Deadly chemical threat among us

The largest single seizure of more than 105kg of crystal meth (tik) valued at about R70-million in East London last weekend was evidence of the very real and growing presence of drugs in our midst.

The appearance in the East London Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday morning of a 31-year-old alleged meth “cook” Kingsley Obi Udeobi, who police apparently found in possession of the haul of the processed and unprocessed drug as well as equipment used to refine it suggests that an entire generation of young people is at extreme risk.

After reading about this haul in this newspaper, I wanted to understand what exactly this drug is and what the effects are of using it. What I found in my research was both shocking and frightening as I came to realise the impact this drug can have on our communities.

I learnt that crystal meth, is one form of the drug methamphetamine.

People can use it as a pill, a powder which is snorted up the nose, or by injecting it into the bloodstream, or by smoking with a pipe. Those who who smoke it normally use it in its purest form, known as “ice”.

This drug is thought to be so dangerous that it is more addictive than crack cocaine.

Its effect is to create a false sense of happiness and well-being with a high that go on for 24 hours and gives an energy boost.

But it simultaneously causes immense harm – both physically and physiologically. Medical experts say it causes a rapid rise in temperature, an increase of the heart rate and it induces rapid breathing. It can harm both the nervous and cardiovascular systems – potentially damaging the heart, brain and spine and causing memory loss.

It can prevent sleep for days, induce anxiety, cause depression and lead to suicidal thoughts, rot teeth, cause skin damage, and as a result of a decreased appetite it tends to result in dramatic weight loss.

It is so addictive that it creates a devastating dependence and this is only relieved by taking more of it. It is also said to be one of the hardest addictions to treat and many die in its grip.

Why I am sharing this information? The public needs to know the seriousness of the threat facing our society. Crystal meth is deadly. Period.

There are additional problems. Studies have shown a general association between criminal behaviour and the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. This includes violent crimes linked to the drug abuse.

So how do we begin to tackle this drug as well as others menacing our society?

An important question is why people use drugs, apart from wanting the obvious high?

One reason cited is easy availability, peers pressure and increasingly, stress relief.

We know that drugs are widely available in our communities. We also know from surveys that the use of illicit drugs can begin at school. In order to influence attitudes, we must start education early.

It is important that drug awareness education starts at primary school level so that children are properly prepared should they be confronted with drugs or situations where drugs are being used.

But our children are never too young to find out about the dangers of addiction. Important safeguards can be put in place in the home. Experts say the lessons parents teach them can put them on a solid footing towards a drug-free future.

How do we as parents reduce our children’s vulnerability? Helping them to develop positive interests, building up their self-esteem and helping them feel good about themselves will all help diminish some of the factors that may lead to them choosing to misuse drugs.

Our children should be taught from a young age how to cope with problems. We need to help them to deal with their emotions by creating an atmosphere where they feel comfortable expressing negative feelings, as well as love and affection.

Some may say many children smoke, drink, or try drugs because their friends do. I believe that helping our children to develop healthy social and life skills is the most successful way to reduce the risk of them turning to drugs.

As parents, we should also help our children develop skills in making difficult choices and teach them how to cope with situations where other children may try to pressurise them into taking drugs.

Let’s also all do our bit to stop drug being peddled on our streets by alerting the police to any dealers we may be aware of.

Let’s stand up against the drug menace that is destroying our communities and act in the interest of our children.

Phumulo Masualle is premier of the Eastern Cape. Follow him on @EC_ Premier and on Facebook at Masincokole