A patient shows her latest creation at the workshop in plastic arts at the Provincial Centre of Drug Dependence. Antonio Salas
Jesús Ángel is 21. He began to take drugs at the age of 12. First cannabis, then "just about everything", as he admits. "It was there, in the street" says this young man from Malaga, when asked how a child so young could become involved in that world. His family tried to get him out of that hole but he wouldn't listen. His world revolved around trying to get money for drugs. "I robbed and I stole to get the money so I could keep feeling that high", he says.
For Jesús, the future didn't exist; there was just one day after another consuming some type of substance that would keep him away from reality. Until he was found guilty of drug trafficking after being caught by Customs at Algeciras Port on his way back from Morocco. "I had hashish hidden inside my body", he says. The judge commuted his jail sentence for treatment for his addiction. "I was smuggling for my own consumption. The judge saw that and gave me this option before going to prison", he explains. And so, seven months ago, he arrived at the Provincial Drug Dependence Centre (CPD) which is run by the Malaga provincial government. Since then, therapy and the work of a multidisciplinary team at the centre have succeeded in opening his eyes. "I now realise that I have lost my youth; I stopped going to the beach with my friends, playing football, enjoying time with my family", he says. His time in the carpentry workshop at the centre has given him hope for the future. "I would like to do this, I think I am good at working with my hands and I love making things out of wood", he insists.
This dramatic story is just one of those at the headquarters of the CPD, which has been in existence for 26 years. The provincial government also has three Treatment Centres (CTA) in the districts of Palma-Palmilla and Carretera de Cadiz in Malaga city and in Mijas Costa. These four institutions currently attend to 6,369 people and they form part of the Junta de Andalucía's Network of Attention to Drug Dependency in the province of Malaga.
The start of rehabilitation
The CPD coordinates the network and determines the most suitable treatment for each user according to their addiction, their psychological situation and social circumstances. Some arrive voluntarily or are encouraged by their families to find a way out of their dependency. Others are referred from health centres or mental health units. "When a patient arrives, a team formed by a doctor, a psychologist and a social worker analyses what their pathology is, what type of drugs they consume and whether they are suffering from psychological or physical effects", says Juan Jesús Ruiz, director of the CPD.
Carlos Liébana is a nurse at the centre, who receives patients when they first arrive. "With the economic crisis the number has increased", he says. Experts confirm that economic difficulties have caused many people to take refuge in narcotic substances to escape from an uncertain situation. In other cases, people have relapsed. "We have former users who have come back", says Carlos.
Once each case has been analysed, the experts decide whether to guide the patient towards abstinence or towards a reduction in consumption. Some pathologies allow abstinence after a period of detoxification but others, like alcoholism or an addiction to barbiturates, can cause death through 'delirium tremens'. The patients are offered the list of services provided by the centre so that they can be involved in decision-making about their treatment and feel that they are playing an important role in their recovery.
A drug-dependent person may be treated as an outpatient who spends part of the day undergoing therapy and attending workshops before returning home afterwards, or they may need to be admitted to one of the therapeutic communities in Malaga province or the detoxification unit at a hospital in Algeciras, Granada or Seville. The CPD offers outpatient treatment. As well as individual or group monitoring by specialists, there is motivational therapy in the form of workshops in plastic arts, carpentry, sport, socio-cultural activities, plumbing and electronics, which aim to help these people find work.
Experts in motivation
Manuel Rodríguez leads the workshop in plastic arts but these are not just simple handicrafts. In this workshop they make great progress each day. People who have lost many capabilities due to the consumption of drugs manage, with effort, to concentrate on an activity, control their nerves and stay seated, think about an image, draw it and follow an outline when colouring in. "It is an exercise which helps them at a cognitive, emotional and social level, because here they have to talk to other people, relate to others and share", says Manuel.
Roberto (aged 42) has been drug-free for three years. He has been a well-known face at the CPD since it opened. At the age of 15 he began taking heroin and cocaine. He has so many physical problems that he says his body is "broken-down". Now he is on the methadone programme which is followed by about 2,000 people in the provincial government's centres. But drugs also have social consequences. His family broke off all contact with him some time ago. "To be here with my colleagues, painting, has given me life. Otherwise, I would be dead", he says.
In the carpentry workshop, Noemí (aged 51) says she has not taken anything for three months. She began to take drugs when she was 19, then she fell in love and stopped. "I loved my partner and promised him that I would leave the drugs alone", she recalls. After being clean for 20 years, she felt very lost and on her own when her husband died. "I couldn't bear it and I relapsed; I ended up living on the streets for a month", she says. Now, she is recovering but in the meantime her family have had to take care of her daughter for her.
"The cases are very dramatic because when they come here they have already suffered problems with their work, their families, or society due to their consumption", says Juan Jesús Ruiz. The CPD does not have statistics with regard to cases of recovery. "Many stop their treatment when they feel better but without completing the course", he says. Then they relapse. "Our work is to help them stop consuming, avoid relapsing or ensuring that it lasts as short a time as possible", he explains. More than 50 per cent of the patients go for long periods without consuming. Every day of abstinence signifies a new opportunity.