The Malta Independent 13 November 2019, Wednesday

I’m facing problems but I’m hopeful; my goal is to work with Caritas - recovering drug addict

Albert Galea Wednesday, 26 June 2019, 09:18 Last update: about 6 months ago

"I am still facing problems but I am hopeful; my goal is to work with Caritas one day," are the words of one of the people currently recovering from drug addiction at the San Blas Therapeutic Community run by Caritas Malta.

The person, who preferred to remain anonymous, spoke of his addiction and the subsequent road to rehabilitation. While still dealing with past issues, he strongly believes that he can come out of this experience a better person.


 "In 2008 I was at a point where I could not cope anymore - there were a lot of people who asked me to come in [to seek help] but I kept resisting, thinking that I could deal with the problem alone, when in actual fact I could not as I was finished."

During his first attempt at rehabilitation between 2008 and 2009, his father passed away ­- a situation he did not properly tackle at the time.

"I managed to stay clean for seven years, but three years ago I was involved in a serious traffic accident and a dark cloud hung over me. Suddenly, I had to deal with the police and courts again, but I just didn't have the strength for it.

"Having been clean for seven years, I thought I could face my problems, but this was too difficult. I'm still facing these issues today, actually.

"But when I returned [to Caritas], I found all the love and support I needed, and I've learnt that I no longer have to face my problems alone; there are people ready to help."

Spiritual guidance has also played an important role in his recovery, he says, together with help dealing with the guilt of relapsing and forgiving himself.

"I'm not going to give up. I have chosen the path I want to follow and have all the skills necessary to get back on the right track. Hopefully, this is the last phase of my residential programme here."

 "I'll keep working, and I look forward to my recovery. I have a goal in mind, too; to one day work here, which is one of the things that keep me going."

Asked what advice he would give to those tempted to dabble in drugs as a way of coping with their issues, he said:

"Once you begin, you soon find yourself ascending the stairs of addiction, until you eventually fall into a pit of knives. It's just not worth it. It might give you that initial rush of pleasure, but you then have to face reality with an entirely new set of problems.

"You start to forget who you are, neglecting those around you. I threw away everything; my children, my marriage, my house, my cars, my job... Drugs were the be-all and end-all of my life; and that's the truth of the matter."

Asked whether he believed marijuana ought to be legalized for recreational use, he said that he did not, noting that "as a country, we are not disciplined" and that "we have no control."

"People think that marijuana's not a problem, but it is. When you hear of people spending €400 or €500 a week on it, it's a problem. There are people who need a joint to even get out of bed. It's a very big problem.

"There are also school children who smoke it. I don't agree it should be legalised at all; it's a slippery slope. We have no self-control in this country and legalising it would be a huge mistake.

This sentiment is shared with the director of Caritas Malta Anthony Gatt, who told the The Malta Independent that while the organisation was ready to support the use of marijuana-based medical treatment in cases such as epilepsy or to counter the side-effects of chemotherapy, the potential legalisation of marijuana for recreational use was concerning. "It is clear," he said, "that making marijuana legally accessible will cause more harm than good."

One of Gatt's major concerns is the effect this would have on adolescents. He cited a 2015 study which showed that 13% of 15-year-old boys and girls had experimented with cannabis. Legalising it, he believes, will lead to assumption that it is not a dangerous drug, hence making it more popular.

"There is robust evidence to suggest that, no matter how much is used, marijuana is harmful to the developing brain, so we need to protect younger generations"

He noted that while that while cannabis did not necessarily serve as a gateway drug in adults, this could be said for adolescent users, who are at a higher or risk of becoming dependent on other substances.

Moreover, Gatt said that legalising cannabis would lead to more people becoming hooked to it - a sentiment shared by the residents at Caritas. Some of those battling addiction to marijuana, he said, have stated that there would be no motivation to quit if it were legalised. Others expressed their fear that, although it might not be their first drug of choice, it could them back to their cocaine or heroin habit.

Other concerns include the long-term effects of marijuana on mental health, particularly when there is a genetic predisposition to disorders affecting the mind.

"We expect a similar pattern to the rise of tobacco use, which was originally promoted as a harmless substance. We now know that tobacco is responsible for 20% of cancer diagnoses."

Gatt says that some studies have also shown that those with a lower socio-economic background may be hit harder by the legalisation of marijuana since they have fewer financial and educational resources to deal with their dependency.

Addressing some of the counter-arguments, Gatt acknowledged that there are some people who will not be dependent on marijuana and use it socially, but noted that while some people will indeed be able to control their use, in the long run, legalisation will see more people getting into the habit and more people becoming dependent on it.

With regard to the black market, Gatt said that although it would take a hit, it would adapt and exploit loopholes, possibly through predatory pricing or by selling a more potent version.

He also noted that part of the thrill of drug use, especially for teenagers, as explained by residents at Caritas, is doing something illegal. "If a drug becomes legal, the need for the thrill of doing something illegal will not go away with it - so this may mean that it is a speedier way for teenagers to get into other drugs that remain illegal, such as cocaine," Gatt said.

In terms of Caritas' recommendations for the debate on marijuana, Gatt said that the concept of "rehabilitation not imprisonment" for those dependent on drugs should be retained as it was yielding positive results.

He said that more discretion should be given to magistrates and judges dealing with cases of drug possession when the accused is genuinely dependent and, as a result, is found to be in possession of a large stash of drugs.

"Mandatory help has been proven to help. A person may not be intrinsically motivated to change, but as they get clean, it challenges them to reconsider their choices and behavioural patterns," he said.

Sixteen people will be graduating from Caritas Malta's drug rehabilitation programme today in a ceremony which is now a much-awaited annual appointment.

Caritas Malta's programme runs for about two years, and sees addicts pass through Caritas' outreach service in Floriana before moving on to the San Blas Therapeutic Community Centre in Żebbuġ, where there is an orientation phase, followed by a six-month residency phase and a further semi-residential phase. The residents then move out and back into society to live independently.  As of 2018, Caritas also opened Dar Charles Miceli, which is the after-care hub - open all hours  - offering a support structure for those who feel they are at risk of relapsing.  This new hub has had a huge impact on relapse rates and on the overall results of the programme, Gatt says.

The ethos of Caritas programmes is based on the concept of a therapeutic community, he adds.  This means that the tools of therapy are found within the community - a community which values each individual as having an important and unique place within it. "It follows the concept of 'your recovery is my recovery,'" Gatt explains.

He noted that one of the main tools is that of confrontation, meaning that community members should recognise both positive and negative actions.

"The community acts as a sort of mirror, allowing the person to see both their positive qualities and negative behaviour; that is a core tool in the recovery process," he said.





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