Tshwane’s R1.5m drive to help drug addicts

Through its community orientated substance use programme, the city aims to help wean people off substance dependence.

With more than 4 500 drug addicts in the Tshwane CBD Region 3 injecting themselves with heroin and nyoape multiple times a day, the City has now made R1.5 million available for a needle-exchange programme – in the hope of stopping the spread of HIV/aids and Hepatitis C.

Sakkie du Plooy, MMC for health and social development, said of these drug users, 90% were Hepatitis C positive and 50% HIV positive. “More than 200 [people] are living in the notorious ‘brown street’. These funds will help the Step Up project, which are already running a needle-exchange programme with injecting drug users in Tshwane, Cape Town, and Durban,” Du Plooy said.

It is not until you go out on one of these needle-exchange projects that you completely understand what is really happening in Tshwane and why the mayor had invested R40 million in the 2017/18 financial year for the implementation of interventions inthe fight against substance abuse.

Drugs are being used by people of all ages and sexes, young and old. They come to exchange their needles for new ones. Some were visibly already high and ready for their next fix. As soon as they were given clean needles, cotton wool and alcohol swabs, they started mixing their drugs and injecting it there and then.

D. A heroin addict injects a fellow addict using a clean new needle under a bridge in Pretoria last week. Picture: Jacques Nelles

“This is not to get high, it is just to keep calm and to relax my body. I want to get clean, but maybe one day. It is not nice to inject yourself every day,” one user said.

In front of him on an old damaged stand are his two Bibles which he said he reads because he still hopes for a “clean future”.

Connie van Staden, regional human rights and advocacy officer at the Step Up project, said they collected a staggering 1 500 needles a day three times a week. Van Staden and his team, many of them former drug addicts, also provide HIV counselling and testing services, peer education on safe injecting, safe sex and overdose prevention.

“We have all lived on the streets, sitting in queues injecting ourselves with the same needles and spreading diseases. That is why this project is so important [for us],” Van Staden said.

Du Plooy said the city has now also donated R1 million to treat drug addicts with methadone, which is an opioid used to treat pain and used as maintenance therapy to help wean people off opioid dependence.

A heroin addict is seen injecting himself using a clean new needle in the Step Up programme in Tshwane. Picture: Jacques Nelles

“We are ahead of many cities in the world. While Durban has recorded 43 methadone treatments, and Johannesburg 20, Tshwane, through its community orientated substance use programme (CSUP), has 493 people on methadone – provided for by the city at a cost of about R1 500 per person per month.

“The other half are being paid for by parents or loved ones who can afford it. It helps with recovery, it speeds up the process so much more, and it gives the user a clear mind to make sound decisions,” Du Plooy said.

The MMC said the focus of the needle-exchange programme will be in Soshanguve, where the “Bluetooth” phenomenon started. This is where addicts inject themselves with blood drawn from someone already high.

Du Plooy said to avoid arrest and harassment by police, the city has given the Step Up teams letters to carry indicating that what they were doing is legal and was with permission from the city.

– virginiak@citizen.co.za


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