New street drug concern

Empty bottles of the cough syrup used to make the latest street drug called "lean".

The discovery of discarded cough-syrup bottles in Marina da Gama has some fearing the codeine-based street drug “lean” has arrived in the neighbourhood.

The eight empty bottles had no prescription labels and were found in one pile.

The drug is made using cough syrup, sweets and fizzy cooldrink. The addictive element in this mix is the codeine, which is converted to morphine in the user’s system.

The Uitsig Peninsula Civic Association’s youth development committee called a drug-awareness meeting at the San Marina Recreation Club, where concerned parents heard from a recovering heroin addict as well as an addiction counsellor, Christine Fenemore.

Teens at the talk said the drug was popular with users as young as 10 and they had seen children using it, although not in Marina da Gama. Some claimed its use was more widespread than tik.

Ms Fenemore is registered with the Board of Addiction Professionals and is also a specialist wellness counsellor with the Association of Supportive Counsellors and Holistic Practitioners. She said codeine was often overlooked as an addictive substance, but parents ignored its dangers at their peril.

A Durban drug-rehab facility, Assisted Recovery Centres of Africa, lists codeine as one of the top-10 most addictive substances in the world – up there with heroin, cocaine and morphine.

“It is not just that your body converts codeine to morphine, but also the long-term affects that can be very dangerous,” Ms Fenemore said.

The recovering addict, who did not want his name used, told how his life had been sucked into a spiral of destructive drug use. He never used lean, but he was a heroin addict for many years.

Heroin is the most notorious derivative of morphine.

His rock bottom wasn’t his mother telling him he was dead to her. He wasn’t moved by lying to his father to get his hands on cash for more drugs; he didn’t even count selling off the contents of his parents’ home in a fake robbery he staged as his rock bottom. The same with watching so many of his peers, fellow addicts, die. He said he had simply lived for his next hit, until the time he had to claw his own way back from near death.

“I never had to kill for my next hit… I’d like to say I wouldn’t have, but I don’t know,” he said.

The son of a principal, he said he had had no traumas, no financial issues, no stresses and no reason to abuse drugs.

“The only reason I became addicted was because I liked the feeling,” he said. It was as simple, and life altering, as that.

After nearly dying more than once and eventually doing rehab, it had still taken a year before his sister had begun to even talk to him again, he said. And the strain on his parents’ marriage was one of the scars he still carried today.

“My mom would tell my dad to throw me out. She could see what I had become. My dad just couldn’t. He enabled me for many years. It was harder on him, in the long run.”

He has been clean nine years but says he lives in constant fear of the effects of his drug abuse catching up with him. He has a child now, and is well aware that the child may have inherited his addictive tendencies.

Ms Fenemore said all drug addiction started with use, proceeded to abuse (using to feel better) and became addiction. Many well educated people from stable backgrounds found themselves living on the street, indebted to gangs, she said.

Drugs affected everyone differently and codeine was no different, she said. The liver, through the actions of an enzyme called CYP2D6, metabolises codeine to morphine. There are those with higher than normal CYP2D6 activity who produce greater amounts of morphine and can have severe reactions to codeine.Some users of lean will become sleepy or euphoric, others will suffer paranoia and reality distortion. Male users have reported erectile dysfunction. Other complications include tremors, convulsions, loss of consciousness and muscle tone.

Ms Fenemore advised parents to be aware of their own use of codeine-containing medications around youngsters and not to think that their child could never become addicted.

To find out more, call her at 072 813 9349 or email