Eugene Repinz is involved in support groups for recovering addicts in Grahamstown and that’s given him an understanding of the extent of the problem here. Grocott’s Mail spoke to him in his personal capacity about the drug problem in Grahamstown, how addiction works, and some of the ways drug users can get help.
“There’s a big problem in Grahamstown and it has got worse over the years,” says businessperson Eugene Repinz. “It’s fuelled by poverty, and the availability of different types of drugs.”
Of the association between substance abuse and violent crime, Repinz says the effect of drugs on people is varied, from a drug-induced psychosis, where someone goes into a completely different state of mind and doesn’t know what they’re doing, to hallucination or a phobia of some sort.
“When someone’s in a psychosis they go completely paranoid.”
That’s 99.99 percent the case in an addict’s life, as drugs change their natural way of thinking.
“They’ll maybe just want to use one bit of the drug now and maybe tomorrow some more, but once they pick up, their whole behaviour is unpredictable.
In some communities, drug abuse has become commonplace and a person doesn’t know they have a problem, or that they need help, until it’s too late.
“It’s only when they end up in jail, commit a crime or get into trouble they’ll admit they had a drug problem. Even then they don’t realise the psychological effects the drug has on them.”
“The more expensive drugs like heroin and cocaine are prevalent among the more affluent, but less frequently result in violent crimes. “Those kinds of drugs tend to be associated more with debt – where guys are trying to get money to afford those drugs.”
Crystal meth (tik) is probably the most accessible at the moment.
“It’s become quite a big problem. And they won’t stop using until either the drugs are finished or the money’s finished, or they run out of time.
“What they do when they’re high is very unpredictable – stealing money, committing murder, injuring somebody – they can do some crazy, crazy stuff.”
How does drug addiction happen – and who gets addicted?
Not every drug user is going to be an addict. “People drug socially, as people drink socially – although there’s the legal stigma attached to drug use.”
Addiction is a disease that affects about 10% of the population worldwide, regardless of who they are.
“It’s a psychological illness,” Repinz says.
As one person might be genetically susceptible to cancer, another might be susceptible to addiction, he says – and the 12-step substance abuse recovery programme looks at it as a disease of addiction.
In a perfectly functional family, you can have one child out of three who is an addict.
“What about the other two? You can’t say for sure. That child might just be susceptible to the disease of addiction,” Repinz says. “You can go through cases and cases – the family settings are different, the households are different.”
But personality type is quite important. People pleasers may be very passive, they may feel like they don‘t quite fit in and they start using drugs to be part of a group.
On the opposite side of the spectrum of drug users are very aggressive people who find they don’t fit in with others and use drugs to calm themselves.
“It’s such a huge topic, it’s very difficult to ascertain exactly what the causes are. It’s been the most logical explanation of addiction to say that it is a person’s chemical make-up and that various factors in their lives will push them into drug use.
“Not everyone will become addicted, but those with a genetic disposition to addiction will become addicted.”
Getting help for substance abuse
“There’s no medication you can use to cure you of addiction,” says Repinz. “The only real way is to have abstinence from mood- or mind-altering substances and change aspects of your behaviour that will help you have a better spiritual foundation in life – to grow your life further as a normal member of society.”
But getting on the road to recovery is very difficult if you don’t have anyone to help you.
“A lot of addiction is about you yourself: you’re trying to score, use, recover, find the money to get more. The life cycle is all about that – it’s about themselves and their drug use.
“They become obsessed with this whole thing to the point where they don’t actually want help. A lot of addicts feel like they want help. At the same time they don’t want the help because then they’re going to have to stop using. There’s always this conflict within an addict.”
Nine times out of 10 the person with the problem doesn’t know where to go and find help, Repinz says.
“A student at Rhodes, or someone from a wealthier family – they would come because they’ve got an understanding and have spoken to somebody who knows somebody and so on.”
Repinz has worked with street children and introduced them to NA.
“There was quite a big group of them that used to come at one stage. A lot of kids stayed clean – but some fell by the wayside.
“It’s very difficult to get into the impoverished communities where drug use and addiction is at its prime at the moment.”
What would help address the problem?
“SANCA would be great as a start. Policing even better – that would help a lot. And then drug awareness.”
Repinz is part of the Drug Awareness Committee in Grahamstown.
“We get out there and share information about the dangers of drug use, the effects, what kids should look out for and what families can do. But it’s merely information sharing – there’s no help for someone who has a problem or thinks that a family member might have a problem.”
Repinz says the closure of SANCA and the absence of a dedicated police unit have left a serious gap.
“Although there are some components there, it’s not really taken that seriously – and it’s affecting the lives of thousands of families at the moment.”