Pubdate: Wed, 08 Jun 2016
Source: Cape Times (South Africa)
Copyright: 2016 Cape Times
Author: Quinton Mtyala


ONE of the Western Cape's top police officers has called for a review 
of South Africa's war on drugs.

And the SA National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (Sanca) 
and the Central Drug Authority (CDA) agreed with the province's 
deputy police commissioner, Jeremy Vearey, that a strict regime of 
law enforcement and demand reduction had been ineffective in fighting 
the use of illegal drugs.

In a status update posted recently on Facebook, Vearey used the 
example of a Liverpool psychiatrist, John Marks, who while consulting 
for Britain's National Health Service in the early 1980s, gave crack 
cocaine and heroin to his drug-addicted patients to prevent them from 
"robbing and mugging to fund their habit".

Marks's programme was eventually shut down in 1995 after much 
controversy over his methods.

Vearey argued the approach to "the war on drugs" in the UK in the 
1980s and early 1990s was very similar to the current one in South 
Africa, especially the Cape Flats. "While the socio-economic 
conditions still remain what they systemically are as here, the human 
and social costs during Marks's time qualitatively changed for his 
prescription patients, their families, the local community and the police.

"In my experience as a police officer on the Cape Flats at the 
receiving end of the rhetorical war on drugs, I have heard many 
doctors, police officers, parents of addicts and addicts like those 
of Merseyside and Widnes speak the same language on how to deal with 
the drug problem and the failed war on drugs. Perhaps it's time to 
listen to them, instead of those who talk about, for and on behalf of 
them, without really hearing them," wrote Vearey on his Facebook page.

Vearey said he preferred to not comment further on the matter, but 
stood by his Facebook statement.

Sanca spokesperson Adrie Vermeulen said South African authorities 
were dealing with the demand reduction side of fighting drugs.

"The focus is not where it should be, it should be on prevention. It 
starts with our communities and families... We're putting a Band-Aid 
on the problem," said Vermeulen.

She said instead of law enforcement, the focus should be placed on 
the root causes of addiction, which, according to her, were poverty 
and unemployment. Vermeulen said Sanca treated about 12 000 people a 
year and reached around 300 000 through its drug prevention campaigns.

The Central Drug Authority estimates that South Africa has about 2 
million drug users. "We're still not reaching enough people. Our 
focus is not just illegal drugs, but also over-the-counter 
medication," said Vermeulen.

Sultan Bahu Treatment Centre director Shafiek Davids said the best 
treatment for drug addicts was "opiate substitution therapy".

CDA chairperson Mogotsi Kalaeamodimo said he agreed with Vearey that 
drug dealers should not have excessive power, and that the 
authorities had to ensure that South Africans were protected and 
safe. "When we rehabilitate people... there are certain substances 
that are used to take out certain drugs from the system... that is 
exactly what we are doing," said Kalaeamodimo.

He said the trend internationally was to push for "substitution 
therapy" for specific cases of drug abuse.

The national Department of Social Development disagreed with Vearey 
and called his statement "unfortunate".

"Law enforcement is also requested to strengthen their role to deal 
with the supply of drugs," said spokesperson Lumka Oliphant.

Mitchells Plain, the area where Vearey was previously the cluster 
commander, has had the highest number of drug-related crimes in South 
Africa, with 6 044 incidents recorded for 2014. SAPS crime statistics 
showed that 60% of reported crime was fuelled by drug abuse, while 
this number stood at 80% in the Western Cape.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom