WESTERN Cape Premier Helen Zille says compulsory drug tests at schools may be on the cards in a bid to deal with the province’s “absolute crisis” of drug and alcohol addiction.
Her call has received the backing of national Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who said the Western Cape was not alone in dealing with extensive drug abuse.
He said he agreed with Zille on compulsory drug tests, and that this was long overdue.
“If there is any issue I am going to partner you on, it is the issue of drug and alcohol abuse,” Motsoaledi said.
Zille told Motsoaledi during a World Health Organisation meeting on violence yesterday that drug tests would be an incentive for pupils exposed to drug use, even at home – they would prevent them from using drugs for fear they would be caught out at school.
She also said a proposed ban on alcohol advertising, which Motsoaledi assured her and delegates was close to becoming a reality, would go a long way in the fight against binge-drinking.
Zille said substance abuse in the province was “profound, with more than 70 percent of children from Lavender Hill reporting they were exposed to violence either directly or indirectly”.
She said a teacher at one local school had tested about 15 pupils for drug use and found they were all positive. The teacher then tested the entire class, and half of the 14-year-olds tested positive.
“We have to do something quite dramatic to get to the bottom of this problem. We have an absolute crisis in the Western Cape. We should restrict or ban price promotion for alcoholic drinks as it encourages binge-drinking.”
The Western Cape is the country’s drug crime capital, accounting for nearly half of South Africa’s reported drug-related crime between April 2009 and March last year.
Of the 134 840 incidents recorded nationally, 60 409 were in the province, an increase of 14.5 percent over 2009’s figures for the region and 200 percent higher than in the same period to March 2004.
The province’s rate of drug-related crimes, at 1 127 per 100 000 people, is more than four times the national average of 273.
Motsoaledi said the proposals to introduce compulsory drug tests at schools and to ban alcohol advertising were a top priority for his department.
“I can assure you, premier, that action is going to be taken very soon. I don’t want to pre-empt this by making public announcements, but alcohol has been identified as a major risk factor for both intentional and unintentional injury.”
Motsoaledi said the government was so concerned with the burden of injuries in the health-care system that it had formed an inter-ministerial committee that would look at and redress the use of alcohol and substance abuse around the country.
He said violence was a major contributor to the quadruple burden of disease the health-care system was facing. Apart from diseases such as HIV/Aids and tuberculosis, and concerns such as maternal, infant and child mortality, injury and violence remained the biggest problem.
Of even more concern was the risk of injury through alcohol abuse.
Motsoaledi said he did not understand why a product that destroyed lives was being promoted.
“I still don’t understand how we allow a product that has such major health harms to be widely advertised, even to children.”
He said that every time the government wanted to introduce restrictions there were cries that such measures would destroy the economy.
Those involved in such debate were major tobacco companies and breweries, as well as some major media houses who cried out that they would lose profit on advertising.
“But how do you justify an economy that destroys lives? I thought the economy was meant to better lives, not destroy them,” Motsoaledi said.
Craig Househam, the head of the provincial health department, said the province’s strategies to cut alcohol consumption included reducing access to it through legislation, investing in safer drinking environments and advertising the adverse effects of alcohol.