Effective prevention programmes, family support are crucial

Mariette le Roux

Mariette le Roux

The once-proud father fights back tears while describing his model son's metamorphosis into a thieving, violent drug user - one of a rising number of South African teens falling prey to crystal methamphetamine.

"I am very sad, desperate. We are going through hell," he says, dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief and apologising for the uncharacteristic show of emotion.

He gives a false name, Tyson, fearing persecution by drug dealers doing swift business in his suburb of Kraaifontein in Cape Town.

His son, 19, has been using crystal meth, known colloquially as "tik" or "tik-tik", for two years and failed at numerous rehabilitation attempts.

The sporty, studious and dependable youngster has become a paranoid and gaunt loner who failed two final school-year subjects, had run-ins with the law, and has stolen just about every item that can be sold from his home.

Living with him has become unbearable, says Tyson, 46, who works as a driver to eke out a middle-class existence.

"He has driven me to the edge of financial ruin. He has stolen shoes, clothes, cellphones and cameras from us [his parents and siblings], even meat from the fridge and jars of coffee."

And rehabilitation costs money too.

Grant Jardine, director of the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre, said tik was fast becoming the favoured drug of young people, being comparatively cheap and accessible.

Its rise has not only hit Cape Town harder than any other area of South Africa but has also outstripped all other global trends, said Jardine.

"Nowhere else in the world has there been such a massive increase in the use of a drug over such a short period of time."

Statistics from the Medical Research Council show that 46 percent of patients seeking drug treatment in Cape Town from January to June last year were tik users, compared to 0,7 percent four years earlier.

The average user was 22 years old, getting ever younger. Of these, 70 percent were male, and 91 percent coloured. Most came from predominantly coloured Cape Town suburbs where criminal gangs arerife.

Tik gives users a feeling of euphoria while boosting self-confidence and energy, said Jardine.

It is more addictive than drugs such as dagga and mandrax, causes insomnia and restlessness, suppressed appetite and can give rise to psychotic episodes - tell-tale signs parents should look out for, Jardine said.

About a tenth of tik users become addicts.

Jardine said: "The loss of potential is the biggest tragedy. Users miss out on crucial stages of their emotional and psychological development."

Tik is typically smoked in a light bulb. A plastic strawful sells for R15 to R30. The drug is manufactured from inexpensive and accessible ingredients. Recipes can be found on the Internet.

Jardine said tik was devastating Cape Town communities.

"Most users are involved in crime or prostitution to fund their habit," he said.

"Most are unemployed, yet they spend an average of R3000 a month on drugs."

Tik use also increased high-risk sexual behaviour conducive to the spread of HIV.

Effective prevention programmes and parental involvement were key, Jardine said, as policing alone would not rid communities of drug traffickers.

"These [traffickers] are organisations that rival Anglo American. They are well-organised and also well-resourced. They have doctors, lawyers and CCTV cameras."

In the Cape suburb of Ocean View, Rastafarians recently warned tik dealers to clear out or face their wrath.

"The tik disease [is] eating our community, destroying families and lives," an elder, Zebulon Tafari, was quoted by the Cape Times as saying.

Tyson believes drug dealers should expect no mercy for ruining youngsters' lives for money.

"Sometimes I feel like shooting them dead myself," he said.

Tyson's son used to dream of starting his own business, but has stopped planning for the future.

"For now we are just hoping he will quit. We want back the son we knew." - Sapa-AFP