Is drug-use amongst South African youth increasing

There has been an alarming increase in the proportion of adolescent patients at drug treatment centres countrywide, according to Charles Parry of the Medical Research Council. In Cape Town, for example, the proportion of patients under 20 drug treatment centres in Cape Town has more than doubled since 1996 from 6% to 15% in 1999.

1 in every 5 teenagers in South Africa say that they have friends experimenting with drugs, according to research conducted nationally among 640 teenagers by Research Surveys this year. Researchers interpret this to mean that 1 in every 5 kids experiment with drugs.

The end of Apartheid isolation has meant that new drugs like heroin, cocaine and crack have taken off.

“On the basis of what’€™s intercepted, you can quite safely assume that the money changing hands in the drug industry annually is at least 50 Million in the Western Cape alone. The drug supply industry is now efficient and competitive,” says Rodger Meyer of the Kenilworth Clinic Drug Treatment Centre.

Grant Jardine from the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre argues that it’€™s not necessarily that more drugs are being used, as that the drugs available are getting “harder” and that drugs are being taken at a younger age.

“People who matriculated ten years ago had no regular supply of hard drugs. Now, with Cape Town featuring on the global rave circuit, tourism and the general opening of international boundaries, there is a regular supply of addictive substances.”

“There is a definite increase in drug use, especially in junior schools. And the younger you are when you start using, the more likely you are to become addicted and the less likely you are to be able to give up. The whole developmental process which an adolescent goes through is impeded if you take drugs on a regular basis. So you don’€™t learn the skills you need to cope with life.”

Peter Powis from Stepping Stones, a drug rehabilitation centre in Cape Town, agrees: “We have people as young as 14 who have already crossed the invisible line between abuse and addiction. Before, it was grass, but now kids can be fully addicted to heroin and crack by 14 or 16.”

Ted Legget from the University of Natal points out that the pattern of drug-use across South African communities is shifting. “Historically, when looking at the drug scene you were talking about several distinct, ethnically divided drug scenes. For example, generally, coloured kids use mandrax, white kids use ecstasy and black kids are resistant to drugs except dagga.”

“But this is changing and people are being exposed to new drugs. We can expect an increase in drug-use across the board, including blacks. Larger segments of the population are getting exposed to different drugs than ever before.”

“Heroin is becoming big among white kids in Gauteng, including Pretoria. I think school kids are being targeted by dealers in this area. It’€™s scary.”

John is twenty and just out of rehab. He started getting drunk when he was 13 and smoking dagga when he was 15. By the time John was in Matric, he had started dealing to support his addiction. Sometimes, he would use R2000.00 worth of heroin, cocaine and acid in one night.

He says, “Dagga is so available. You think, “Oh, it’€™s just a spliff”, and you start smoking all the time. In the beginning, we felt like kings, self-possessed and confident. But after a while, it kills the person in you. It shoves the person in you deeper and deeper down.”

“But drugs are here, they’€™ll always be here. If you say, “No, Don’€™t try it, kids will. It’€™s when your relationship with your child starts collapsing that you need to worry. And kids need to be taught about drugs. Kids aren’€™t stupid.”

Health-e news service.


  • Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla

    Bibi-Aisha is an award-winning journalist whose career spans working in radio, television, and development. Previously, she worked for eNCA as a specialist science reporter, and the SABC as the Middle East foreign correspondent, and SAfm current affairs anchor. Her work has appeared on Al-Jazeera, The British Medical Journal, The Guardian, IPS, Nature, and Daily News Egypt. She’s been awarded reporting fellowships from the Africa-China Reporting Project, Reuters Foundation, National Press Foundation, International Women’s Media Foundation. Pfizer/SADAG, and the World Federation of Science Journalists. She’s currently an Atlantic Tekano Fellow For Health Equity 2021.

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