Young kids crave dagga

2016-11-13 06:00

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A study that was released this week reveals that close to 10% of South Africa’s children are abusing drugs before they turn 13.

The study, conducted by the nongovernmental organisation Soul City Institute for Social Justice, has also found that children’s drug of choice is marijuana, also known as cannabis or dagga. It goes on to warn of serious consequences in adulthood for these young users.

Bongiwe Ndondo, senior manager for research, monitoring and evaluations at the institute, said:

“You will appreciate that a child’s 13th birthday is at the end of primary school – that is how early some of these drugs are reaching young people.

“The sad part about this is its detrimental effect on the health, wealth and security of the country.”

The study cites tik (methamphetamine) as the drug of choice among adults.

It is a highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system.

The study, called Drug and Substance Abuse among Youth and Young Women in South Africa, entailed reviewing the current literature on substance abuse in the country. Researchers ploughed through a heap of local research work.

Releasing its findings in Johannesburg, the institute revealed that the abuse of over-the-counter drugs in South Africa was twice that of the global average. It also showed that South Africa had the highest rate of illicit drug use and abuse in Africa.

“If you look at the region, our habits are sometimes 10 times that of countries in the subregion,” Ndondo said.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, about 5.7% of the world’s population aged between 15 and 64 has used illicit drugs.

However, in South Africa, it is estimated that more than 15% of the population has a drug problem.

This figure remains contested, though, given a lack of solid information on substance use by the general population.

Ndondo cited a study, conducted in 2011, which found that 18% of men admitted to having used cannabis.

Of these, 14% had used it a month before the study was conducted and 7% did so before they turned 13.

The study also showed that women used cannabis, albeit on a much lower scale than their male counterparts. About 7% of women reported having used cannabis.

Of these, 5% had used it in the previous month and 2.5% did so before their 13th birthday.

Ndondo said the findings, though shocking, were necessary to enable society and the state to “know what to do, how to go about doing it and [know] who should be doing it”.

“Part of the problem is the absence of comprehensive data and a theoretical framework that we can use to address the problem.

"A lot of strategies aimed at trying to fight drug use or abuse are fragmented,” she added.

Official information also suggests that illegal drug consumption costs South Africa’s economy at least 6.4% of gross domestic product – or R136 billion a year.

These costs are incurred from treatment, social development and policing, as well as education and awareness campaigns.

Dr David Bayever, deputy chairperson at the Central Drug Authority – which has an independent mandate, but is housed within the department of social development – shared similar concerns.

“Introducing drugs, including alcohol, when under the age of 25, while the brain and body are still developing, may have profound and lifelong effects that are often only identified in later years,” he said.

Bayever also expressed concern about the 3 000 South Africans imprisoned in various countries on drug trafficking charges, the majority of whom were women.

“Young girls are particularly vulnerable and easily lured into what appears to be a lavish lifestyle.

"They are recruited in schools and tertiary institutions, where education is disrupted with the promise of a healthy reward,” he said, adding that government was working with relevant stakeholders to try to combat this scourge.

The state’s interventions include the development of the National Drug Master Plan 2018-22, which is being refined through a consultative national process involving stakeholders in government and civil society, and substance abusers themselves.

In addition, an interministerial committee on alcohol and substance abuse is working on policy, laws and strategies to reduce supply and demand for alcohol and illicit drugs.

This includes educating potential users, reducing the quantity of substances available on the market – by destroying dagga crops, for instance – and ensuring that treatment and aftercare are provided, free of charge, to substance abusers.


- Narcotics Anonymous SA is an association of recovering addicts helping each other stay off drugs.

It offers help to anyone who has a drug problem through addiction treatment and discussion forums.

- Government rehabilitation centres in most provinces – notably the Western Cape, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

- A number of nongovernmental organisations located throughout the country – including the SA National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) – offer treatment for substance abuse.

Some provide it free of charge. Others, like Sanca, offer it at a cost. Most medical aids cover treatment at Sanca’s facilities. 

The department of social development also pays for a certain number of days for patients without private insurance and who earn less than R3 000 a month.


What can be done to fight the drugs scourge?

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Read more on:    un  |  health  |  narcotics

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