Sunday Stabroek Perspective

This week: Drugs ...
Stories by Desiree Jodah and Arlene Heath-London
Stabroek News
April 11, 1999

Guyana has become major drug transshipment point -- the sea is the route of choice

by Desiree Jodah

There is proof that Guyana has become a major transshipment point for narcotics to Europe and North America, the major portion being transported by sea.

A knowledgeable narcotics source told Stabroek News that about four years ago, drug enforcement agencies discovered a new trend in the shipment of illicit drugs to North America and Europe. The source said that the trend showed that drug cartels were heading towards the Caribbean and the Guianas, because of disruption in their operations through the Central American route.

According to the source, Guyana, with its vast waterways and limited capabilities and law enforcement presence to monitor vessels, was an easy target for the transshipment of drugs. The source said that while drug cartels were keeping up with technology for the shipment and concealment of narcotics, this country "lags way behind." Reference was made by the source to the 6,940 pounds of cocaine which had been found concealed on board the MV Danielsen. Local law enforcement officials had failed in their bid to unearth the drug and it was not until technical assistance had been received from the United States Drug Enforcement Agency and the US Coast Guard that it had been found.

There was evidence that cocaine was being transported by sea, said the source. In the last seven to eight years, there had been a 300 per cent increase in the number of vessels coming to Guyana on their way to Europe, North America and the Caribbean.

Drug use was on increase in Guyana in all ten administrative regions and among all ages, the official source said. However, what was most disturbing was the reported use in schools. The source referred to an incident a short time back, where a Jamaican had been charged with shipping marijuana to Guyana. Investigations revealed that the Jamaican's girlfriend was a high school student who was used in the distribution of the drug.

Narcotics were also being shipped through the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri, the source said. In-house collusion has been cited as a major obstacle to law enforcement officers in their battle to stop this practice. The source said that while there had been an increase in the seizure of cocaine, agents were having a difficult time beating the collusion from employees at the airport.

The cocaine is shipped by various methods, which involve employees from different sections of the airport.

"No use fooling ourselves, for every two kilos of cocaine intercepted ten kilos pass detection," the source said.

While marijuana is the only narcotic substance grown in Guyana, cocaine and more recently heroin are being used here. The source disagreed with a US report on the narcotics situation in Guyana which said cocaine, crack cocaine and heroin use were rare here. According to the source, there was evidence to the contrary and that Guyana was a prime location for the transshipment of narcotics. The source noted that its vast hinterland and forested areas made it easy for narcotics to be transported here by small aircraft.

Reference was made by the source to the recent deliberate burning of a small aircraft at Bartica and the discovery of small illegal airstrips in the country's hinterland, as well as the hijacking of a small aircraft belonging to Roraima Airways some years ago. "These and many more that are not yet discovered, are all evidence that this country is being used as a transshipment point for narcotics," said the source.

How to combat the trade of illegal drugs? The source noted that joint operations with overseas agencies such as the US DEA, US Coast Guard, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police needed to be intensified. More resources were needed for the local law enforcement agencies and more high tech equipment and training for members. All vessels coming into the country should be checked, and special equipment to make this possible should be provided.

All stakeholders should play their part in eradicating the drug menace from the society. The time to act was now; the frightening revelation that some persons who had tested HIV positive had been infected as a result of intravenous drug use should propel decision-makers and other concerned persons to do whatever they could to control this situation, the source said.

A lifeline to those who seek changes

by Arlene Heath-London

Walking into the unassuming concreted compound of the Salvation Army's Men Social Service Centre, one would hardly imagine that life-changing experiences are to be had within its walls. The buildings, a men's hostel and a drug rehabilitation centre have had their share of those experiences. If the walls could speak the stories would be heartwarming.

The Salvation Army Drug Rehabilitation Centre, one of the two in the country, has been a lifeline to those who desired significant changes in their lives. Established in November 1996, through the initiative of the Salvation Army, the centre was set up to offer a means of treatment to those controlled by drugs.

The centre began with only the building it is housed in today in Water Street, Kingston. With the help of Food for the Poor which provided furnishings, the Rotary and Rotaract Clubs (especially the Demerara Chapter) which provided furnishings and financial assistance and input from the Salvation Army the centre was able to get off the ground.

The rehab centre has a capacity to treat 18 persons. The initial limit was set at ten persons with a maximum of 12, but over the years the limit has been altered because of the number of persons seeking help. It includes a hostel and counselling and recreational facilities.

Men only

The hostel only caters for males, while the females are relegated to outpatients' treatment due to the lack of additional facilities. An outpatients' programme is also available to those who may have work restrictions or do not want to live in. The centre at present treats 17 persons--sixteen males and one female. It employs ten persons inclusive of two counsellors, kitchen staff and cleaners.

The rehab centre is open to anyone who has acknowledged that they have a drug problem and needs help. The clients have to pay fees but the funding of the programme is heavily subsidised by the Salvation Army. The centre treats addiction to both licit and illicit drugs--which include tobacco, prescription drugs and alcohol as well as marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

Programmes are run for one year in two phases. The first three months require the individual to live in, while the remaining nine months involve after-care treatment which requires a once-a-week visit to the centre.

The centre works in conjunction with other self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and treats drug addiction as a disease. It seeks to educate its clients on the nature of the disease and how it affects their mental, social and physical make-up. Some religious teaching is also included. Classroom sessions and workshops are held on the disease concept, relapse prevention and communication. Group therapy, individual counselling, motivation and self-esteem building and drama are also undertaken.

Families help

Families are also involved in the recuperation of the addict through family support and therapy sessions which are held fortnightly on Saturdays for the duration of the treatment. These are held in order to give family members a better understanding of the nature of their relative's sickness and to show them ways in which they can lend their support and encouragement. There is no direct follow-up programme for the clients after they leave the centre, but they often keep in contact with the self-help groups AA and NA.

Speaking to Stabroek News, counsellor at the centre Clarence Younge, a Trinidadian, spoke of being told about the drug situation in Guyana while he was a counsellor in Trinidad. He decided to travel to Guyana in 1995 to see if he could identify the problem. Upon seeing the situation in the country he decided to take time off from his work in Trinidad to lend a hand in the area of counselling and has been here since 1996. He previously ran a private programme in Prashad Nagar but upon the centre's establishment he joined its staff.

Younge said that Guyana's proximity to one of the leading drug trafficking countries makes it especially vulnerable to the scourge of drugs and that the sheer size of the sugar industry is a contributing factor to alcoholism in the country. He also noted that Guyanese have a tendency to medicate themselves which has led to a prescription drug problem.

He spoke of a need to raise awareness of the drug problem in Guyana through an extensive education programme inclusive of advertisements, posters, billboards and lectures in our schools. He lamented the lack of other such facilities and trained personnel to work in the field of training. The only other drugs rehab facility is at the Prasad's Hospital. He named demand reduction as a primary preventative measure in controlling the spread of drugs.

Alcohol abuse

The counsellor identified alcohol as the most abused substance in Guyana. He noted that while the effect of marijuana and cocaine was the most noticeable and talked about, alcohol remained the chief destroyer of families and lives. In his years of experience Younge has found tobacco addiction the most difficult to treat because it is seemingly harmless and first an individual must admit that he or she was addicted to the substance.

The majority of the patients treated are cross-addicted or poly-addicted, i.e. they are addicted to more than one substance at the same time.

Success rate

The success rate of the centre has been about 30 per cent, which Younge declared as relatively good according to international standards. Clients have had varying 'clean times' after the year's treatment ranging from two years, six months to a day. But it should be noted that treatment here is viewed as a lifelong process. Addicts who have failed to stay 'clean' after leaving the centre can return to receive treatment at another time. Success depends on the individual's commitment and willingness to change.

Stabroek News was allowed the opportunity to speak with some of the addicts in treatment. It was a learning experience. We sat in a classroom that had pasted on its walls motivational posters such as 'Hugs not Drugs' and 'Don't take the first smoke'. A motivation building session had just been completed. The addicts did not look like the stereotype. They seemed quite normal persons who were caught in the snare of a life destroyer. They had similar reasons for their fling with drugs--the influence of friends being the most common.

It was very important to them to know how persons viewed them and other drug addicts. They emphasised that they were sufferers of a disease that was of their own making. Some told of the effect their addiction had had on their families--that the latter had been neglected and had been the victims of acts that were not necessarily under the control of the perpetrators.

They had found their way to the centre, some not for the first time, through the help and recommendation of friends and family members. They noted that the drug culture in Guyana was very strong, that drugs were readily available to users and that women were just as involved as men. One patient said that it was his female companion who had introduced him to the substance in the first place.

The addicts explained that their drug use had progressed in stages. Starting quite innocently with a cigarette or a joint for the fun of it, with it soon becoming necessary for there to be something stronger that would give them a greater 'high'. Hence the move from marijuana to cocaine, or from cocaine to heroin tightening the noose of their addiction and drawing them closer to inevitable destruction.

When asked what they would do, knowing the destructiveness of drugs, to help other sufferers upon the completion of their programme, they said that there was not much they could do in the area of one-on-one counselling. It is advisable that those in recovery avoid contact with other drug users because of the risk of regressing. However, through the self-help groups NA and AA they can share their experiences as well as give encouragement.


On Mondays at the centre, NA sessions are held as well as classroom sessions. On Tuesdays there is spiritual teaching and on Wednesdays in-house meetings. On Thursday mornings AA sessions are held while in the evenings the residents 'fellowship' at the Salvation Army Citadel. Fridays are taken up with classes and weekends are free except for Sunday mornings when residents attend church services.

A typical day at the centre begins at five when exercises are done in the National Park for one hour. Breakfast is taken at seven and morning sessions are run from nine to twelve. Lunch is taken at noon and afternoon sessions run from one to two. The kitchen staff leave at three but they prepare dinner before leaving so it can be had at three if persons so wish, or at any time after. Family members are free to visit at any point in the late afternoon.

Apart from the spacious front yard that can easily accommodate a game of cricket or football, the centre has limited facilities. There is a gym that is shared on a rota basis that could easily fit in more equipment, and a workshop that is available to those who favour mechanics. Because residents are not allowed much interaction with the outside world in the early stages of their treatment there is a dire need for more facilities that can keep both their minds and bodies active.

Captain Selbourne Laing of the Salvation Army, who was also present at the interview, noted that there was still need for more outside assistance. He singled out Banks DIH, John Fernandes, the Rotary, Kissoon Group of Companies, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Food for the Poor and SIMAP as organisations who have helped and are helping. However, he noted there is need for more private sector assistance.

Younge noted that it was cheaper for an employer to rehabilitate an employee as against replacing them. He noted that international assistance could not be sourced because there was no national strategy that has been put in place to deal with supply and demand reduction for drugs. In the meantime they await help to set up a women's hostel that can improve their services to the nation.

The difference between crack and cocaine

Cocaine and crack cocaine are fundamentally the same.

Cocaine is a hydro chloride which mostly exists in a powdered form and is used for snorting and injecting. It contains a number of natural and dangerous chemicals due to various production processes. It is said that after extraction from the coca plant, a cocaine paste is made to which gasolene, kerosene and chemicals such as eta and acetone are added.

It can be liquified for transport (the modern way) or alkaline substances added to bring it to the form of crack cocaine.

Crack is cocaine minus a number of chemicals and additives in rock form, that is a purer form of hydro chloride. It can be made into an oil for transportation purposes. It is more prevalent in Guyana than the powdered form of cocaine. It is crack we usually are referring to when we speak of cocaine.

It came to the Caribbean in the 1970s and around 1982 it became very popular. The view has been put forward that because the Caribbean was at that time and still is a transshipment point and there were so many difficulties with obtaining large amounts of liquid cash, payments were made to middlemen in the form of cocaine, the sources being mainly Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and parts of Brazil. The middlemen were then faced with the challenge of selling the cocaine in order to get cash. The result was the spread of crack cocaine in Caribbean countries.

The female factor

by Arlene Heath-London

How are women affected by the drug scourge, bearing in mind that more often than not they are the ones who care for the homes as well as the families?

Well, as informed by drug addicts themselves, women are just as involved as men, but find it more difficult to be rehabilitated because of the pressure of their responsibilities.

The Salvation Army Rehabilitation Centre has had about three women only in treatment since its inception in 1996. It has been found that many go to the interview but do not show up for actual treatment and the few that have done so often leave before the completion of the programme mainly because of family commitments, although some are treated as outcasts. Those who can afford it go abroad for treatment.

According to counsellor, Clarence Younge, women are often more difficult to treat. The reason being that there is no specific programme tailored for their needs and false pride is often a factor that prevents them from being completely open.

Women in Guyana are more addicted to prescription drugs, which requires medical attention rather than rehabilitation. However, following closely are addictions to tobacco and alcohol in that order. Despite what this suggests, women also use marijuana and cocaine to a great extent.

Some also make a living by selling the drugs. Young, middle-aged and old; poor, and middle class women from all ethnic groups are among the pushers and users in the city.

Female addicts tend to be more abused and brutalised than men. Many prostitute themselves or sell their clothing and jewellery in order to acquire drugs. If they have no money, payment is offered by way of sexual favours. Through this many are often taken advantage of when they get high and are helpless or are bullied into surrendering their valuables.

Not only do they suffer but their children suffer too. Drug addicted parents, more specifically mothers can account for the majority of displaced or street children in our country. And according to health officials if drugs are used intensively between the first and second trimester (ie. within six months) of pregnancy babies have a higher risk of being mentally or physically impaired.

The future

Those who manage the Salvation Army Rehabilitation Centre have already conceived the idea of having a separate centre for women, which would include a hostel and day-care facilities. The present facility in Water Street, Kingston can only accommodate women as out-patients. This would obviously limit their ability to effectively treat women.

Captain Laing, of the Salvation Army Men's Social Service Centre noted that it is very difficult for women to complete the entire rehabilitation programme because of their maternal responsibilities. Therefore, in the construction of the women's centre a hostel would be included as well as day-care facilities that would accommodate children for the time their mothers are in treatment.

Captain Laing also mentioned that arrangements would be made for the children to continue their schooling and recreational facilities would provided. He said that in instances where relatives can take the children in, this provision would be utilised.

The major hindrance to the realisation of the plan is the lack of funding. The captain once again appealed for private and public sector assistance in this area. The Salvation Army has already identified a plot of land and will soon draw up the plan. It is now left to the those who have the nation's interest at heart to make a commitment to financing as well as assisting wherever and whenever needed.

Management also hopes for the time when clients can go out to work in the day then return to the hostels for classes in the night. This would not only assist patients in the maintenance of their skills but also in the payment of their fees.

Meanwhile, the centre has been approached by UNICEF for a collaborative effort in drug education and treatment for children at all levels. In the new year, a school education programme is also likely to be run off by the centre and the Georgetown Chapter of the Rotary Club in the form of a poster competition. This would mostly involve secondary school students. The aim of the competition being to bring the drug-free message into a Guyanese perspective because most of the drug-free slogans and posters come from North America. The winning entry would be used on a number of promotional material.

How to spot evidence of drug use

Clarence Younge, drug rehab counsellor, gave some signs or symptoms that can be recognised by parents or family members to indicate whether their children or loved ones are involved with drugs. They are as follows: a sudden change in friends; eating habits; excessive mood swings; items disappearing from the home and paraphernalia such as lighters, rum bottles, discarded vials, drink cans with holes, wrapping paper, bits of green leafy stuff and ends of tobacco.

The residents gave a few more: red swollen squinted eyes, a wild expression (in some cases), blackened lips and blackened thumbs due to a prolonged exposure to heat, increase in appetite in the early stages of marijuana use and the loss of appetite in the later stages, excessive perspiration in the case of cocaine use and the tendency to sniffle at regular intervals.

Persons also tend to be erratic after cocaine use--picking up things that are not there, toying with their hair, looking intently at the ground. They are also the ones most likely to steal from other persons or sell all their belongings because the drug is very addictive and forces desperate acts from addicts.

A synopsis of drug 'runnings'

by Arlene Heath-London

Marijuana can be bought at any drug house. A joint, the minimum quantity available, is sold for $100. This is equivalent to chipped leaves, stems and seeds in a foil paper. This combination is taken out of the foil paper and rolled in a grizzler or flunto the length of a cigarette but a little fatter. Seeds are removed from the roll because they may pop out and burn smokers.

Grizzler is a type of cigarette paper and flunto is dried tobacco leaf from overseas, which suppliers in Guyana sell for $20 or $30 to users. Substitutes such as dried banana leaves, corn leaves, banana 'bubby' and dried eddoe leaves are often used for rolling. It has been said that Rastafarians decline the use of paper because it contains chemicals, thereby settling for the natural materials.

With five to ten grammes of marijuana a cone, post or fathead can be made, which would be about six inches in length and one inch in circumference. In order to make these the rolling leaves are cut to size.

As with anything else, there are different qualities of marijuana. The best is touted to be jamiee which comes from Jamaica. The locals mostly cultivate the red beard type. Bush weed or drop leaves are had from the droppings found underneath the plants.

Cocaine is mostly sold in rock form. For $100, a piece the size of a match head, can be bought. A gramme which is about one and a half inches long, half inch in width and a quarter inch in thickness can be bought for $1,000 at almost any corner.

The black cigarette is a mixture of cocaine and tobacco in an ordinary cigarette. The cigarette is opened, the cocaine sprinkled on the tobacco and then it is re-rolled.

Then there is free basing which involves the use of a drinking glass of water filled to about three-quarters. A piece of foil is used to cover the glass. On one section of the foil fine holes are bored. At another a straw is inserted. The cocaine is placed on top of the fine holes and pulled through the straw.

There is also the black joint which is a mixture of cocaine and marijuana in a cigarette roll. The drop leaf marijuana is mostly used in this roll because it is weaker. This was very popular until stem and gun rivalled its popularity.

Stem is made by using a syringe bottle which is opened at both ends. A pot scourer known as mesh or screen, which is used as a filter, is inserted along the length of it at a height that suits the user. The rock of cocaine is placed at the top of the filter and heat is applied to it to melt it. Oil and smoke is the result of this process. The user inhales the smoke through the mouth while the oil settles along the sides of the bottle. Because cocaine solidifies when cooled, the user can move the filter along the length of the bottle to 'mop up' the oil which cakes there.

Gun or strap on the other hand is a local creation. It involves the use of three to four rum corks. The first cork is turned on its side and slightly dented. Fine holes are bored in the dented area. The second cork, after being bored at the top with a single hole with, for example, an ice pick, is inserted into the first. Cigarette ash is placed above the fine holes as a cushion for the cocaine (rock) that would be placed on it. Flame is placed to the rock and the person pulls or inhales the fumes through the second cork.

Depending on the amount of corks that are added to the initial cork a single barrel gun (one cork), a double barrel (two corks) or a shotgun can be had. It is said, that the more corks that are added the greater the 'boom' or sensation. Users get a five-second psychofronic (American drug users' term) or friscafronic (its West Indian equivalent) experience.

In Guyana, stem, black joint and gun are mostly used by men and women.

Local heroin usage raises health, legal concerns

by Desiree Jodah

Signs of heroin use in Guyana are causing great concern for narcotics law enforcement officers and health officials.

A senior narcotics law enforcement official told Stabroek News that the increase in the number of HIV/AIDS patients who have contracted the virus through intravenous drug usage is one of the indicators which suggest the use of heroin. According to the official, about three years ago, a quantity of heroin which had been mailed from Pakistan to an address in South Ruimveldt was intercepted by police.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative, Richard Olver, at the signing ceremony for the launching of a drug demand reduction project last week, also recognised the use of heroin in Guyana.

An overseas drug enforcement agent said the Colombian drug cartels had switched to the more high priced drug. He explained that one kilogramme of heroin produced in Colombia was sold at a price ten times higher than a kilogramme of cocaine.

According to the agent, while heroin is usually used intravenously the Colombian cartels hired chemists to produce heroin in a form where it could be snorted.

Heroin, known as the `drug of choice' because of its high price, is being distributed in Latin American and Caribbean countries by the drug lords through local `drug barons' as a test. The aim, the agent said, was to get as many persons as possible hooked on the very potent drug. Local `drug barons' then paid addicts with small amounts of heroin to transport the drugs.

The local narcotics law enforcement officer agreed with this theory and said this was exactly what was taking place in Guyana. The official said local `drug lords' paid their mules with small amounts of heroin which was then resold to users. An interview with Clarence Younge, the counsellor at the Salvation Army Drug Rehabilitation Centre revealed that heroin users in Guyana were mainly affluent members of the society.

The local narcotics law enforcement official noted that the cultivation of the opium poppy had shifted from the `Golden Triangle'--Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar--countries that were famous for its production, to this part of the world. The official disclosed that not so long ago, a field of opium poppies had been destroyed in Venezuela.

Reliable sources have said that attempts had been made to cultivate poppies, in the mountainous regions in Guyana.

According to Younge, heroin was an opiod or an opiate while cocaine was a stimulant. Therefore heroin sedated while cocaine stimulated. Heroin use can be identified by intravenous tracks or marks on a person's skin.

A health official expressed concern at the correlation with HIV/AIDS and the use of heroin. According to the official, this posed grave consequences for this country. The official noted that if these predictions were accurate, then HIV/AIDS would automatically increase along with the use of heroin. "This country would not be able to handle such a phenomenon," predicted the official.