In the Press.....


By simone.williams
2013-01-15 09:00   
HARSH penalties for drug-related crimes do more harm than good.
This is according to Shaun Shelly, Addictions Programme Manager of Hope House Counselling Centre in Military Road, Retreat. In his opinion, the Drug Watch campaign by LeadSA, and editorial comments and letters in the local press seem to all be praising criminal sanctions for drug addicts encouraging harsher penalties. He complains his letters to the press have been ignored by editors.

“Even the recent special remissions of sentences, granted by the president, have excluded those convicted of drug-related crimes. Although this is a popular opinion, I suggest that this approach is ill-informed and not helpful if we are to make in-roads in dealing with the drug problem. We need to base our approach on sound research and not on popular sentiment.”

In addition to the one-to-one counselling services offered at the centre, the Hope House Counselling Centre has introduced group therapy sessions for recovering drug users and addicts over 18 years. Shelly and Peter Cilliers are counselling 15 people a session and anyone is welcome to join, provided they phone Julie MacDonnell on (021)7019742. Shelly hopes to provide a similar programme for 13- to 18-year-olds in the near future.
Cilliers, who has a background in drug counselling in Westlake, described the four hour sessions as intensive. “The sessions form part of the Matrix programme and span 16 weeks of ongoing care.” Cilliers grew up in Mitchell’s Plain where he witnessed plenty of addiction and decided he wanted to make a difference. “I came from a safe, secure home and wanted to help others who were not so fortunate.”He worked with recovering drug users and addicts in Westlake before moving to Military Road.

Shelly appeals to the community to assist with this rewarding work. Hope House is looking for people who are interested in training to do counselling. They offer a year-long accredited training programme at the Bergvliet premises. “It’s important to be trained properly as those with good intentions try to help, but because they lack skills, they often create more problems.”

Shelly says to be a good counsellor one must have the heart to serve and be patient. “It is vital to have an open heart. We are non-confrontational, and will try to help anyone, and meet them where they are at.The work never stops, and we have to be very committed. Most people need ongoing sessions as they frequently relapse. They also need family support. Addicts need to break the cycle and resolve the underlying issues which made them turn to drugs in the first place.’’

Shelly says it is important to make a distinction between addicts and casual drug users. “An addict’s whole life revolves around the getting/using drugs and cannot say ‘no’. There is significant research proving that chronic drug use brings about fundamental neurological changes that move a susceptible individual from drug user to addict.”

Shelly works with addicts daily: “Addiction is very seldom something entered into by ‘free choice’. It is a chronic, relapsing disease which, like many brain diseases, has behavioural and socio-spiritual aspects. Once we understand this, we can accept that a bio-psycho-social approach is required to treat addiction. Drug addicts need treatment for the medical disorder from which they suffer, (and) not time in jail which will only teach them how to become better criminals.”

He says many recovering addicts have battled hard to overcome their addictions, are well into recovery, and could become productive members of the community and role models for others. Unfortunately, many cannot find employment because of criminal records for minor possession charges.

“Our youth, our children, have very real problems when dealing with the consequences of addiction. By treating them as criminals, instead of providing real opportunities for recovery and by sabotaging their future with criminal records, we are ensuring the cycle is not broken. To incarcerate someone who has been caught for possession of an illegal substance, throw them into jail with hardened criminals and leave them with a criminal record against their name is not justice.”