Pubdate: Mon, 27 Jun 2016
Source: Daily News, The (South Africa)
Copyright: 2016 The Daily News.
Author: Vinayak Bhardwaj


In a newsletter that reaches 700 000 medical aid members, a health 
insurance company presented "shocking South African drug statistics". 
But Africa Check researcher Vinayak Bhardwaj, says these aren't 
strictly factual

THE APPARENT drug-related murder of a respected media personality, 
Hope Zinde, has reignited a countrywide discussion about drug abuse 
in South Africa.

Her son has been formally charged with her murder and possession of 
drugs. Media reports have linked his actions to a drug addiction he 
is said to be suffering.

But how widespread are drug abuse and dependence in South Africa?

A newsletter this month that reaches more than 700 000 principal 
medical aid members of Tiger Brands, CompCare Wellness and the 
Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS), alerted them to "shocking 
South African drug statistics".

In the Heartbeat newsletter, South African medical insurance schemes' 
administrator, Universal Healthcare, paints a dire picture.

It suggests rampant drugrelated crime with 15% of South Africans 
having a "drug problem", that the country is home to "one of the 
world's drug capitals" and that drug abuse costs the country R20 
billion a year.

But are these claims true? We asked Universal Healthcare for its 
sources. But despite saying they would reply, we have not yet 
received a response. Claim "15% of South Africa's population have a 
drug problem." Verdict  incorrect This claim has a long history. The 
statement that about 15% of South Africans have a drug problem has 
been quoted extensively, in a government press release, news 
headline, addiction rehabilitation groups and among religious drug 
support groups.

The earliest mention we could trace was in a book published in 2009 
titled PanAfrican Issues in Drugs and Drug Control: An International 

The current deputy chairman of South Africa's Central Drug Authority 
and pharmacology lecturer at University of Witwatersrand, David 
Bayever, is quoted as saying "15% of South Africans have a drug 
problem and this figure is expected to rise".

Bayever told Africa Check that "the stats are the drug authority's 
figures, not mine" and that he would have to contact another board 
member, Dr Ray Eberlain, who was responsible for putting together the 

Eberlain referred to figures compiled by the South African Community 
Epidemiology of Drug Use (Sacendu), based at the Medical Research 
Council of South Africa. He also referred us to the 2013-2017 
National Drug Master Plan.

But a Sacendu scientist, Siphokazi Dada, told Africa Check, they did 
not have information on the prevalence of drug use in South Africa's 
population. The only figures they collected were the number of people 
being treated at government-funded and at private rehabilitation 
centres. Currently, Sacendu collects data from 70% of all treatment 
centres in the country.

The most recent Sacendu report, for the first half of 2015, includes 
information from 75 rehabilitation centres and 10 936 in and 
outpatients. For most of the patients (32%) cannabis was their 
primary drug of abuse, followed by alcohol at 23%.

The drug master plan does not cite nationally representative studies 
of drug abuse in South Africa.

South Africa has no regular representative surveys on substance 
abuse. There has only been one nationally representative 
epidemiological study of alcohol, drug and psychiatric disorders, 
carried out between 2002 and 2004 mainly to diagnose mental disorders 
in adults.

The study provided figures of lifetime prevalence for any substance 
use disorders, including alcohol.

It showed that 13.3% of adult South Africans met the criteria for a 
substance use disorder, including alcohol, at some time in their life.

"Without alcohol, that figure dropped to around 4.5%," Shaun Shelley, 
a research expert in the addiction division of the department of 
mental health and psychiatry at the University of Cape Town, told Africa Check.

Over a 12-month period, the figure was 5.8% (including alcohol 
disorders) and about 1.5% for drugs alone. Claim "According to South 
African Police Service figures, 60% of crimes nationally were related 
to substance abuse." Verdict  unproven An analyst of crime, violence 
and crowd behaviour, Dr Chris de Kock, told Africa Check that it was 
impossible to determine scientifically if the perpetrator of every 
crime was under the influence of substances at the time of arrest or 
committed the crime in order to buy the substances.

That is because the investigating officer is not required to 
establish if alcohol and drugs played a role.

The head of the governance, crime and justice division of the 
Institute for Security Studies, Gareth Newham, told Africa Check he 
had "no idea where the assertion that 60% of the crimes nationally 
were related to substance abuse" came from.

He pointed out that while there was a strong correlation between 
alcohol abuse and interpersonal violence such as murders and assaults 
in South Africa, he was unaware of research that showed that certain 
crime was the result of the use of various types of drugs.

He further cautioned against making such claims. "Each drug affects 
the user differently and to make blanket statements that are not 
based on empirical evidence is not useful." Claim "The recently 
released UN world drug report named South Africa as one of the drug 
capitals of the world." Verdict  incorrect The UN Office for Drugs 
and Crimes publishes the World Drug Report every year. The most 
recent one does not make any such mention of South Africa, though.

Researcher Shaun Shelly told Africa Check that he has never seen such 
a statement in any of the UN office for drug and crimes' recent 
research reports.

We contacted the UN office to confirm this but had not received a 
reply at the time of publication.

Shelly said drug abuse had to be seen in context as its drivers were 
usually socio-economic, and often driven by policies, such as criminalisation.

"Drug use is really a symptom, not a primary cause of many of South 
Africa's issues, but it is a politically expedient target for people 
to focus on instead of addressing the real imbalances and 
inequalities in our society," he said. Claim "Drug abuse is costing 
South Africa R20 billion a year." Verdict  unproven This claim dates 
back to the central drug authority's National Drug Master Plan for 
2006-2011 but it did not contain a reference.

In the National Drug Master Plan for 2013-2017, the authority stated 
that figures from the South African Revenue Service show that the 
"known direct cost of illicit drug use in 2005 was roughly R101 000 million".

But the spokesman for the revenue service, Sandile Memela, said the 
figures they kept only relate to the trade in narcotics. This was 
based on actual narcotic confiscations by the police and their 
estimate of their street value. Memela told us that according to 
their record, the police confiscated narcotics to the value R265 
million in 697 busts across the country in 2015.

Memela said the figures "should not be misconstrued as an indication 
of the actual trade in illegal narcotics".

Calculating the cost of substance abuse and independence was an 
"inexact science", Professor Charles Parry, a substance abuse policy 
analyst at the alcohol, tobacco and other drug unit of the Medical 
Research Council, told Africa Check.

He pointed us to a South African Medical Journal study estimating the 
tangible costs of alcohol harm at R37.9 billion in 2009.

This included health care costs, lost productivity, the cost of road 
traffic accidents and the costs of responding to crime fuelled by alcohol abuse.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom