Pupil drug use a reality

Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre (CTDCC) director Ashley Potts has appealed Mitchell’s Plain primary schools to face the reality that their pupils are experimenting with drugs.

“It is better to catch them early to prevent putting them in a worse situation,” he said.

Mr Potts said the longer it is kept a secret, the harder it is to help the pupil.

The CTDCC has offices in Atlantis, Observatory and Eastridge. Their statistics jointly show that preteens made up 174 (20 percent) of 873 clients; and teens accounted for 629 (70 percent) for 2015.

These clients arrived at the stage of onset when the disease of addiction starts affecting them.

Mitchell’s Plain had 45 clients younger than 13, Atlantis 14 and Observatory 115; similarly teen numbers were at 330 in Observatory, 265 in Mitchell’s Plain and 34 in Atlantis out of 873 clients.

Mr Potts said this is alarming and reflects the escalating trend over the years of a younger age of onset. These clients are not necessarily from the area where the offices are based.

“This is a worrying factor to all, as the younger one starts using for the first time, the greater the impact and subsequent danger of becoming an addict,” he said.

Mr Potts said while these are clients they “caught” early there are so many people who are not getting the help they need.

A Rocklands resident asked the Plainsman to investigate the prevalence of dagga in Mitchell’s Plain primary schools.

Mr Potts said dagga, according to youth referred to the centre, appears to be the experimentary drug of choice.

When the Plainsman spoke to principals in the area, they refused to be named, as they feared having their schools stigmatised.

They did not want to share any information about drug abuse at their schools.

“We want them to expose that they have a problem so we can help them. We cannot act and offer to help what we are unaware of,” said Mr Potts.

Earlier this year, the Eastridge office had a 10-year-old client, who had been referred to them by his school.

He had experimented with dagga and had completed a six-week outpatient programme, including three compulsory counselling sessions a week, with registered counsellors and social workers.

Treatment also includes a group session; a drama therapy session or tai chi, as an optional session, depending on which is available at the branch; aromatherapy massage; drug testing and aftercare.

Clinical psychologist Cathy Karassellos, the centre’s clinical manager, said addiction is a chronic illness.

She said the essence of addiction is the inability to consistently control the use of mood and mind-altering substances regardless of the damage or loss experienced.

“Non-addicts can have a glass of wine, or even use a drug if occasionally offered at a party.

“An addict is likely to use more than planned, and use in a self-damaging way, when taking substances,” she said.

This can be assimilated to gambling, sex or smoking. It is the inability to stop.

Ms Karassellos said addiction is a progressive illness in that the quantity, type of substances used and the consequence of using it increases over time.

“Using alcohol or drugs becomes a priority over other responsibilities and people in the addict’s life,” she said.

Similarly, families start to think, feel and behave in increasingly destructive ways, like giving the addict money to buy drugs because they fear he or she will land up in jail.

Ms Karassellos said anyone can suffer from addiction.

“It does not result from living in a specific community. Negative life experiences like abuse in childhood can contribute to early experimentation but is not the cause of addiction,” she said.

She said addiction is a lifelong illness.

“(Addicts) can, however, learn to manage the illness successfully to lead rich and rewarding lives by staying completely drug-free,” she said.

Ms Karassellos said a professional programme is a good place to start; followed by an ongoing 12-step support programme such as Narcotics Anonymous.

She said addiction does not mean somebody has weak morals, a defective character or poor self-discipline. It is a chronic illness, such as diabetes, which must be understood – by both addict and family – and managed on a lifelong basis.

A primary school principal told the Plainsman two of their pupils who had been referred to the City of Cape Town’s Tafelsig Matrix Clinic, at 4 Pyrenees Street.

The Grade 6 and 7 pupils were caught experimenting in separate cases, both in the toilet earlier this year.

The principal said the parents had been called in but were rather apathetic and were going through the motions of doing whatever it took to keep the pupil in school.

The pupils appeared before the school’s governing body (SGB) for a disciplinary hearing, and they were referred to the clinic for counselling.

The parents of pupils caught with drugs are called in, and only with them present, can the police be called in to confiscate the drugs.

Principals then ask the parents to have their children tested at a clinic or doctor.

The school’s code of conduct, in line with the Child Justice Act guides the SGB with regards to recommending disciplinary action.

The Child Justice Act emphasises the best interests of children, and singles them out for special protection, affording children in conflict with the law specific safeguards, among others, the right not to be detained or subjected to practices that could endanger their well-being, education, physical or mental health or spiritual, moral or social development.

The same principal said that in 2013 they had caught nine Grade 3 pupils experimenting with drugs. Now, three years later, eight of them had turned their lives around.

“It is fascinating to see their progress,” said the principal.

Teachers and the caretakers monitor and care for the children. The principal said compassion is sorely lacking in the community.

The school did a survey which found that the majority of the pupils who had behavioural problems were living with a single parent or grandparent.

The school has recently acquired the services of a registered counsellor from the Metro South Education District who will be based at the school for four months.

The principal said most of the problems stemmed from the pupils’ home lives.

“Most of the pupils who disrupt classes come from broken families, there is no structure. Some of them have never seen their father. This and other social ills impact the psychology and the emotional state of the child,” said the principal.

“They lack basically, what is the word I’m looking for – love.”

The principal said that during puberty pupils wanted to be acknowledged.

Economics, said the principal, is also a contributing factor because parents usually have to work long hours and are away from home.

Riyaadh Najaar, principal of the Progressive Principal’s Association, said it is terrible that substance abuse is rearing its head at primary schools.

“It is not the primary school’s fault. It is the children of the community who are at the schools and parents needs to take control and responsibility.

“Parents must be able to pick up signs, particularly in their younger children if they are using drugs,” he said.

Mr Najaar said schools do not have resources to tackle substance abuse.”.

Mitchell’s Plain police station commander Brigadier Cass Gool-am said all schools in Mitchell’s Plain are affected by substance abuse.

He said most of the cases where pupils were found with drugs were dealt with internally.

Brigadier Goolam called on SGBs and principals to engage with them.

Schools can request searches but it is done randomly with the permission of the principal.

The police’s social crime prevention units visit schools regularly.

Mitchell’s Plain police station started the National Schools Marching Drill Competition about a decade ago, which has police officers at schools training pupils to march.

Abie Isaacs, Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum (CPF) chairperson, said an all hands on deck approach is needed.

He called on all government departments, community organisations and residents to take a special interest in the youth.

“They are our future, and we need to find alternatives to keep them busy and away from falling prey to drugs and gangsterism.

“Report crime as it happens so we can be on the scene and arrest the perpetrators,” he said.