There’s life after drugs
Salvation Army playing key role in fighting addiction By Nigel Williams
Stabroek News
August 21, 2002

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Six years ago the Salvation Army of Guyana established a rehabilitation centre for the treatment of men who suffer from substance abuse. And today, inspite of its many limitations, the centre continues to treat addicts and help them along in their continuous recovery.

In an interview with Stabroek News recently, two counsellors, including a recovering addict, and the Captain of the centre, highlighted the difficult but necessary pathways towards the road to recovery.

Senior counsellor, Clarence Young, a Trinidadian, acknowledged that addiction is a chronic disease. He said that once one becomes an addict, that person technically remains an addict for life but the sickness can be arrested if there is a lifestyle change.

The centre deals with all forms of addiction and those who are in need of help can contact the headquarters located at Lot 6-7 Water Street.

Young explained that in dealing with a patient he would normally focus on behaviour modification with the use of educational and experiential workshops.

He views recovery from drug abuse as an active change of attitudes, adding that when one is addicted he develops new behaviours/rituals and even when that person stops abusing drugs, those cultivated tendencies would still remain with him.

He said his job is to assist the addict to develop new attitudes and to deal with issues that might be affecting his/her life.

Young observed that many of his clients would have turned to abusing drugs when they became unable to deal with an issue. He mentioned a broken relationship, poverty and other social problems as some of those issues.

Young, who was specially trained to deal with people suffering from addiction, said that he also teaches the men to develop coping skills. Besides, he said, while at the centre the addicts would also go through what is called occupational therapy to equip them with skills for use after leaving there.

To be accepted into the centre, one would have to make a request. Young said that the rehabilitation process is costly but the centre has a charitable plan whereby some persons because of their financial status are given help free of cost.

Sometimes a patient would go to the centre with a dual diagnosis - they might be psychotic and abusing drugs at the same time.

He said that they are also cases of clients suffering from tuberculosis while some might have tested HIV positive.

In those circumstances, such persons would require medical attention along with the centre’s help.

Alcohol and tobacco abuse

The counsellor observed that two of the most widely abused drugs in today’s society are alcohol and tobacco and by far they are the most difficult ones to get rid of.

He said that one can more easily withdraw from using other drugs such as cocaine, marijuana and heroin and with proper assistance stop using it faster than one who abuses alcohol and tobacco. He said normally when treating a patient the centre avoids using drugs on that person since it is not wise to treat someone with drugs while trying to get him off of one.

The rehab centre has the facilities to treat all kinds of addiction. It only caters for men but Young acknowledged that there is urgent need for a centre to treat women which the centre’s management has taken into consideration.

He said that to set up such a facility would require more funding than the men’s centre and given its financial limitations that would have to be put on hold for some time.

Two-year drug rehab

The duration of the drug rehabilitation programme is two years and is divided into three phases. Young disclosed that the first phase lasts for 3-6 months during which the client is kept strictly indoors for what is referred to as residential care.

Phase two is called the half-way house/optional phase and runs for six months. During this phase the client has the option of returning home or remaining at the centre, but is still required to report to the centre for treatment.

And finally the after-care phase which lasts for 18 months. This stage is where the client is allowed to live on his own but is still closely monitored by the centre. Young pointed out that even at this stage close monitoring is necessary since the addiction disease is a chronic one.

“It doesn’t get better, it is terminal - you have to arrest it, so that person would have to be looked at carefully lest he finds himself in the habit again,” Young said.

Relapse is worse

While many persons have gone to the centre and are off of drugs today, there are also cases of relapse. Young explained that whenever this happens the centre is still able to deal with that person on an out-patient basis because of the nature of the disease.

He said that they were cases in the past when clients returned to drug abuse after being treated at the centre and because of the deterioration that person had to go through the entire programme again.

Young said that a relapse is worse than the first time and it becomes more difficult to get the person off of the drug the second time around. “You see because that person would have been away from the drug for a long time he tends to want to make up for lost time.

Major Voyons Morancy and Steve Callender

Addiction is like cutting a piece of wood, if while cutting it you are called away when you get back, you will start from where you left off and because you would have lost some time you would try to work faster.”

The counsellor said that he would normally work with a timetable every day. He said that at 5 am every day the clients would be awakened at which time they would proceed to do some exercising before returning to the centre to perform their daily chores.

Young noted that the patients are responsible for the maintenance of the centre’s compound. After performing their chores, the men would then have breakfast and a spiritual session.

Following that, they are given assignments and attend counselling sessions. During the week the lights will go out at 10 pm and a bit later on weekends.

No social barriers

The Trinidadian counsellor acknowledged that drug abuse does not have any social barriers. “I had the privilege to deal with people from all walks of life here. I dealt with people who came from millionaire family, people with strong moral upbringing, people with University of Guyana degrees and several other high and middle class people.”

Young said that the centre even had clients from the US.

He feels that the centre is doing a very good job and is contributing in a very tangible way towards the development of the society.

Need for donations

However, he said, even while they are trying to do their best the odds are heavily stacked against the centre. He urged that more business enterprises come forward and help, noting that the Salvation Army’s income is accumulated mainly through donations and gifts.

Peer pressure

While at the centre, Stabroek News caught up with Steve Calender who is now a counsellor there. Steve was delivered from addiction some five years ago but admits he is still an active recovering addict.

The 37-year-old of D’Urban Backlands said that he started to abuse drugs at the tender age of 14. According to Callender, while attending North Ruimveldt Multilateral School he succumbed to peer pressure and out of curiosity had his first sniff at a piece of marijuana.

Referring to the drug as “weed”, Callender said that while at school he and a few of his colleagues had an uncontrollable passion to smoke. He said that listening to the music of Bob Marley and watching his other friends smoking made him eager to give it a try. “So that one day one of my friends introduced me to it and I tried it, and tried again and again until I started to smoke,” Callender admitted. The young man said that he did not smoke every day at that stage in his life but as soon as he was about to leave school he began drinking alcoholic beverages, attending parties and even smoking more frequently.

Moving to crack

Out of school, Callender got a job with Guyana Fisheries and at the age of 21 he was introduced to “crack cocaine”. “Using it then, I did not see it as a problem. I used to smoke, work and function normal.” Even with pleadings from his relatives, Callender continued his delinquent ways and subsequently became more addicted to “crack cocaine”.

Comparing marijuana and cocaine, the man said that cocaine gives one a ‘higher lift” while marijuana is lighter. He said in order for him to keep “high” for longer periods he realised that he had to stop using marijuana and use cocaine.

And that meant he had to spend more money.

Supporting addiction

“Boy while you would pay $40 for a joint of marijuana, you have to spend $200 for the cocaine, so you could imagine what used to happen. Many month-ends I would carry home short money and sometimes I would tell my wife that I didn’t get pay.”

With a small salary the young man had to find other means of earning money to satisfy his craving during the month.

“I used to beg, con and rob people, borrow and even steal. But fortunately I was never arrested by the police nor did anyone report me to the police.”

Moreover, Callender said, he used to mix marijuana and cocaine to smoke.

According to him, his behaviour started to affect his family until his wife took their two children and left the home. For 14 years Callender was on drugs and it was not until 1992 that his wife, even though separated from him, saw an advertisement on television concerning a workshop for drug abusers and she told him about it. The workshop lasted for one week and during that time Callender said he did not smoke but soon after he resumed his old ways.

He told this newspaper that six months after, an overseas relative came into the country and she asked him if he needed help and having said yes, she took him to the Salvation Army Rehab Centre.

At the centre, Callender said he at first felt very uncomfortable, but was committed towards being treated. In 1997, he completed his stay at the centre and is one of the two counsellors at present on the staff.

He said that even though he has been off of drugs for five years, he sometimes still gets the craving to go back but whenever that happens he would read a book or call someone on the telephone who like himself is still recovering.

He said that those were some of the coping skills he was taught while under treatment.

Further, as a counsellor he would also go through the programme in his mind, thinking what would eventually happen to him if he should fall back into the habit and that would usually restrain him.

“The process of recovery is ongoing and will remain so until I die. I am just one smoke away from falling back to smoking. You see the minute one feels that he has recovered he will tend to get complacent.”

Callender confessed that he does not use cigarettes, neither does he drink beer or any alcoholic beverages. “There is life after drugs, you can live a better life once you are committed to it,” Callender assured.

He said that the reason for him being where he is today is because he shunned most of his friends he had before he went to the centre. Callender said that his new friends are folks like himself who are recovering.

He said that he had a very good upbringing and his relatives are all God-fearing people. “I do lots of prayer now and go to church regularly. I also observe some of the things I was taught while under treatment. I am very proud of myself because I am now doing what I thought I could not have done five years ago, that is, to stay without drugs for five years. I have a job that I like and everything is going good and well for me,” Callender said.

Captain of the centre, Major Voyons Morancy pointed out that the Salvation Army is an international movement and is an evangelical part of the Universal Christian Church.

Morancy who was brought from Haiti to Guyana to help run the centre here also noted that at present the centre only caters for men and the Salvation Army is hoping to build a facility to house women.

The charitable organisation would from time to time receive assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Food For The Poor Inc.