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|Aging Dutch Addicts Find a Home|
AT LAST! Some compassionate people.
Aging Dutch addicts find a home
Nov. 7, 2004
State-supported facility aims to help junkies live final years with dignity
By CARL HONORÉ
Houston Chronicle Foreign Service
To get on the waiting list for one of Seniorenpand's seven rooms, applicants must meet these eligibility requirements:
• Addiction: To heroin or cocaine.
• Age: 50 and older.
• Income: Must receive social security payments.
• Other: Addicts must be able to show they no longer can survive on the streets.
ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - Tucked away in a quiet corner of this Dutch port city, Seniorenpand looks, at first glance, like an ordinary retirement home.
Comfortable sofas huddle around a television set in the lounge. Puzzles and tattered paperbacks fill the shelves nearby. Residents chat about the weather over tea.
But this is a retirement home with a twist: In the bedrooms, everyone gets high on heroin or cocaine.
"I have been using drugs most of my adult life, and I can't stop now," says Gert-Jan, a 62-year-old resident. "Being old doesn't mean your addiction just goes away."
Funded by the city of Rotterdam and DeltaBouman, a semi-private medical foundation, Seniorenpand is believed to be the world's first state-sanctioned retirement home for junkies.
But it won't be the last. Three other Dutch cities — Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague — are setting up similar homes for their aging addicts. Policy-makers around Europe are watching.
The launch of Seniorenpand five years ago was a reminder that better medical care is helping the world's junkies live longer.
In the Netherlands, experts say a liberal approach to drugs has kept the death rate for addicts low. Though cocaine and heroin are illegal, addiction is treated as a disease. Hard-drug users receive free medical care and methadone from the state.
As a result, half of all Dutch addicts are now older than 40, and many are in their 60s. Yet most are in poor health. Addicts tend to suffer medical problems at a much younger age than most. Lacking the strength to survive on the streets and unwelcome in normal retirement homes, older junkies often have nowhere to turn.
Many of them, therefore, see Seniorenpand as a godsend. Since it opened in 1999, there has been a long waiting list for the home's seven rooms.
Seniorenpand's residents are encouraged to consume fewer drugs, but there is no pressure to stop. People often buy heroin or cocaine on the street. The chief aim is to help addicts live their final years in comfort and dignity.
"Some people reach a point where their addiction is irreversible, so our goal is to give them some stability and quality of life until the end comes," says Alexander Hogendoorn, the home's manager.
Though small and modestly equipped, Seniorenpand beats living on the streets. Each of the seven residents has a private room. Contractors do the cleaning and cooking. Medical staff visit regularly, and a social worker is on hand around the clock.
Almost everything, including medical care, is paid for by DeltaBouman or the state. The residents use their monthly social security checks to pay a modest rent, spending the rest on newspapers, cigarettes and drugs. Seniorenpand allows reporters in only if they agree not to reveal residents' full names.
After two years in the home, Gert-Jan still feels like he has won the lottery. "If it weren't for this place, I would be dead and buried now," he says. "This is a real home for me."
The blend of domesticity and drugs at Seniorenpand can seem almost surreal.
Henny, 51, listens to Bach CDs in his spotless bedroom. Arranged neatly on the desk are a cell phone, books, family photos — and a plastic sachet full of brown residue.
"That was the heroin I snorted last night," he says, holding up the tiny bag. "It was pretty good stuff."
Seniorenpand has strict rules. Hard drugs may only be taken in the bedrooms, with the doors closed. There is an 11 p.m. curfew. After paying their rent, residents receive what is left of their social security checks in installments, to stop them from going on a drug binge.
Living with other junkies can also reinforce bad habits. Henny says he would like to kick his heroin addiction but finds it hard to stay clean when everyone around him is indulging.
On balance, though, Seniorenpand seems to work, says Hogendoorn. Most residents find their health improves and their drug intake stabilizes.
Yet despite the Netherlands' reputation for tolerance, the home faces an uphill battle. When it opened five years ago, angry locals daubed graffiti on the windows. Even today, the junkies are barred from bingo nights at the conventional retirement home next door.
Meanwhile, the mainstream medical community is warming to the idea of specialized care for older junkies. Later this year, a nursing home in Rotterdam will open a separate wing for addicts.
At Seniorenpand, though, the residents do not feel like pioneers. They are just relieved to have found refuge from the Rotterdam drug scene.
An addict most of her life, Carmel, 58, spends her days reading, watching TV and painting. Her haggard face lights up as she shows off an album of her watercolors.
"You know, old addicts are just like other old people," she says. "All we want is a safe, quiet place where we can get on with our lives."
A PROUD MEMBER OF THE WESTERN MINORITY
|Hip Hip HOORAY!|
Intelligent drug policy, courtesy of the Dutch! Bravo! Keep up the good work! This is the attitude that the rest of the world needs to adopt. Hope for the future!
There is more good to life than most realize. Especially me.
|I hope they'll still be able going on like...|
I hope they'll still be able going on like that even when that whole EU crap really takes place ...
- Beware of the Morphail Effect! -