From drug addict to role model


How Sandra Braithwaite won the battle against drug addiction

  • Started using drugs on the street corner
  • Sold everything in her house to buy drugs
  • Lived in a cemetery for years

By Devina Samaroo

Sandra Braithwaite was 47-years-old when she took her first sniff of crack cocaine, mainly because she was pressured by her peers, but also because she was curious.

That decision led her the world of illicit drugs – and a life of misery. But with consistent support and self-determination, she eventually found her way back home.

Her path to drug addiction started in her hometown of Albouytsown, known to many as a depressed community in the capital Georgetown.

Sandra loved parties and hanging out at the street corner with her friends. One day when she was liming at the head of the street, one her friend’s colleague approached and offered them both marijuana and cocaine – and she agreed.

Sandra quickly became hooked and she started sneaking out of her house to satisfy her craving. Next, she was forced to dip into her savings to purchase the drugs and eventually all her money dried up.

Her next step was to sell off items from her home to feed her insatiable desire.


“The last thing I carry away from the house was a stove – what my sister and children had to cook on to eat. When I realised that the house empty, I moved out and I took up permanent residence on the block [a public space where persons with similar addictions live],” she told News Room during an interview.

After several years, however, she moved out from the block because she no longer wanted to share her drugs with other dwellers.

“So I moved out from the block and end up living in the cemetery.”


Sandra recalled doing odd jobs to earn an income but sometimes she was forced to engage in petty thefts because her employers would refuse to pay her.

“I was one of those daring junkies who used to represent myself but I can’t beat three or four people but I used to have my ammunitions,” she stated.


Her friend Malcolm Ferriera, who knew Sandra from boyhood days, eventually took notice of her and reached out to help her, and she enrolled in the Phoenix Recovery home.

Located at Mon Repos, East Coast Demerara, Phoenix is the only in-patient drug rehabilitation facility in the country that offers services to both men and women.

Clarence Young, who runs the facility, is no stranger to substance abuse disorder, and after getting the help he needed, he decided to reach out to others who face similar struggles.

“I have been fortunate to be able to arrest my disease and I was even more fortunate to access the necessary training to equip me to work with the others,” he explained.

The Guyana Drug Information Network (GUYDIN) 2014 said the Phoenix Centre treated 40 persons for substance abuse. Of those treated, 75 percent were above 25 years; 20 percent were 19 – 25 years and five percent were 18 years and below.

The table indicates that Phoenix Recovery Project treated forty (40) cases for substance abuse addiction.

Young explained that clients were there for a range of addictions such as alcohol, marijuana, crack- cocaine, prescription drugs and sometimes, a combination.

The Phoenix Recovery Project, Salvation Army Men’s Centre, and the Georgetown Public Hospital are the main treatment centres for rehabilitating drug users.

The GUYDIN report noted that in 2014, a total of 185 persons were treated for drug and substance abuse, of which 172 were males.

GUYDIN also noted that analysis of data from law enforcement agencies indicate that 310 persons were charged with drug possession in 2014.

A 2016 Household Drug Survey in Guyana revealed that 66.5 per cent of the respondents believe that drug use has increased in Guyana over the past few years, while 40.9 per cent believe that it is easy to access marijuana.

The Government has sought to address the problem of drug addiction by contributing to organisations that offer rehabilitative care, such as the Salvation Army, which was allocated $10 million this year.

Administrator of the Salvation Army Guyana, Ulrick Thibaud, noted that for the year 2016, some 100 addicts enrolled in its rehab programme.

Thibaud noted that the success rate of the programme is very high and psychologist Caitlyn Vieira had also strongly recommended that initiative at the Phoenix Centre.

For Sandra, now 65, signing up for rehab was the best decision she ever made.

“It’s not a walk in the park cause it isn’t easy some days but I got support…you see, addicts need a lot of love and attention and that is what in here (Phoenix Recovery Centre) extends.”

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