Pub date:Sat, 29 Jan 2000
Author Christine Lucassen – Reuters Rotterdam
AGING DUTCH JUNKIES GO TO SPECIAL HOME
`Look at this bathroom – it’s fantastic!There’s even a special low seat in the shower for when I grow really old,’ Carmel exclaimed before turning toward the window to prepare her heroin.
Carmel, silver-haired and fragile at 53, took her first pills and amphetamines at 17.
She became gradually trapped in the drugs spiral and began a life on the streets that lasted for years.
Now she sits on a neatly made single bed and injects her drugs while talking of her past, a handful of postcards of chubby angels and flowers pinned on the wall above her head.
She is one of seven residents in Rotterdam’s first home for elderly drug addicts, which opened its doors in the Dutch port city in September.
Known for tolerance of drug use, the liberal Netherlands faces a new hurdle as an increasing number of hard drug addicts survive to a pension able age.
While selling hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine is unlawful and dealers are prosecuted, addicts are treated as patients with a chronic health problem.
Hard drugs users are growing older, and their habit takes its toll.
They often face in their 40s the same problems people normally experience only in their early 70s.
`They are forgetful, neglect themselves, suffer from insomnia, live in isolation.
They need a place where they can settle down and take their drugs quietly,’ said Trudy de Bruin, administrator of the Boumanhuis home for elderly addicts.
Their health improves and their use of drugs stabilizes when they no longer need to go to the street for a fix,” de Bruin said.
The home is officially approved and partly funded by the Rotterdam municipality and health authority.
Residents, whose average age is 53, receive medical care and a daily dose of the heroin substitute methadone.
Screened for good behaviour before being admitted, they are not pressured to kick their habit.
Drug use is accepted – the staff even provide drugs on request – although house rules stipulate it is allowed only in private rooms.
`We concluded a few years ago that drying out isn’t always the best solution.
Drug use has been part of these people’s lives for 20-25 years and they don’t harm anybody,’ De Bruin said.
Tenants pay rent and, if they want drugs, they have to pay for them.
If they need more money than they do temporary work, mostly cleaning.
In the home, they do the shopping, cleaning and cooking.
Counsellors are on call to provide help and advice.
Senior junkies opt to live in the Boumanhuis so they no longer have to cope alone in the outside world.
They value the presence of a social worker 24 hours a day.
Security and the possibility to use drugs without being persecuted is also crucial.
`My life used to be like a roller-coaster. In here I’m doing better.
I’m no longer alone, there’s always somebody around and knowing that really helps,’ said Carmel.
Life in the home appears calm and quiet, with tenants back in their rooms in the evening long before the 11 p.m. deadline.
`In the house we lead quiet, ordinary lives, verging on boring sometimes.
People often just want to sit in their room, watch television, read a newspaper….
They discover it’s cozy to have a home,’ de Bruin explained.
In her room, Carmel, who spends most of her days reading, watching TV, drawing, writing or knitting, proudly shows off a turquoise dress she has made.
`I need to go on for a few more inches. It should not be too revealing: there are five men in the house,’ she said, smiling.
A man cleans the sink of the already spotless kitchen while team leader Roy talks to another addict and grey-haired Fred, 49, plays computer games.
`The Boumanhuis saved my life,’ Carmel observes.
MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk