The UN World Summit on Social Development held in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1995 emphasised the importance of dealing with the challenges facing families in the whole world and these include crime, HIV and AIDS, moral degeneration, violence against vulnerable family members, poverty and youth unemployment.
Each year, the UN puts forward a theme for the International Day of Families and the International Day against Drug abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The theme for the 2019 International Conference is “The Impact of Substance Abuse on Families.” As part of government’s response to the scourge on substance abuse, from the 31 October-02 November 2019, the Department of Social Development (DSD) hosted the National Conference on Substance Abuse and Family Related Interventions.
Held at the Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre in Gauteng, the conference brought together government, civil society, the private sector and drug experts, among others, to discuss ways to effectively combat drug and substance abuse.
Substance abuse has become a global concern with notably negative effects on the health of those affected as noted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC, 2010). While it was initially thought of as an urban problem, it has now also permeated rural areas, due to high poverty and unemployment rates among the youth who are more susceptible and vulnerable.
According to Drug use statistics in South Africa as reported by the United Nations World Drug Report of 2014: Drug Abuse remains a growing problem in South Africa with 7.06% of our population abusing narcotics of some kind. One in every 14 people is regular users adding up to a total of 3.74 million people (taken as a percentage of the population as of 2013).
Substance abuse is one of the national and global problems which impact negatively on daily activities. Substance abuse is said to be amongst key destroyers of countries’ economies and South Africa is not exempted from this phenomenon. Abuse of alcohol and drugs causes a multi-billion-rand dent on the South African economy every year.
The annual cost to the country of alcohol abuse alone, in terms of absenteeism, lost productivity, health and welfare costs and alcohol-related crime is estimated at up to 10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or as much as R37.9-billion annually, according to a 2017 study in the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ).
As part of the response to the country’s drug problem, the DSD has developed and promulgated the Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse Act.
“This legislation is currently under review so that it is responsive to present-day substance abuse-related challenges,” said Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu at the end of the three-day conference.
In addition South Africa has also enacted the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act as a response to drug and human trafficking calamity in the country.
Another way in which the department is working to tackle the country’s substance abuse levels is through the National Drug Master Plan that was first implemented between 2013 and 2017. This plan was independently evaluated. The findings and recommendations of the evaluation informed the second iteration of the plan.
“The reviewed National Drug Master Plan has recently been approved by Cabinet and it will be implemented during the 2019 to 2024 period,” said Minister Zulu.
The plan outlines strategies to combat the abuse of drugs and substances in South Africa. The plan 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.
There is a greater and more urgent need today in South Africa to consolidate the legislation proposed and currently in place by government, the work of civil society organisations and the various support in the form of research and the financial support from the private sector. The response from government to the escalating pandemic of alcohol and substance abuse in South Africa needs for all hands to be on deck. The government, civil society and business can no longer afford to work in siloes while the problem still persists. The commitments made through this conference are an indication that South Africa is aware of the problem and is active in its response.