By Nkele Sebasa
Alcohol and substance abuse affects families and communities across the world and the risks associated with them are well documented. The scourge of alcohol, drug and substance abuse knows no bounds and cuts across race, class and social barriers.
They contribute to violent crimes, road fatalities, gender-based violence and femicide, breakdown of families as well as life threatening health problems, with severe impact on health facilities. Regrettably, South Africa is one of the countries that has a serious problem with alcohol and substance abuse and was identified in 2022 by Harm Reduction International in its Global State of Harm Reduction report as having become one of the world’s largest methamphetamine markets.
We have over the years seen a growing trend in a number of young people who are involved in alcohol and substance abuse. Underage drinking has been a growing problem, especially with the increase in “pens ’down parties” which are held by pupils to celebrate after writing their exams.
We have had incidents where pupils are reported to have died, drowned or suffered physical violence while at these parties. This state of affairs is a concern to government and we need everyone to stand up and fight. It is our joint responsibility to combat alcohol and substance abuse and work to eradicate it in our communities. We should also not forget that the police need the support of all role players, and especially that of parents and communities to win this fight.
Substance abuse destroys the fabric of our society and contributes significantly to a range of health related conditions such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, as well as chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and mental disorders.
Our plan to fight the scourge of substance abuse is therefore an integrated one. At its core is the National Drug Master Plan (NMDP) which is our national blueprint to combat drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking and mitigate its negative effects on society.
The plan outlines strategies to combat the abuse of drugs and substances in South Africa. It proposes seven strategic goals to combat the abuse of drugs within communities. It also proposes dealing with the reduction of the demand for drugs, tighter control of drugs intended for therapeutic use, as well as governance, leadership and accountability of the execution of the plan.
This plan will also ensure that the Central Drug Authority’s capacity to carry out its work is strengthened.
However, government alone cannot win this battle. Substance abuse is complex and requires a multi-stakeholder and integrated approach towards a drug free society.
We urge parents and community structures to play a role in raising awareness and providing support to those affected by drug and alcohol abuse. Parents, caregivers and teachers are encouraged to be on the lookout for signs of drug abuse, which include sudden behavioural change or change in physical appearance, possession of drug-related equipment such as pipes, rolling papers or small decongestant bottles.
If children display symptoms of alcohol and substance abuse, parents and guardians are encouraged to discuss it openly with them, and assist them to find help. They need to encourage and help their children to avoid alcohol-related problems by talking about the dangers of drinking.
For more information and assistance in fighting substance abuse, call the SADAG 24 hour Substance Abuse Helpline on 0800 12 13 14. You can also call the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) on 011 892 3829 or send a WhatsApp message to 076 535 1701.
We encourage young people not to allow peer pressure to get the better of them; do not drink because your friends are drinking. Remember, you can still have fun without alcohol.
We also call on liquor traders not to sell alcohol to minors and if they suspect that a patron visiting their establishment may be a minor, they should request an ID. The National Liquor Act states that serving alcohol to persons under the age of 18 years old is illegal.
Government is resolute that we will not allow substance abuse to destroy our communities; join us as we fight this scourge. Let us work together to root out the sale of illicit drugs within communities and say no to drugs.