The South African Medical Association (SAMA) called on all South Africans to join it to observe the United Nations (UN) International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. This International Day was aimed at raising awareness of, and finding solutions to, drug abuse throughout the world. This day is observed annually on 26 June.
Drug abuse has an enormous impact on health, development, peace, and security. It is a major problem, including in South Africa which is a hub, and springboard into Africa, for international drug peddlers, says Dr Mzukisi Grootboom, chairperson of SAMA.
The theme of the International Day this year was “Listen First – Listening to children and youth is the first step to help them grow healthy and safe.” The theme recognises the vulnerability of young people to risky behaviours involving abuse of drugs, and advances a preventive approach to providing youth with tenderness, skills and resilience against vulnerabilities beyond their control.
A number of factors are recognised as playing a significant role in promoting drug abuse by youth, such as poverty, poor educational opportunities, violent environments, easy access to drugs, and poor parenting.
The World Drug Report 2017 shows that in about 29.5 million people globally were involved in problematic drug use and suffered negative consequences. 12 million people inject drugs worldwide. There is a particularly greater abuse of opioids.
The extent, and cost, of drug abuse in South Africa is enormous and goes beyond the health realm. The recurring spate of multi-million rand drug busts in the country is symptomatic of the growing drug problem in South Africa. We continue to battle the scourge of dangerous street drugs such as Nyaope and tik, but also the increasing abuse of legal medications such as ARVs, pain killers, and cough syrups, which lead to what has been called silent addictions.
The South African National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey (YRBS) found 15% of learners admitting to ever using over the counter drugs to get high. The same study found that 11.5% of learners had taken at least one drug such as heroin, mandrax, sugars (cocaine) or tik before. Studies put the rate of alcohol use among South Africans at nearly 40%. This extent of drug abuse is undoubtedly fueling the epidemics of HIV/ AIDS and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that are the highest in the world, apart from violence and motor vehicle accidents.
Drug abuse is real, and we must never shy away from admitting we have a problem. As a country we need to make dealing with drug abuse a priority, not only for the sake of children now, but also for our future generations. Observance of this International Day is a good way to refocus our attention on the challenges we face, Dr Grootboom concludes.