5 facts about drug abuse in Western Cape

2014-07-03 05:00


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Cape Town - Recent reports of a drug rehab “crisis” in the Cape has set off alarm bells. Has drug abuse got worse, and if so why? News24 finds out.

Albert Fritz, minister for social development in the Western Cape, admits the government is struggling to meet demand for rehabilitation facilities, despite doubling their spending by more than R40m in the past five years.

He said it is “due to the fact that demand for services is continuing to increase more rapidly than government is able to provide the services”.

Here, we unpack why demand is on the rise.

There hasn’t been a big leap in drug abuse

According to Professor Bronwyn Myers, chief specialist scientist in Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit, at the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Western Cape’s drug problem is “pretty entrenched”.

She said: “We haven’t seen any major shifts in terms of treatment demand in the last year or so.

“We don’t have any evidence to suggest that the drug problems have risen in the last few years and we need more well-designed research studies to be able to provide evidence on the prevalence of substance use problems in this region”.

It is difficult to track the number of people using illegal substances, which is why official statistics only measure the number of people in treatment.

But there has been a rise in demand for treatment

Latest figures from the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (Sacendu) show that the number of people who received treatment between January and June 2013 was 3 717.

That’s up 17% on the previous six months, when 3 178 people were treated.

That said, Myers said the notion of a crisis in the Cape’s rehab centres is “misleading”.

She said: “The increased utilisation of drug treatment places in city clinics does not necessarily reflect an increase in the drug problem - these are relatively new services and it has taken people a while to become aware of the services and where they can get help.” 

Her own research has shown that more than 50% of people who want to go to treatment and are ready to go to treatment do not actually know where to go for help.

Certainly, the Sacendu report shows that 66% of the people treated in the first six months of 2013 were first time admissions.

Meanwhile, Ruth Fortuin, assistant director of South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) said human resources were “very limited” with NGOs coping with huge demand alongside a lack of funding.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 40% of those treated for drug use in South Africa are served by the government, while the remaining 60% are treated by the private sector.

WHO’s 2010 country report on South Africa also shows that less than 10% of the country has access to public inpatient medical treatment, while between 10% to 50% have access to public outpatient treatment.

Myers said: “There is pressure on the free or heavily subsidised inpatient facilities in terms of lengthy waiting lists for places.  The reality is though that there are many outpatient centres that have shorter waiting lists and can more easily accommodate patients.”

We know who is being treated

While we can’t track the total number of drug users, we know who is receiving treatment.

The report from Sacendu shows that in Cape Town between January and June 2013 of the people given treatment:

76% were male

71% were coloured

59% were unemployed

67% were single

59% were between the ages of 15 and 29

As for their poison of choice, unlike much of South Africa alcohol is not the number one substance of choice in the Mother City. In fact, the most popular primary drug taken in Cape Town is crystal meth (tik) at 28%, followed by dagga at 21% and then alcohol at 20%.

Much of the demand is from the young

One notable change in those seeking help has been the surge in young people seeking help.

Fortuin said: “Our clients become younger and younger – 40% are under 21.”

She said drugs have become a problem particularly in disadvantaged areas, where children are often left unsupervised while their parents work and where there is a lack of organised recreation on offer.

She added: “Also the people dealing [drugs] portray the flashy kind of lifestyle that attracts young people.”

Sacendu’s figures show that 17% of people admitted for treatment in the first six months of 2013 were between the ages of 15 to 19.

Fortuin said the problem is difficult to address as it impacts on various levels: Work needs to be done on prevention and intervention – in schools and communities – as well as on breaking the supply chains and offering rehabilitation.

According to WHO’s figures, less than 25% of the country has community based programmes in place, while 25% to 49% of schools have programmes in place.

Minister Fritz said: “We believe the main reasons include a combination of increased availability of drugs, high unemployment levels, lack of alternative activities for young people, increasing problems of absent parents [due to work commitments or other reasons], and an increasing occurrence of family dysfunction.”

The burden of being ‘born free’

According to the UN’s World Drug Report 2012, the abolition of apartheid in 1994 brought about a “major change for Africa”, and notably for Southern Africa.

It ended decades of international isolation and increased South Africa’s exposure to transnational drug trafficking.

According to the report, traffickers took advantage of the country’s good infrastructure and South Africa emerged as a “transit hub” for cocaine shipments from South America destined for Europe, as well as for heroin shipments from Afghanistan and Pakistan destined for Europe.

Official police figures show that in just under a decade, drug related crimes have risen by 31% in the Western Cape from 62 689 in 2003/03 to 82 062 last year. 

Meanwhile, the UN claims that the increased exposure to drugs post-apartheid “led in turn to increased domestic illicit drug use”.

Fortuin said accessibility is one of the main reasons for the rise in young people taking drugs. “It’s easy to get drugs on the street – people are dealing in the open.”

Read more on:    cape town  |  narcotics

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