Western Cape deputy police commissioner Jeremey Vearey. File picture: Cindy Waxa

 Cape Town - One of the Western Cape’s top police officers has called for a review of South Africa’s war on drugs.

And the SA National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (Sanca) and the Central Drug Authority (CDA) agreed with the province’s deputy police commissioner, Jeremy Vearey, that a strict regime of law enforcement and demand reduction had been ineffective in fighting the use of illegal drugs.

In a status update posted recently on Facebook, Vearey used the example of a Liverpool psychiatrist, John Marks, who while consulting for Britain’s National Health Service in the early 1980s, gave crack cocaine and heroin to his drug-addicted patients to prevent them from “robbing and mugging to fund their habit”.

Marks’s programme was eventually shut down in 1995 after much controversy over his methods.

Vearey argued the approach to “the war on drugs” in the UK in the 1980s and early 1990s was very similar to the current one in South Africa, especially the Cape Flats. “While the socio-economic conditions still remain what they systemically are as here, the human and social costs during Marks’s time qualitatively changed for his prescription patients, their families, the local community and the police.

“In my experience as a police officer on the Cape Flats at the receiving end of the rhetorical war on drugs, I have heard many doctors, police officers, parents of addicts and addicts like those of Merseyside and Widnes speak the same language on how to deal with the drug problem and the failed war on drugs. Perhaps it’s time to listen to them, instead of those who talk about, for and on behalf of them, without really hearing them,” wrote Vearey on his Facebook page.

Vearey said he preferred to not comment further on the matter, but stood by his Facebook statement.

Sanca spokesperson Adrie Vermeulen said South African authorities were dealing with the demand reduction side of fighting drugs.

“The focus is not where it should be, it should be on prevention. It starts with our communities and families… We’re putting a Band-Aid on the problem,” said Vermeulen.

She said instead of law enforcement, the focus should be placed on the root causes of addiction, which, according to her, were poverty and unemployment. Vermeulen said

Sanca treated about 12 000 people a year and reached around 300 000 through its drug prevention campaigns.

The Central Drug Authority estimates that South Africa has about 2 million drug users. “We’re still not reaching enough people. Our focus is not just illegal drugs, but also over-the-counter medication,” said Vermeulen.

Sultan Bahu Treatment Centre director Shafiek Davids said the best treatment for drug addicts was “opiate substitution therapy”.

CDA chairperson Mogotsi Kalaeamodimo said he agreed with Vearey that drug dealers should not have excessive power, and that the authorities had to ensure that South Africans were protected and safe. “When we rehabilitate people… there are certain substances that are used to take out certain drugs from the system… that is exactly what we are doing,” said Kalaeamodimo.

He said the trend internationally was to push for “substitution therapy” for specific cases of drug abuse.

The national Department of Social Development disagreed with Vearey and called his statement “unfortunate”.

“Law enforcement is also requested to strengthen their role to deal with the supply of drugs,” said spokesperson Lumka Oliphant.

Mitchells Plain, the area where Vearey was previously the cluster commander, has had the highest number of drug-related crimes in South Africa, with 6 044 incidents recorded for 2014. SAPS crime statistics showed that 60% of reported crime was fuelled by drug abuse, while this number stood at 80% in the Western Cape.

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Cape Times