Kick the Habit

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The only way to stop a drug habit is to stop. And there is help out there if you find it difficult to do it on your own, New Era reports.

By Catherine Sasman

WINDHOEK

The Nova Vita Rehabilitation Centre on Sam Nujoma Drive is locked and bolted. A bell is clearly identified on the white wall next to the gate, with 24-hour emergency numbers painted outside. The high wall surrounding the building has barbed wire all round.

Upon ringing the bell, a guard peeks through an opening, and asks for identification. He opens reluctantly.

Visitations are limited and patients on the rehabilitation programme are encouraged to spend as much time to reflect on their feelings, and thoughts, while coming to terms with a debilitating and dangerous stint with drugs and alcohol.

Inside the courtyard, some men sit quietly on a bench catching some afternoon sun; at a table in the middle of the courtyard someone is trying to get into a book while others sit and play cards and talk in muffled voices.

They appear tired, haggard and spent. Some faces are scarred and pockmarked, some aged too soon.

Most people come for the rehabilitation programme after realising that their substance abuse has got the better of them. But increasingly, says social worker at the centre Cynthia Martin-Haihambo, patients are forced to admit themselves to the centre because of a drunken-driving court case, or because their spouses insist on a divorce, and some because they have received a final dismissal letter from their jobs.

Often, she says, people realise they have a drug problem only after repeated run-ins with the law, or after they have bumped their cars more than four times.

“Of course, with substance abuse, one’s health suffers considerably, and with a combined effect of your body and life falling apart, people come to the centre,” says Martin-Haihambo.

“People often cannot recognise their levels of addiction. And it is important for them to understand this. Many people think they do not have a problem.

They will tell you that they have not been drinking for two months, and yet, one glass of alcohol can trigger them spiralling out of control.”

The rehabilitation centre for drug and alcohol abuse follows a multi-professional holistic approach that offers an intensive and specialized 20-day in-house treatment method that consists of 15 phases of treatment.

It was initially opened by Telecom Namibia for its employees, but later opened its doors to everyone across the country.

Drug and alcohol abuse is becoming a worrying problem in Namibia. A recent study conducted by the Social Impact Assessment and Policy Analysis Corporation showed that more than half of all adult Namibians consume an average of 10 litres of alcohol a week. And young people between the ages of 18 to 26 are increasingly hooked on a lethal combination of alcohol, dagga, mandrax and cocaine. And the fearful tick – a chemically manipulated drug, say experts – are slowly coming into our borders.

“You can find crack cocaine around every corner, at every shebeen,” says a 19-year-old who prefers to be called just AL*. He has been battling with a serious drug problem since the age of 13.

“Buying rocks [or crack cocaine] is as easy as buying cigarettes over the counter.”

Some of the patients claim that the drug squad of the Namibian Police is often in cahoots with “older and more established” drug dealers.

“The dealers pay them a protection fee. By the middle of the month the police officers come to collect their money,” says PJ, a patient at Nova Vita.

AL also tells of an incident when an undercover policeman came in with seven others, each taking a N$500 pay, and went off after the dealer had a brief discussion with them.

“They [the police] know where all these dealers are,” says PJ.

“The old dealers are the ones tipping off the police of the new dealers coming in because they don’t want the competition. We can also show them all the houses we know of.”

And then, of course, the 24/7 shebeen operations around the country are well known.

On their first day at the centre, patients are orientated to the programme, and an individual assessment is made by the various professionals: an occupational therapist, a psychologist, medical doctor and nurse, a social worker, and a journey therapist who goes ‘accompanies’ the patient through their life experiences relevant such as possible rapes, and other traumatic experiences that have brought on the addiction.

They are immediately put on a detoxification programme, and put on a regimen of medications.

“When the patients come here, their bodies are so deteriorated that we pump them with vitamins such as vitamin B1 (which helps with memory recovery and boosts the immune system), Prohep (a product that contains liver extracts and vitamins), Lennon-Thiamine (for the treatment of beri-beri and prevention of vitamin B1 deficiencies), and Berocca.

The nurse that comes in on a daily basis, and other staff, then assist patients with withdrawal management.

Withdrawals come with severe headaches, delirium, tremours [shivering], heightened anxiety levels, aggression, impatience, and hallucinations and often last for three to five days.

“Sometimes people see and hear things that are not there,” says 37-year-old PJ, who is admitted to the centre for the second time.

A high school teacher first introduced PJ to his first drug, mandrax.

“I had an affair with my Afrikaans teacher, and she introduced me to mandrax at a matric dance. And then I could not stop even though I wanted to,” he says.

Over the 17 years, PJ oscillated between mandrax, dagga, crack cocaine, and eventually dunked into a hopeless alcoholic abyss.

“I simply could not stop and because I come from a Christian home, I became an outcast. Some of my sisters tried to help me, but I was too stubborn. And then the neglect started. My personal hygiene deteriorated. I would walk around in dirty and tattered clothes and couldn’t care at all. I could not think normally anymore. The only thing I could think of was where to get enough money to buy my drugs and alcohol. I did not bother to eat, but only worried about where I would get my next kick,” he says with surprising candidness.

But money was never much of a problem for PJ. Despite his addictions, he has been able to land relatively well-paying jobs even though he had been unable to hold any one of these down for longer than a couple of years.

As a flight steward on Air Namibia, he remembers binging on crack cocaine in Wiesbaden, Germany. He later took a retrenchment package when the company restructured, “not because I was asked to do so, but because I wanted to have a good time”.

He later helped out at the Ramatex textile factory for two months.

“I got paid N$35

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