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KZN drug rehab centre to reopen during lockdown after legal threat

Drug rehabilitation centres in SA, which were forced to close during the lockdown, have now been authorised to accept new patients on referral by a social worker.

The regulation change by social development minister Lindiwe Zulu, gazetted on Tuesday, followed a threat of legal action by at least one centre, The Cedars, a private facility in Scottburgh, KwaZulu-Natal, which argued that the ban on new patients, other than through a court order, was a direct contradiction of disaster regulations allowing people to access medical attention.

In a letter to Zulu, Cedars attorney Bianca Larratt said Cedars admits and treats between 350 and 400 patients a year.

“At the time of the lockdown, five patients were admitted. Since the lockdown, it has received about three inquiries per day from people suffering from drug and alcohol dependence, some of them chronic cases,” she said.

Larratt said the lockdown was affecting addicts who could no longer get their “drug of choice”, including alcohol, which could result in an increase in social problems and crime.

“Those chronically addicted to street drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine require medical supervision to detox. Going ‘cold turkey’ can be fatal. A chronic heroin addict, for example, whose body is reliant on four to five hits a day, if suddenly cut off from the drug can experience cardiac arrest and seizures.”

The centre employs doctors, nurses and addiction counsellors, who are all essential workers, she said.

“Lockdown protocols have been implemented and swab testing will be conducted on all new patients.”

Larratt told TimesLIVE that after receiving the letter of demand last week, the department’s legal adviser had advised that the regulations were in the process of being amended.

Cedars owner Andre Redinger said they were “pacing intakes”, testing all newcomers and placing them initially in isolation.

“We expect to receive up to 10 patients over the next seven days. This is an increase over the norm because of the backlog and because active addicts have had no or limited access to their drug of choice, and this has led to a dramatic increase in calls for help,” he said.

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