An occasional glass of wine or favourite beer is an acceptable means in which to unwind after a hard week of work, however a glass too many of one’s favourite poison is leading too many down the rabbit hole.
Recently, the Department of Social Development (DSD) hosted the International Conference on Substance Abuse and Family Related Interventions.
Held at the Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre in Gauteng, the conference brought together government, civil society, private sector and drug experts, among others, to discuss ways to effectively combat drug and substance abuse.
While most people can attest to having that one drunk uncle who embarrasses them at family gatherings every now and again, South Africa’s drug abuse and alcohol abuse levels are alarming.
“The magnitude of substance abuse, and associated burden in terms of health and socio-economic consequences has been rapidly rising in South Africa. From the evidence it is clear that we need a multi-sectoral approach to substance abuse and addiction,” said then Director General of the Department of Health, Precious Matsoso, at the start of the conference.
While comprehensive national research on the nature, extent and impact of psychoactive substance use in the country has not been done since 1990, the DSD said various sources of information suggest that alcohol, tobacco, prescription as well as over-the-counter medication are the most commonly used illicit substances.
Cannabis it noted, is the most commonly used illicit substance.
Compounding matters even more, South Africa is also experiencing a high prevalence of substance abuse among children and young people. Children as young as eight-years old have been found to experiment with illicit drugs.
The DSD describes substance abuse dependency as a chronic, generative condition that has a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities. In addition a link between substance abuse dependency and other social ills like crime, violence, HIV and AIDS among others, exists.
As part of the response to the country’s drug problem, the DSD has developed and promulgated the Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse Act.
“This legislation is currently under review so that it is responsive to present-day substance abuse-related challenges,” said Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu at the end of the three-day conference.
In addition South Africa has also enacted the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act as a response to drug and human trafficking.
Another way in which the department is working to tackle the country’s substance abuse levels is through the National Drug Master Plan that was first implemented between 2013 and 2017.
This plan was independently evaluated. The findings and recommendations of the evaluation informed the second iteration of the plan.
“The reviewed National Drug Master Plan has recently been approved by Cabinet and it will be implemented during the 2019 to 2024 period,” said Minister Zulu.
The plan outlines strategies to combat the abuse of drugs and substances in South Africa. The plan proposes seven strategic goals to combat the abuse of drugs within communities.
It also proposes dealing with the reduction of the demand for drugs, tighter control of drugs intended for therapeutic use, as well as governance, leadership and accountability of the execution of the plan.
According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, current drinkers consume on average 32.8 grams of pure alcohol per day. This is some 20% higher in the African Region and about 20% lower (26.3 g/day) in the South-East Asia Region.
According to the 2018 report, drinkers have increased their alcohol consumption since 2000 in almost all regions except the WHO European region.
Substance abuse has been reported to have an impact on the risk or prevalence of violence against women and children. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse among others have been reported as the types of violence directed at women and children.
Matsoso said alcohol and substance abuse not only affects the wellbeing of individuals but the economy as well.
“Alcohol and drug abuse also contributes to maternal and child morbidity and mortality. The costs to individuals, families and society are staggering. If we fail to arrest the substance abuse scourge, our goal of ‘a long and healthy life for all South Africans’ will remain elusive,” she said.
On the review of institutional mechanisms, the department has developed a Policy on Substance Abuse which the Minister will present to Cabinet in 2020.
The policy will amend aspects of the Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse Act, Act 70 of 2008 that relate to the capacity challenges and repositioning of the Central Drug Authority (CDA).
“This policy will effectively position our society to better respond to the drug challenges,” she said at the closing of the conference.
The Minister highlighted the correlation that exists between urban poverty and the spiralling rise of substance abuse and destruction of families particularly in urban areas.
She said the country should socialise its children into healthy, active and productive citizens.
“Gender stereotypes are withholding our communities from self-realisation and unchaining our people from min-sets that sustain substance usage and the destruction of self,” she said.
Meanwhile the department has strengthened its anti-substance abuse campaigns working in collaboration with other government departments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Among the campaigns implemented is the Ke Moja meaning “I’m fine without drugs” education and awareness programme. The programme targets in and out of school children, youth, parents and caregivers.
Ke Moja has since been evaluated and found to be effective and further recommended for scaled up implementation.
“What’s your poison?” may be a common phrase to ask what beverage one would like to drink but quenching that thirst could be a matter of life and death.