A public meeting between concerned community members and substance abuse experts seeking to increase awareness on the resurfacing trend of youth consuming a codeine-based concoction was hosted over the weekend. The meeting was held in response to growing concern for youth amid increasing reports of school children in the province consuming this concoction – often referred to as “lean”. The mixture is mostly taken due to its euphoric effect, but experts have previously warned that the abuse of codeine can have fatal consequences.
Director of the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre (CTDCC), Ashley Potts says that part of the problem is the accessibility of codeine.
“It’s a readily available intoxicant and we are trying to confirm reports that it’s actually sold at some spaza shops. Pharmaceutical companies currently don’t put a limit to the amount of codeine medication sold over the counter – it’s readily available as a cough syrup and you’d be able to purchase it at any pharmacy,” said Potts with concern.
He added, however, that while accessibility is a key concern, drug-abusing youth often resort to these activities as a means of escaping unpleasant circumstances they may be faced with. Potts says that communities need to become more proactive in addressing social ills and take better – more loving and playful – care of their youth.
“We need to find out what it is these young children are trying to escape from by taking these drugs and using substances – whether they be legal or illegal,” he said.
“We need a lot more proactive engagements with young people at school and at recreational centres. Our country is too reactive – we see a problem and we react, rather than respond. When you respond, you look at socioeconomic challenges and social environments – those are things we need to talk more about. Our kids are under siege because of other issues.
The reality is: if we stop this [the codeine concoction], they’re going to find out that mixing another substance with something else is going to give a similar effect. We need to find out why they do this.”
Parents and educators faced with challenges regarding youth and substance abuse are encouraged to tackle the issue directly. Potts indicated that the best thing to do would be to contact professionals, acquire the necessary skills to deal with substance abuse and to not feel embarrassed or shy away from the issue.
“Come and get the necessary skills. We have a half-day workshop that helps you understand what happens to the brain when they [the youth] start using excessive quantities of any substance and how to address it,” said Potts.
“We need kids to be kids again and for youth to be youth again.”
Potts highlighted that parents and guardians need to be aware of any sudden changes in their children’s behaviour. Changes in sleeping patterns, a decreasing care for personal hygiene and many other changes are all possible indicators of problems with substance abuse.
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, several studies have shown that the majority of substance-abusing youth exhibit a broad range of similar symptoms and behavioural changes in addition to those mentioned by Potts.
· A poor appetite or an increased appetite
· A lack of interest in personal appearance
· Unexpected absence from home or overnight
· A drop in school performance with an ‘I don’t care attitude’
· Spending protracted periods in his/her room in isolation
· Slow and/or halting speech
· Giving up organized activities
· Blood spotting on clothes – mainly shirts or pyjama tops
· Stooped posture
· Extreme or protracted lassitude and/or fatigue
· A sickly sweet pungent smell in his/her room or near him/her
· Dilated or pinpoint pupils
· Inappropriate mood swings, irrational behaviour, a change of friends and/or depression
Parents and guardians should note, however, that changes in behaviour and displays of the signs outlined do not necessarily mean that your child is using drugs.
For more information or for assistance, contact the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre’s director, Ashley Potts on 082 887 6440.