former drug users on its staff.
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“We don’t decide for the user if they should or shouldn’t use drugs, but we do provide them with sterile needles. Through this programme, instead of a drug user using the same needles, he or she are provided with new needles to inject themselves,” said Van Staden.
In this way, infections and the spread of bacteria among users were being limited to the minimum.
Van Staden was sharply critical of reports on the controversial ‘Bluetooth’ phenomenon.
“This is a practice where a drug user injects himself with the blood of another who is already ‘high’. News reports on this were irresponsible. Journalists who report on the Bluetooth issue are irresponsible, because Bluetooth is 100 percent harmful,”said Van Staden.
Outreach workers of the NGO also seeks to provide medication to people who were HIV positive.
Van staden said about 60 percent of drug users were HIV positive.
“Users who are HIV positive adhere to their medication because we personally stay with them to ensure that they drink their ARVs.”
Councillor Wayne Helfrich, who is involved health and social development in Tshwane, said the Step Up project was supported by the mayor Solly Msimanga.
“The war on drugs tells you to stop using drugs, it makes you stop and leaves you to your own devices,” said Helfrich.
“Harm reduction meets users halfway by providing them with a shower, food and skills so that they can be reintegrated back into society,” said Helfrich.
He said the initiative also enjoyed the support of the University of Pretoria.
Van Staden said a medical doctor, a social worker and a clinical associate visited Step Up weekly.
Drug users visited Step Up’s dropoff centre on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, he said.
The Citizen spoke to Van Staden on why the media reporting on Bluetooth was irresponsible, and he said: “The picture that was used in newspapers months ago of the boy demonstrating the Bluetooth had his own blood drawn and not of anyone. He is one of ours, and he was not injecting himself with anyone’s blood.
“First and foremost, this Bluetooth does not exist in Tshwane at all. There is what we call ‘flush blood’, which initially broke first in East Africa. After piercing a vein, an addict will typically draw some blood into the syringe, push it back out and repeat that three or four times to make sure all the heroin has been flushed into their blood. Those offering flush blood will usually hand over the syringe after only one in-out cycle. All the drugs would go in, and nothing would be left, and only infections will be transmitted.”
He added: “Publishing about the Bluetooth has seen us doing so many outreach programmes so we educate those who might experimenting with this Bluetooth because of the diseases that would be spread fast and the worst being HIV and Hepatitis.”
– Caxton News Service