Alcohol and drug abuse treatment unaffordable to most

Alcohol and drug abuse treatment unaffordable to mostDespite high levels of alcohol and drug abuse in Cape Town, very few public rehabilitation centres exist to provide free treatment to those without private medical aids. This is according to a recent study by the Medical Research Council. Jo Stein reports.

Despite high levels of alcohol and drug abuse in Cape Town, very few public rehabilitation centres exist to provide free treatment to those without private medical aids. This is according to a recent study by the Medical Research Council. Jo Stein reports.

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Alcohol abuse remains the most common problem seen in treatment centres in Cape Town, although the number of younger patients who abuse other substances is growing over time.

A study by the Medical Research Council shows it is still only the lucky few who can afford to attend treatment centres for drug and alcohol abuse. The numbers who attend such centres reflect only the tip of the iceberg.

“The most disadvantaged communities simply aren’€™t reflected in the treatment centre statistics. The private treatment centres are for patients who can afford it or who have access to medical aid,” says Pam Cerff of the MRC.

“We have very few institutions that can rehabilitate people, so the treatment figures reflect [the coverage of] those institutions, not those who need them. Less than 10 percent of those people who need help are able to get treatment,” says Christopher Ferndale from the Cape Metropolitan Council.

In the Cape Town region, only three of the 21 substance-abuse treatment centres are public facilities which provide treatment free of charge. Only 29 percent of patients were paid for or partly subsidised by the state, with medical aids or individuals and their families making up the rest.

The figures also show that far more coloured and white patients attend treatment centres than do blacks.

“Only four percent of those receiving treatment in the Cape Town region are black. This is despite the fact that census figures indicate that 26 percent of the Cape metropole population is black,” says Dr Charles Parry of the MRC.

“It might be that the black population aren’€™t using problematic drugs or are using less drugs, says Parry, “But it also relates to the physical and economic accessibility of treatment. There are no treatment centres in areas readily accessible to black people.”

The MRC study also shows that although the proportion of admissions for alcohol abuse has been steadily declining over the years, alcohol is still far and away the main substance of abuse for which treatment is received.

Fifty percent of patients receiving treatment during the second half of 1999 were admitted for alcohol abuse as opposed to the abuse of illegal drugs such as dagga, mandrax, crack, cocaine and ecstasy. Only 0,5 percent of those at treatment centres were injecting drug users.

Another finding is that the average age of patients at treatment centres is steadily declining. The proportion of 15-19 year olds has increased over time from five percent in 1996 to 14 percent in 1999. Patients who use illegal drugs are generally younger than patients whose primary substance of abuse is alcohol. – Health-e News Service