Director of South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence leads efforts to rehabilitate drug addicts among the homeless community.

The homeless, substance abusers of Johannesburg struggling with addiction throughout the national lockdown, have been receiving treatment to reduce their drug dependency from the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca).

The director of Sanca central rand, Terrence Makananisa, 42, has been working with the City of Johannesburg to provide resources such as dignity packages, drug testing and medication to combat alcoholism and addiction in over 10 public shelters. 

Makananisa said there were positive aspects to the lockdown, as this period of sobriety may have long-lasting improvements on the lives of substance abusers that Sanca is in contact with.

Sanca volunteers pack food and dignity packages. Photo: Provided.

“We have been able to gather a large number of homeless people who are addicts to offer mass rehabilitation services. I hope that people will learn to abstain from substance abuse, or this period will show them that they are strong enough to reduce their intake,” said Makananisa. 

Sanca operates six-week rehabilitation programmes that run at their clinics which Makananisa oversees. However, they have collaborated with the government’s shelters for the first time to provide these services for the duration of lockdown. 

Makananisa’s daily routine consists of identifying addicts living on the streets of Johannesburg with the assistance of police officers and social workers. 

“I advise people who are loitering that being in a shelter is a better option for them because they get food, protection and the help they need.

“In-take officers complete assessments on the addicts to determine a timeline of substance abuse and the severity of their condition,” he said. 

The homeless are encouraged to stay every day in the 10 shelters the City has organised for the duration of the lockdown period.

When Sanca started the programme on March 26, the first day of the national lockdown, there were minor withdrawal symptoms from patients, but “they shared cigarettes with each other to fight off cravings”,  Makananisa said.

Cigarettes are allowed in the shelters, however, alcohol and drugs are confiscated and destroyed as they fall within the spectrum of addiction that Sanca treats.

Homeless people have been provided with temporary housing at shelters during the lockdown. Photo: Provided.

The most common withdrawal symptoms are agitation and vomiting. Makananisa said addiction at the shelters ranges from “minor drugs, like marijuana and alcohol, with the most common drugs being meth (methamphetamine) and nyaope”.

“For the past few weeks, we’ve been battling with people who are injecting themselves with sanitiser, as it contains alcohol,” said Makananisa.

In order to treat addicts, they are given multi-vitamins to boost their immunity, hunger stimulators to restore their appetites, sleeping tablets to tranquilise their agitation and detox medication to prevent them from relapsing. 

However, they are not given high dosages of these medications in order to prevent dependency on them.

“They become agitated when you don’t give them the medication that they want. Some of them are already accustomed to rehab and get aggressive with each other and steal [each other’s] belongings,” he said. 

Makananisa said he had come into contact with over 2 000 people at the various shelters that have been identified as addicts. The majority were men and only about 50 were women. Children who are addicts are taken to a Sanca clinic instead of the shelters, where they undergo a programme called ‘Life is a choice’ which offers them specialised attention.

There have been noticeable improvements as the initial group of addicts, who started rehabilitation when the lockdown was implemented, have now completed the six-week programme. 

“The majority of the groups of addicts have shown hope for sobriety.

“It’s important to restore their dignity so they have the confidence to be independent and integrate themselves back into society once lockdown is over,” said Makananisa.

Unfortunately, an estimated 300 of the addicts have left due to an inability to cope with the confinement of the shelters. 

“We keep a record of all our patients and try to encourage them to return and complete the programme,” Makananisa told Wits Vuvuzela

According to Rethabile Belle, 59, a board member of Sanca central rand, Makaninsa’s 20 years’ experience in counselling at Sanca has fostered the patience and humility that is needed when doing such important work. 

“Terrence has been crucial to ensuring the provision of services to people who are often disregarded and stigmatised, especially at a time like this. He remains dedicated to his job by providing personal support to addicts during their journey. He makes sure to check on each individual’s progress,” said Belle. 

Sanca has hired volunteers, such as social workers and counsellors, to monitor the substance abusers who are participating in the programme, while the government has organised caretakers to look after the overall needs of the homeless. 

For those who are not homeless, but are suffering from addiction, Makananisa advises them to visit the Sanca rehabilitation centres situated across South Africa, as they remain open during the lockdown.

Sanca’s five steps to rehabilitation during lockdown. Graphics and Text: Zinhle Belle. 

Featured Image: CEO of Community Anti Drug Coalitions of America, General Arthur T. Dean (left), with Terrence Makananisa, director of Sanca Central Rand, during a 67 minutes of activism drug awareness campaign in 2018. Photo: Provided. 

Related Articles: