Mauritius was in the throes of an acute drug epidemic. "Brown Sugar", an adulterated form of heroin, was creating havoc among our young urban male population. Confronted with this reality and in the absence of any specialized structure to respond to the particular needs of the substance abusers, a group of young doctors and social workers decided to join hands to set up the first non-governmental organization (NGO) prevention and treatment centre in the country to address this issue in a holistic and comprehensive way.
Equipped with an abundance of goodwill and a firm belief that many substance abusers can alter their destructive behaviour provided they are offered an approach consistent with the local socio-cultural and economic contexts, a multidisciplinary team started to provide free basic counselling, medical detoxification and after-care services to a number of young addicts. While we were inspired by a number of foreign, well-established therapeutic approaches, we were also very keen to develop a "Mauritian model" in the management of substance abuse.
This model rests essentially on an out-patient, multidisciplinary approach that relies on the support of the family and the synergistic energy of a small team of full-time staff and volunteers. The important ingredients that explain our success are our strong faith in man whatever his stage of dependency, our dedication and selflessness in the effort, a professional approach to voluntary work, a quest to constantly upgrade our knowledge base and keep abreast of the latest techniques in the field, and an active community participation.
Within five years, this small community effort, which began operating on the premises of a pre-primary school, had matured into a larger team, based in a functional building put at our disposal by a collaboration between the central Government and local authorities. Our NGO status allowed us the necessary flexibility and freedom to fine tune our services in order to respond to change. By then, the substance abuse phenomenon was afflicting a larger age bracket, people living in rural areas, as well as an increasing number of women.
Apart from our treatment service and general prevention programmes, we also started a primary prevention project focusing on male out-of-school youth. The Teen Hope Project, launched in 1992, aims to provide a safe and healthy environment and promote a healthy lifestyle among young boys, aged 13 to 16, living in high-risk areas. The programme, now in its sixth year, consists of functional education, sports, life skills development, community service and job placement.
Three separate evaluations of our treatment programme indicate that about 35 to 40 per cent of our clients are getting better. This means they are no longer indulging in drug consumption, they are leading a stable professional and familial life, and they are not turning to illegal activities.
The pattern and profile of drug abuse in Mauritius have evolved once again. Today, more and more young people are beginning to use illicit drugs at an earlier age. Nor are our schools immune to the problem. Also, most substance abusers are now injecting drugs, thereby increasing the risks of contracting acquired immunodeficiency syndrome/human immunodeficiency virus (AIDS/HIV).
We have developed several training modules to provide the necessary know-how and skills to carefully selected groups of motivated women and young people that will let them identify early signs of substance use among their peers and refer them to our Centre.
We have been working very closely with the International Council on Alcohol and Addictions (ICAA) for the past ten years, a collaboration which has ensured a regular exchange of information and knowledge. …