The evolution of drugs in South Africa in the past two decades

The evolution of drugs. file image

The evolution of drugs. file image

Published Sep 17, 2022


Over the past two decades getting access to drugs has become easier due to a drop in prices, according to the World Drug Report 2022.

Treatment Manager at the The Sultan Bahu Centre, Shuaib Hoosain, said they have helped close to 10 000 addicts in almost two decades.

The facility has been in existence for 17 years and has treatment centres across the country, including Mitchells Plain, Bellville and Hanover Park.

Hoosain says the youngest addict they have treated was just six-years-old and the oldest 69.

This has given them insight into the changing world of addiction and the evolution of drug usage, price changes, legislative trends and health risks.

“Quite surprisingly, according to the UNODC 2022 report there has been a DROP in the prices of drugs specifically cocaine,” Hoosain said.

“With the Afghan and Iraq wars in the early 2000’s transport routes have opened up since then and Africa become the midpoint springboard to Europe and the United States.

“As a result of this, drugs have been easily transported through our permeable borders by land and via our seaports. With an increasing amount of illicit substances available, the price decreases.

“To make prices even more affordable in sub economic areas, dealers cut the substances with household adulterants.”

But with changes came threats on lifestyles and health after the legalisation of cannabis draft bill for adult persons.

Hoosain said the new legislation gave young people easy access to cannabis which is often used as an entry level drug.

He said this left many minors believing the drug was legal for them to use.

“The face of substance use has been altered by the decriminalisation of cannabis which has been misconstrued by many as legalisation,” he added.

“Current legislation specifies that the substance may be cultivated in one’s private residence and even specifies the number of plants and size, and that it may be consumed in the privacy of one’s home.

“This is primarily the exclusive preserve of adult consumers who can legally appreciate the dynamics of cannabis use and the risks that accompany it.

“What we have noted is that adolescents are under the impression that decriminalisation of the substance applies to them and invariably engage in its use.”

Another concern was the administration of drugs intravenously which opens the door to infections and sickness. Often drug users using this method tend to steer clear of treatment centres.

“What is of more concern is the increasing incidence of intravenous substances used in the various Metros of the Western Cape,” Hoosain said.

“These individuals are less likely to enter treatment services due to the stigma attached to intravenous use, the fear of acute withdrawal symptoms, and the concerning low price of heroin which can currently be obtained for as little as R15 per section.

“It also becomes apparent that heroin of this grade is not fit for injectable use and that our public health system will in doubt see an increasing number of individuals seeking care for complications as a result of infections, poisoning and other ailments.”

Hoosain said with their centres had the tools to help individuals from all walks of life: “As a result, the organisation has not only treated over 9500 clients, their respective families and support structures, but also identified the need for accessible services at all times.

“To this end, a partnership has been established with a private company, VR (Virtual Reality) Sobriety World which has resulted in the evidence-based treatment program being transitioned to a persistent online setting accessible from any computer terminal with access to the internet, making treatment available anywhere and everywhere.”

He added that the average age of users seeking help remained the same over the past two decades.

“The ages of individuals accessing treatment services have remained relatively the same over the 17 years; typically the average age of individuals accessing services is around 31-years-old.

“Incidentally the youngest addict consulted was six-years-old at the time and we had to notify the Department of Social Development.”

In the 2022 South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) it was revealed that in the Western Cape, the primary substances of use reported by 36 specialist treatment centres/programmes between the January - June 2021 were ‘Tik’ (35%), cannabis (24%), alcohol(18%) and heroin( 7 %) which together, comprised 84 percent of all admissions.

Overall, 2433 people were treated across all 36 treatment centres in the first half of 2021.

The Western Cape Department of Social Development (DSD) with the support of its Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) partners, continues to provide quality substance abuse treatment and early intervention services, despite financial constraints.

During the 2021/22 financial year, 9199 individuals accessed substance abuse prevention and treatment services offered by the Department and its partners.

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