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IT’S an epidemic bigger than Aids – and more than 15 percent of SA’s population is addicted to substances.

“More people live with and die from an addiction than from HIV/Aids in SA, but this is not known because the issue isn’t sexy,” said the CEO of Addiction Action Campaign (AAC), Warren Whitfield. “Everyone is prone to it and affected by it.

“We’re living in an epidemic.”

He said, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, 15 percent of SA’s population are problem drug users – meaning 7.5 million people in SA need addiction treatment and less than 1 percent can afford it.

“We receive at least 99 percent of our enquiries from people who can’t even afford the cheapest programmes,” said Whitfield, during Drug Awareness Week last week.

He said drug abuse was not limited to socio-economic backgrounds or race or gender. Nor was it limited to class or religion.

It affected everyone, either directly or indirectly.

“There isn’t an area in South Africa that is not affected by drug addiction or alcoholism.

“According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2009 report, 15 percent of South Africans are problem drug users.

“Sandtonians can afford narcotics and drugs like alcohol.

“Addiction tends to last longer as long as you have money and tends to become exposed when one breaks the law or runs out of money,” Whitfield said.

Most of the telephonic requests they got for help were from the Sandton/Randburg areas. And there had been an increase in drug abuse in the greater Joburg area.

Drugs were easily accessible in neighbourhoods, from dealers in schools, on street corners and in parks, he said.

In areas such as Windsor and Hillbrow, for example, dealers often gathered in the same place to make exchanges with their clients.

Dealers were even known to make deliveries to homes.

It was no longer about how to get drugs but rather what the most convenient way was.

“We have found though that the street dealers are seeing more business. It is literally a case of stop and go.

“A deal takes less than three seconds. Deliveries take longer,” said Quintin van Kerken of the Anti-Drug Alliance SA.

“There are just too many people living in SA with an addiction from too many different socio-economic groups,” said Whitfield.

“Once a client and a dealer have exchanged numbers, there is hardly any risk involved in making purchases as dealers deliver to your door now.”

Cost of drugs

Drugs can cost anything from R10 to R300 and differ from area to area, according to the Anti Drug Alliance of SA.

“Anything from R30 for dagga/heroin to R50 per rock for crack, R250 to R300 for a gram of CAT or cocaine.

“But once a user begins, it costs a lot for a binge. A crack user can easily spend R40 000 in 5 days on a binge,” said Whitfield.

Heroin costs between R20 and R40 a “baggie”. This is enough for one or two hits.

Tik pricing is generally R30 or R40 for a “straw” (a 2.5-3cm long straw filled with tik and sealed on both ends), and between R150 to R250 a gram, depending on area.

Psylocibin mushrooms (magic mushrooms) cost between R150 and R300 a bag, depending on area and quantity.

Mandrax is between R15 and R50 a pill.

Marijuana or dagga prices are quite different. For R30 in the township you can get the same amount as they charge R200 for in the suburbs (for a “banky”).

Quantity and quality makes a difference.

Price depends on area as well. The average price for a banky in the north ranges from R50 to R250, however, dealers will sell a joint for R10 or R15.

Sanca listed 52 different types of drugs that are abused and they included tranquilizers and other over the counter drugs and steroids.

Our drug use

The Central Drug Authority (CDA) released a study done in 2010 to the Department of Social Development in September last year. These were the findings:

l Drug use was at twice the world’s norm in SA;

l Poverty, crime, drugs and unemployment ranked as the highest community concerns;

l 40 percent of people knew of support structures while 60 percent did not;

l Alcohol, dagga, medication, tobacco and glue were the most used drugs followed by heroin, cocaine and mandrax;

l Communities associated crime, with violence, abnormal behaviour, HIV/Aids, death and damage to the body as well as the social ills connected to drug abuse;

l Factors increasing the abuse of drugs were unemployment, poverty, lack of parenting, influence, lack of knowledge and mental illness; and

l Family history and availability of drugs were the highest ranking factors.