Forty-eight percent of all convictions achieved by the National Prosecuting Authority are for drug-related offences, the vast majority of which are for the possession of small quantities of drugs, according to the SA Network of People Who Use Drugs (Sanpud).
Sanpud executive director Angela McBride told participants in a webinar discussion on the recently revised National Drug Master Plan that if those incarcerated for such offences were released, “we would immediately resolve the (problem of) overcrowding of correctional facilities”.
McBride said: “Cities should support and deliver interventions to address the harms associated with drug use, and they must be human-centred, evidence-based and supportive of an individual’s decisions.”
During the webinar, it emerged that Cape Town, Tshwane and eThekwini have scaled up their harm-reduction services for people who use drugs as the country battles the pandemic.
Other participants in the webinar included representatives from the three metros, the SA National Aids Council (Sanac) and a group of organisations, including the SA Local Government Association (Salga) and the UN.
On the National Drug Master Plan, David Bayever, chairperson of the Central Drug Authority (CDA), said: “The CDA launched the National Drug Master Plan 2019-2024 to serve as the country’s response to the national concerns regarding drug control.
“It underscores social protection and health care instead of punitive measures of conviction and punishment. The evidence-based approach seeks to integrate services which will decrease the incidence of HIV, sepsis and TB by promoting retention in recovery programmes and after-care for people who use or inject drugs.
“This can be achieved by education, destigmatisation, and harm-reduction using international, researched interventions.”
The objective of the webinar was to raise awareness of the need for locally funded and supported interventions to reduce the harms related to drug use, some of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Other cities were given the opportunity to learn from the three metros’ response models and draw lessons for their own constituencies.
Salga’s Sikheto Mavundza said: “Following the declaration of the national state of disaster, municipalities were directed to implement specific measures aimed at curbing the spread of the pandemic. The subsequent lockdown led to municipalities only working with limited staff and mainly providing essential services.
“The uptake of services responding to drug use and HIV had been low before the Covid-19 pandemic and continues to be low during the pandemic, particularly in municipalities with limited revenue. These three metros have, however, done much in these areas, including in law enforcement.”
Acting chief executive of the Sanac, Coceka Nogoduka, said: “Investment in drug-use programmes is essential. Continued investment in harm-reduction and related services for people who use drugs is crucial during the Covid-19 response. Failure to do so will derail our efforts in curbing the spread of HIV.”