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MAURITIUS: Drug Use on the Increase among Kids

Nasseem Ackburally

PORT LOUIS, Aug 25 2011 (IPS) - With drug trafficking rampant in the small Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius, social workers and drug treatment centres are noting an increasing number of children and youth are now becoming addicted to drugs.

Social worker, Ally Lazer (centre), said he sees thousands of youth and young children becoming addicted to drugs.  Credit: Nasseem Ackburally/IPS

Social worker, Ally Lazer (centre), said he sees thousands of youth and young children becoming addicted to drugs. Credit: Nasseem Ackburally/IPS

Mauritius, which only has a population of 1.2 million and is about 2,000 square metres, has been classified as having the highest prevalence of opiate use (1.9 percent) in Africa, according to the United Nations World Drug Report 2010.

“We started smoking at age 11 and four years later, we started shooting subutex and heroin into our veins,” said Assad and Asraf*, twin boys aged 15, who live in Plaine-Verte, near the Mauritian capital.

Looking pale and weak, the two boys, and about 600 hundred other kids around their age, are currently at the government-sponsored Idriss Goomany Centre for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Drug Users.

The brothers told IPS that their drug use had first started with getting high on cough suppressants, but later their 33-year-old neighbour introduced them to hard drugs.

The two boys then started taking heroin and subutex (Buprenorphine, which is used in the treatment of heroin addiction) on a daily basis.

“Our neighbour bought the drugs and we would all shoot up together,” they said. They admitted they fell ill after every shot, they had headaches, and vomited but they continued with their addiction. Until they were finally caught by their father, who had been informed by another neighbour about their addiction.

But the social worker at the Idriss Goomany Centre, Ally Lazer, said he sees thousands of youth and young children becoming addicted to drugs. And in recent times the number has been increasing.

The centre’s director, Imran Dhanoo, confirmed this.

“This can be seen in the number of young people who now come to the centre for treatment and rehabilitation. Previously, only adults aged above 25 were coming to us; now they are as young as 16,” Dhanoo said.

He added that at 16, most of the youth had already been taking drugs for at least four or five years, since they were children.

Like Assad and Asraf, many start by first taking cough medicine, which Lazer said is easily available and sold to children by pharmacists at five or six times the market price. However, the practice is illegal. An official from the health ministry, who asked not to be named, told IPS that the Pharmacy Act of 1983 says that cough suppressants can only be sold with a doctor’s prescription.

“Pharmacies are raided from time to time and the offenders taken to court,” he said of the pharmacists who sell the suppressants without a prescription.

Jamaluddin Guillaume, a councillor from Riche-Terre village, which is just north of the capital, told IPS that kids as young as eight years old, some from broken homes, smoke and get high on cough suppressants in his area.

“The number is increasing because of poverty which is on the rise in my area. These kids do not go to school, though education is compulsory up to 16 years of age. They just roam the streets and sniff glue and take cough suppressants,” Guillaume told IPS.

Yousouf Dauhoo from SOS Poverty, a local non-governmental organisation, agreed. “Many kids in the deprived areas of the island are following in the footsteps of their elders and falling prey to drugs.”

“No village or town is spared,” Lazer added. He currently holds anti-drug programmes in schools. He told IPS that many students have confessed to him that they are not only taking cough suppressants, but mixtures of alcohol and cannabis as well.

Three principals of secondary schools, who asked not to be named, confirmed this rise in drug use. One principal said that many a time he has had to call the parents of a pupil to school to tell them about their child’s addiction.

While drug trafficking may be rampant on the island, government is trying to curb it.

Replying to a query from parliament about it in March, Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam said government’s strategy focuses on enforcement, prevention, treatment, and the rehabilitation of drug addicts.

“Measures taken by the law enforcement agencies have yielded positive results: the number of persons arrested in connection with drug-related offences has increased from 1,504 in 2000 to 1,899 in 2010 and in 2010 about 3 kilogrammes of heroin, 55 kgs of cannabis and 20,301 tablets of subutex were seized by the police,” he said.

Lazer and other social workers don’t think enough is being done. They are actively campaigning against drug use and hold public meetings every week denouncing politicians and the police, who they say are very slack with drug traffickers.

“Be tough, at least for our children’s sake,” Lazer shouted as parents gathered to listen to him.

* Names have been withheld to protect the identity of the minors.

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