Communities role in fighting drug abuse

By Busi Kheswa


Ever heard of the story of the neighbour’s dog that alerted parents to the drowning of their epileptic son or a housebreaking foiled by a vigilant neighbour who alerted police to a strange vehicle parked on the neighbour driveway?    

Harking back to time gone by Mary McAleese, an Irish author, talks of ‘…a time when a neighbour helped neighbour, sharing what little they had out of necessity as well as decency’.  In these troubled times, we need this spirit perhaps more than we ever did.

Our shared humanity and the constant struggle with drugs makes this an imperative. If we do not learn to know and protect our communities, we will continue to be ravaged by illegal substance abuse.

Substance abuse prevention, treatment and rehabilitation is one of the prioritized programmes within the Gauteng Department of Social Development, and therefore critical in improving the quality of lives of vulnerable groups.

In all our little spaces, we are either directly affected or know someone who is affected by substance abuse.

Drug Abuse remains a growing problem in South Africa with 7.06% of our population abusing narcotics of some kind.

One in every 14 people are regular users adding up to a total of 3.74 million people according to drug use statistics in South Africa as reported by the United Nations World Drug Report of 2014. A study by Christian and Drug Support, a non-government organisation, revealed some disturbing statistics on drug consumption where South Africa is said to be at 15% of youth with a drug problem, resulting in an economic impact of R20-billion a year. 

This paints a worrisome picture to say the least, substance abuse continues to ravage the society. Families, communities and trust has been broken due to alcohol and drug abuse.

According to African Journal for Physical Health Education published on Sabinet, in the past few years South Africa has experienced an increase in the amount and types of illicit drug manufacturing, use and distribution. This has resulted in an increase in the burden of mental health across communities. The patterns of drug use have been linked to regional and country variations, socio-economic status, racial and geographical differences. ‘Nyaope’ is one of the designer or cocktail drugs commonly used in Black townships and has been in circulation for more than ten years. There is a dearth of scientific studies on this commonly used and very addictive psychoactive substance.

A study conducted by the same source explored the experiences of ‘nyaope’ users in three provinces of South Africa. A qualitative design, involving a combination of in-depth interviews and focus group discussions, was used to collect data. The results showed that a large number of youth, both male and female users, who initially enjoyed experimenting with the drug, but became addicted, regret ever starting to take the drug.

The Gauteng Provincial Government has recently launched a provincial anti-substance abuse strategy, and embedded at the core of this strategy is the Social Movement against Substance Abuse. This campaign intends to arouse the intensification of government programmes to fight the scourge of substance abuse, in partnership with business, NPOs, community structures and individuals, with community activism at the centre.

The social movement is encouraging all of us to partake in the fight against the substance abuse, therefore meaning none of us can afford to be a bystander in this struggle. If we fold our arms and say I’m immune to this, we run a risk of having a society that will never be drug free. We should never wait for drugs to hit home to act.

The strategy seeks to strengthen government’s effort in provision of holistic treatment to service users and their families, and mitigating the social, psychological and health impact of substance abuse. The second pillar aims to discourage the abuse of substances through prevention and awareness programmes. The third pillar refers to efforts aimed at stopping the production and distribution of illegal liquor, illicit substances and associated crimes through law enforcement strategies as provided for in applicable laws.

All these pillars will amount to nothing in the absence of the social movement. Individuals, families and communities at large need to take responsibility and be activists in this movement.

Let us work together to curb this social ill, which contributes to other social ills such as crime and gender-based violence. Let’s vouch to be each other’s keepers. Let us not despair, take charge in reporting drug lords, drug dens and any suspicious activities. Let us participate in anti-drug related community-based structures

Government is indeed trying in curbing the scourge, but concerted effort and support is needed from individuals, business, NPOs, churches and law enforcers to pull together to overcome this monster that seeks to rob, particularly our youth.

Busi Kheswa works at the Gauteng Department of Social Development

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