Heroin use surges in Nelson Mandela Bay
An alarming spike in the use of highly addictive and deadly heroin at drug dens in Nelson Mandela Bay has emerged, resulting in thousands of new syringe needles being distributed to users every week to counter the spread of HIV-Aids.
The sharp rise in dealing in heroin and the use of the drug in the city’s CBD has seen desperate addicts resorting to metal-stripping and theft of copper cables to pay drug dealers for their “smack”, which costs around R60 a dose.
It has also prompted police in the Bay to step up operations to combat the scourge, with one officer warning that those who deal in the drugs “are killing our communities” and that these substances inflict “untold damage on our young and old”.
Hartman Street – one of about a dozen hotspots in the CBD – runs into a dead end where a pit of filth strewn with hundreds of used heroin syringes and needles also marks the end of the road for many drug addicts.
A massive police raid on two squalid, derelict properties in the street on Friday uncovered further evidence of unchecked heroin use, prostitution and mass squatting.
Weekend Post launched an investigation into what is arguably one of the most devastating narcotics in the wake of a hard-hitting public meeting this week around the fast-deteriorating state of Central.
The meeting lifted the lid on rampant drug use, drug dealing, drug lords – described as “untouchables” – and the dangers to the public and pupils in particular who are exposed to hundreds of heroin needles at various sites in the suburb, including school yards and parks.
Ward 5 councillor Sandile Rwexwana and other Central stakeholders attributed the suburb’s drug challenges to an influx of brazen drug dealers, police operations that are not sustained long enough to eliminate the scourge, and growing general lawlessness.
Also at the meeting, Greenwood Primary School principal Gary Pike said needles used for drugs had been found discarded on the school grounds.
While law enforcement agencies and municipal departments, among others, are moving into strategy planning, police had taken the early initiative by Friday and conducted two large-scale lockdown-andsearch operations in Parliament and Hartman streets.
This week, one road up from Hartman Street, in Smith Street, lying amid the litter, faeces and needles, was a ragged copy of Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.
But for the dozens of heroin addicts who frequent the street it is just a short walk to their dealers and a potentially lifelong addiction, crime, disease, and even death.
Heroin use in the Bay, according to an expert, has spiked over the past four years, particularly in areas such as Central.
Due to the underground nature of heroin use – and because, apart from those on the street, other users function in their communities without their addictions being noticed – authorities and community and healthcare organisations are unable to provide figures which demonstrate the full extent of the drug’s prevalence in the city.
But TBHIVCare, which works at the coalface of heroin addiction in the Bay and other SA cities, is optimally placed to gauge the extent of heroin addiction because it provides users with new syringes and needles, to mitigate the spread of diseases.
The organisation’s primary task is to prevent the spread of TB and HIV-Aids.
Narcotics expert and TBHIVCare’s People Who Use Drugs projects, policy, advocacy and human rights manager Shaun Shelly said it distributed between 3,570 and 3,822 syringes and needles in the Bay every week.
Shelly said TBHIVCare had engaged with at least 300 identified heroin users in the Bay in 2017, but that it was now seeing “more than 500 people”.
He said the majority of users fell in the 25 to 33 age group but users in general ranged in age between 15 and 65.
Speaking from TBHIVCare’s Cape Town headquarters, Shelly said the demand for treatment by heroin addicts in the Bay was increasing and there were anecdotal reports that the supply of the drug and the number of people injecting it were increasing.
Heroin addicts interviewed in the Hartman Street vicinity reported that more than 120 users frequented the site during the week and associated activities such as prostitution, metal stripping and copper harvesting – to get cash for heroin – were rife.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said boxes of syringes were delivered to the site up to twice a day.
A common sight in the vicinity is the burning and stripping of cables for copper.
Reports of a copper trader, equipped with a scale, who made multiple visits to the area to buy copper from addicts, were confirmed by property owners.
Businessman and property owner Adriaan Haman, who is involved with properties in the Hartman Street area and who has played a role in assisting addicts, said the scourge needed urgent attention.
“This situation is very bad here. Among the effects is that it has had an extremely negative effect on property values.
“The needles that get discarded present a major threat to the many pedestrians who use the area, including pupils.”
Haman said owners of properties being used for the drugrelated and prostitution activities should be held to account.
Police spokesperson for the Mount Road Cluster, Colonel Priscilla Naidu, said on Friday: “There has been a notable increase in the use of heroin, among other drugs, in the metro. During special operations and routine patrols pushers [and] users are arrested.
“However in order to curb or cripple the drug trade, including heroin, we need to get the dealers and this can only be done on intelligence-driven operations, tip-offs and information from the public.”
She said operations in wellknown narcotics areas were conducted regularly and police infiltrated the drug dens.
“Since Wednesday, operations were held in Richmond Hill, Central and surrounding areas. During our clean-up operation on Friday, we found hundreds of used needles in Hartman and Campbell streets.
“We will be concentrating our patrols in these areas from now on.”
Naidu urged anyone with information on drug dealers to contact the police, even if anonymously.
“In order to reach the root cause of this fast-growing illicit trade, the responsibility lies with all of us,” she said.
“Those who deal in drugs are killing our communities and these substances inflict untold damage on our young and old.”