• By Ilse Pauw, Health24.com
“TIK” (crystal meth) is the latest buzzword in drug circles and is becoming increasingly popular among school children. The drug, known as the "stay-awake drug that makes you violent", has recently sparked a huge response from health authorities. Far more is being done to clamp down on dealers than with any other drug in South Africa.
Why such a huge response? According to Grant Jardine, director of the Cape Town Drug Counseling Centre (CTDCC), the increased rate of usage of crystal meth is dramatic. “It is something we haven’t seen before. It is the greatest challenge the CTDCC has ever had to face.” In 2002, less than 1% of the clients at the CTDCC took crystal meth as their primary drug. In 2003, the number increased to 5%. In May 2004, a third of the patients were users.
According to the CTDCC, over six months of use 94% of those who smoke meth become addicted.
Health professionals are concerned about the devastating effects of this drug on the user – among its many effects, crystal meth induces psychotic symptoms, such as seeing or hearing things that are not there, and violence, making it a far more dangerous drug than most others available in South Africa. “The danger with crystal meth is that it is attractive to non-typical drug users,” says Prof Charles Parry, researcher at the Medical Research Council (MRC).
It is attracting very young, first-time users. The South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SENDU), which monitors drug use countrywide, found the greatest increase in users to be those under the age of 20 years. In 1996, 5% of people seeking treatment were under the age of 20. This shot up to 20-25% in 2003. Treatment centres such as the Crescent Clinic’s Chemical Dependency Unit are treating children as young as 13 for crystal meth addiction.
Crystal meth has also been marketed as a way of losing weight, making it popular among many women who would not normally take drugs, [and] health professionals are also concerned about the impact on long-term drug users. Ted Leggett, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, has done extensive research on gangsterism on the Cape Flats. He points out that crystal meth is becoming extremely popular amongst gang members. Hardened criminals taking drugs that induce violent behaviour is a cause for concern.
“Methamphetamine is seen as an ideal tonic to prepare gunmen for a hit, removing inhibitions, sharpening senses and fuelling aggression,” says Leggett. One could therefore expect an escalation of violence within this already violent sector of the population.
“Give me a straw, please?” If you ask this question in many parts, you may get a lot more than you bargained for. Crystal meth is typically sold in straws, one of which could cost you between R40 and R60. The drug can be found in many forms, from a fine powder to larger crystals. It can be snorted, orally ingested, injected or smoked – smoking being the most common method in South Africa.
On the street, crystal meth has many names, including “tuk-tuk”, "tik", "crystal", "straws" and "globes". It has also been called “Hitler’s drug”, because it was allegedly used by the Nazis as a “combat drug” to fuel aggression and help soldiers stay awake and remain focused for long periods. •
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