Drug laws under review

2007-08-20 23:18

Johannesburg - Drug laws considered outdated are being reviewed in order to improve the state's response to drug and substance abuse, Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya said on Monday.

Speaking in Pretoria, he said the Prevention of and Treatment of Substance Abuse Bill, already approved by Cabinet, would replace the Prevention and Treatment of Drug Dependency Act of 1992.

"Amongst its shortcomings, it focuses primarily on institutional treatment and very little provision is made for prevention, community-based and out-patient services."

He said the proposed legislation promoted more community-based services, placed greater emphasis on preventative services, and would be more sensitive to the needs of children.

'Binge drinking is acceptable behaviour'

"We look forward to vigorous participation by the public and stakeholders when Parliament holds public hearings on the bill."

In his address Skweyiya highlighted certain aspects of the scourge.

"A third of heavy-duty long-distance drivers admit to using drugs to relax and to stay awake. The main drugs used in this instance are alcohol and dagga," he said.

"It is estimated that alcohol abuse is a factor in nearly half of road crashes. This results in a cost to the country of about 7 000 lives annually."

He said each citizen had a role to play in the fight against drugs.

"The abuse of drugs and alcohol is influenced by the degree of tolerance by citizens in a particular country," he said.

"The promotion of the perception, for example, that the use of dagga is not harmful, or that excessive or binge drinking is acceptable behaviour over weekends undermines all efforts at combating this scourge."

Skweyiya said dagga and alcohol were still the most abused substances in South Africa.

"Estimates are that 2.2 million people use dagga, or cannabis. In the second category are cocaine, heroin, speed, LSD, hashish, ecstasy, tik and others."

On alcohol, he said, about 11 million family members in the country had to endure the turmoil of living with problem or risky drinkers.

"Harmful drinking is defined as people drinking first thing in the morning, drinking to intoxication and also imbibing alcohol in-between mealtimes."

Skweyiya said a conservative estimate of the economic costs to South Africa of alcohol abuse, based on research studies conducted in other countries, was between R8.7bn and R17.4bn per year.