The abuse of illegal and over-the-counter drugs was seemingly growing and needed to be dealt with urgently, said the chairperson of the SA Medical Association, Mzukisi Grootboom. He added that South Africa continued to be the regional hub for drug trafficking in and out of the country.
“Drug dependency, in all its forms, is a massive problem that creates serious health, social, legal, and economic problems for the country. We need to stand together to deal with this and say ‘enough is enough’.”
Grootboom said the United Nations recognised South Africa as the regional hub for drug trafficking, and was the largest transit zone for illicit drugs in Southern Africa.
This was unsettling, he said.
“South Africa is battling not only the scourge of certain uniquely South African illicit ‘street drugs’, such as nyaope, but also the increasing abuse of legal medications, such as ARVs, painkillers and cough syrup, leading to what has been called ‘silent addictions’.”
He said South Africa also had the highest incidence of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world, rampant teenage drug abuse, unemployment and a culture of violence. Statistics revealed that the most commonly used drugs were alcohol, dagga, cocaine and Mandrax.
Recently nyaope (also called whoonga), a mix of some scheduled drugs and antiretroviral medication, has become dramatically popular in the country’s townships. Studies also put the rate of alcohol use among South Africans at nearly 40%. The prevalence of tobacco use was at about 30%, while dagga was at about 8%.
The SA National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey (YRBS) found that 15% of pupils admitted to using over-the-counter drugs to get high. The same study found that 11.5% of pupils had tried at least one drug, such as heroin, Mandrax, sugars (a mix of residual cocaine and heroin) or tik.
The YRBS said 50% of the patients seen at specialist treatment facilities chose cannabis as the primary substance of abuse. For heroin, the proportion was 8%-23%.
“The abuse of all forms of drugs is a huge problem that needs urgent attention, and we applaud the SA National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence’s efforts to deal with it,” Grootboom said.