Drug abuse rife in Lesotho

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drugsBUTHA-BUTHE – Thabiso, 18, takes a deep and long pull from a plastic bottle.
He repeats the process again after a breather.
After some few minutes of taking “the stuff” it is clear that he is no longer in control as he staggers from one side of the road to the other.
Even his speech is now broken. His eyes appear blood-shot.
But in that intoxicated stupor Thabiso appears to gather new strength.
“It makes me feel good,” Thabiso says as he takes another long pull. “I just forget about every problem and just be myself.”
We later learn that Thabiso, and many other teenagers in Butha-Buthe, are sniffing glue in a desperate attempt to get high.
The abuse of glue, preferred because it is cheap and is readily available, is said to be widespread among teenagers in Lesotho.
In fact glue is the drug of choice for most poor youths around the country.
For Thabiso, who refused to give out his full name, substance abuse is a new experience for him.
He said he was introduced to the habit fairly recently.
Thabiso said he enjoys the thrill that comes from sniffing glue.
“I have been missing a lot,” Thabiso says with a deep sense of contentment. “This is nicer than I thought. But I am still not used to it. This is the reason why you see me stumbling.”
With Thabiso is another teenager who refused to disclose his name.
He says sniffing glue has provided him with an escape mechanism from his problems. He was adamant that using the drug would do no harm to his health.
“There is no harm in this. I have been using glue for almost four years now but I am still okay,” he said with an innocent chuckle.
But far from being a “harmless recreational drug” as he said, there are visible signs that the drugs are taking their toll on the teenager.
His face is chipped. His eyes are red. His mouth is dry and the lips are cracking. The teeth have also not been spared. They have almost turned yellow.
The youth was however adamant that he was okay.
“I can take as much as I can but you will never see me struggle to walk. I am quite fit,” he insisted.
Rethabile Mokoroane, 21, is a recovering drug addict.
Mokoroane says she would never want to experience what she went through while still using drugs.
She said for five years she abused drugs and could not break free from the habit. Those five years were the worst in my life, she said.
Up until now she is still haunted by that past.
This is the reason why she still goes for rehabilitation sessions at Blue Cross Rehabilitation Centre in Thaba-Bosiu.
Thanks to that local non-governmental organisation she is now leading a relatively clean life, free from the baggage of drug abuse.
Blue Cross Lesotho is a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts of all ages.
Letsóara Tséhlo, the youth co-ordinator for Blue Cross Lesotho, said they rehabilitate at least 120 drug addicts every year.
Tséhlo said the centre, which was set up in 1991 with help from the Norwegian government, is funded by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare
He said the group, in consultation with its partners, seeks to help youths break free from drug addiction.
Mokoroane said she started abusing drugs out of curiosity.
She together with her teenage friends would sneak out and buy cigarettes.
But later they moved to the much serious stuff – which saw them experiment with dagga and other hard drugs. They got hooked.
“I started abusing drugs when I was 12. My friends and I would hide from our parents and smoke cigarettes. But things later veered out of control and we started using dagga,” Mokoroane said.
“I was a party animal. Every party was not complete without booze and dagga. I would just disappear for days and my family would not know my whereabouts,” Mokoroane said.
Mokoroane said her grades in school suffered. She would even attend classes in an intoxicated state. The result was that she failed her exams.
“My performance at school dropped. I lost concentration in class because I was always high,” she said.
Mokoroane’s relationship with her mother and younger sister also suffered. She said the relationship became tense and strained.
“The parties, drugs, friends and alcohol became the centre of my attention. I hardly had time for my family.
“They did not know where I lived. Sometimes I would disappear and they would not see me for days,” she said.
Like a “prodigal daughter”, Mokoroane said she later realised the folly of her ways and decided to make a fresh start.
She says she is grateful to her mother who never turned her back on her.
“My mother never turned her back on me,” said Mokoroane.
Mokoroane said she regrets that she wasted the best part of her years on empty pursuits. It was all vanity, she said.
“I missed an opportunity of a life-time. I came to realise that by using drugs I was just trashing my life away. That was not what I wanted,” said Mokoroane.
She said the first step was to admit that she had a problem and needed help. In her case, she said she needed that help urgently.
 In August 2007, she began a two-month drug rehabilitation session at Blue Cross Lesotho.
“It has not been easy but I am getting there,” a confident Mokoroane told the Lesotho Times in an interview last week.
“I have stopped drinking alcohol and abusing dagga. But I still smoke cigarettes once in a while. I hope one day I will completely stop using any kind of drugs,” she said.
According to a 2003 UNESCO report the use of drugs, particularly cannabis known locally as matekoane, is widespread around Lesotho.
The report, Cannabis in Lesotho: A preliminary survey, said the abuse of cannabis was rampant in urban areas.
The report said what made the problem worse was that cannabis was regarded as a medicinal drug among locals.
It was also seen as a cash crop with some of it being exported across the borders to South Africa.
Tséhlo, the youth co-ordinator for Blue Cross Lesotho, said most of the blame should be laid squarely on the parents’ shoulders.
Tséhlo said some parents are not doing enough to shield their children from exposure to drugs and alcohol.
“Many children learn to abuse drugs and alcohol from their parents. Some parents drink alcohol and smoke in the presence of their children.
“They even send their children to go out and buy the stuff. So they see nothing wrong with the habit and they fall for it,” Tséhlo says.
Tséhlo said as a result of that exposure most teenagers end up abusing drugs and see nothing wrong with the practice.
He said in December Blue Cross Lesotho engaged in several activities in an attempt to dissuade youths from substance abuse.
“During the festive season last December Blue Cross held several activities to make youths aware of the dangers of alcohol and drugs.
“Our aim was also to help the youths avoid unwanted pregnancies and being infected with HIV,” Tséhlo said.
Tséhlo said the idea behind their project was to encourage youths to engage in productive activities and take them off the streets.
“We want the youths to shun drugs and engage in productive activities which will make them better people,” Tséhlo said.

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