Help at hand for young drug addicts

A Cape Town family physician who has been involved in the field of substance abuse for more than 20 years has developed a unique programme aimed at eradicating alcohol and drug abuse among youth in the city.

Following the Tatler’s front page report last week (“Tackling drug abuse at schools”, March 31) Dr Ellapen Rapiti, of Kenwyn who has a practice in Mitchell’s Plain, has come forward to endorse the views expressed by Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre director Ashley Potts, who said drug awareness campaigns in schools need to be replaced by professional training programmes.

“In most cases, principals adopt the wrong approach to addiction. They would seek help for the pupil after the pupils have been found to be in possession of drugs. This is like shutting the stable doors, long after the horse has bolted,” Dr Rapiti said.

“Many principals adopt the dispassionate attitude of expelling their pupils to show how tough they are. Poor parents are then saddled with a child, who is now even more exposed to dealers because of a lack of adult supervision at home. I have seen many children, who were expelled from school and ended up joining gangs and landed in jail, with about two to three murders over their heads.

“In prison these children suffer from severe post-traumatic stress disorder because of their past crimes under the influence of drugs. These children are often semi-literate, so there is no hope for them to find jobs so, once released, they return to the streets and gangs.”

Dr Rapiti’s rehabilitation project takes the form of a booklet outlining a four-step, self-help programme to help pupils, parents and teachers deal with addiction.

“I have been using my programme extensively with the youth in an awaiting trial youth prison and I have seen it having a tremendous impact on them. The only problem is that the learning is not done consistently for these youth to remember the lessons in the booklet,” he said.

“I have approached a few schools with my concept. The principals seem to like the programme but none of them is serious about implementing it. This is why I was so impressed to learn that principals in the southern suburbs express an interest in educating their pupils on addiction. My programme is designed and written in very simple language so that it can be introduced at a very early stage in primary schools. It is also of great help to children and adults, who are semi-literate.”

“Counselling substance users is not rocket science. My book can equip anyone with sufficient knowledge to counsel people and their families on substances.

“My intention is to have the booklet available in all 11 official languages.

Any principal or school keen to know about my programme is most welcome to contact me on”

Anyone interesting in obtaining Dr Rapiti’s booklet can download it from It is also available in Afrikaans.

* Several requests for comment sent to Sihle Ngobese, spokesperson for Social Development MEC Albert Fritz, regarding Mr Pott’s proposal for professional drug training programmes in schools, went unanswered.