Young children should be at school, learning and playing. Yet, reports indicate that Gauteng’s youngest drug dealer is an eight-year-old boy from Douglasdale.
A 2010 study reports that 12% of all South African learners have used at least one illegal drug, including heroin, mandrax and cocaine. This figure is one of the highest in the African region.
Furthermore, by the age of 18, more than 60% of teenagers have been drunk. Studies have also shown that children who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times likelier to become alcoholics.
Drug use in South Africa
“Drug use among the country’s youth is rife and unfortunately continues to escalate. The average age of experimentation in South Africa is 12 – and decreasing,” says Shelley Andersen, accredited addictions counsellor at Akeso Clinic Umhlanga.
“While the age of patients undergoing treatment in Gauteng ranged from nine to 82, the proportion of patients aged 10 to 19 increased to 29%, according to the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) report from March 2017.”
Anderson adds: “Youth issues largely prevalent include bullying, peer pressure, stress, depression, anxiety, anger, self-harming, low self-worth and suicide attempts. Many learners report that they have been offered, sold or given illicit drugs at schools."
South Africa has a drug problem
According to Dr David Bayever of South Africa’s Central Drug Authority (CDA), South Africans are among the top 10 narcotics and alcohol abusers in the world – twice that of the world norm. Dr Bayever says at least 15% of South Africans have a drug problem, and this number is expected to rise.
Bronwyn Meyers, chief specialist scientist in the alcohol and drug abuse unit of the South African Medical Research Council (MRC), says 11% of the South African population (about 5.7 million people) will suffer from an addiction disorder in their lifetime.
“Drug use can cause serious health problems and may also have serious mental health consequences,” cautions Andersen.
Drug use, including smoking, can lead to diseases that can be fatal, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/Aids, hepatitis and lung disease.
“A person on drugs is also more likely to have accidents while driving, at work, at home, at parties. Drug use can make people angry and violent. Worse still, drug use can make people with depression feel worse – sometimes to the point that they become suicidal. Drug overdoses can kill people and this rate is also escalating worldwide,” Andersen stresses.