Pubdate: Mon, 11 Jul 2016
Source: Witness, The (South Africa)
Copyright: 2016 The Witness.
Author: Vinayak Bhardwaj, - Africa Check.
Note: Africa Check is a non-partisan organisation that promotes 
accuracy in public debate:


Africa Check investigates the source of this statistic and others 
related to drug use in South Africa

TOM ROBBINS, AMERICAN AUTHOR (1932-). Any half-awake materialist well 
knows - that which you hold holds you. "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."

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 that he is said to be suffering with.

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

A June newsletter that went out to over 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 scheme 
administrator Universal Healthcare paints a dire picture.

It suggests rampant drug-related 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 that it would reply we 
have not yet received a response.

CLAIM: "15% of South Africa's population has a drug problem." 
VERDICT: incorrect

This claim has a long history. The statement that about 15% of South 
Africans having a drug problem has been quoted extensively, in a 
government press release, in a news headline, by addiction 
rehabilitation groups and among religious drug support groups.

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

The current deputy chairperson of South Africa's Central Drug 
Authority and pharmacology lecturer at University of Witwatersrand, 
David Bayever, is quoted as saying: "Fifteen percent 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 that it 
does not have information on the prevalence of drug use in South 
Africa's population. The only figures it collects are the number of 
people being treated at government-funded as well as 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, and done 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 meet 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 are related to substance abuse." VERDICT: unproven

An analyst of crime, violence and crowd behaviour, Dr Chris de Kock, 
told Africa Check that it is 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 
has "no idea where the assertion that 60% of the crimes nationally 
are related to substance abuse" comes from.

He said that while there is a strong correlation between alcohol 
abuse and interpersonal violence such as murders and assaults in 
South Africa, he is unaware of research that shows that certain crime 
is 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 United Nations World Drug Report named South Africa as one 
of the drug capitals of the world."

VERDICT: incorrect The United Nations 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 not 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 did 
not receive a reply at the time of publication.

Shelly said drug abuse must be seen in context as its drivers are 
usually socioeconomic and is 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 20132017, 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 spokesperson for SARS, Sandile Memela, said the figures they 
keep only relate to the trade in narcotics. This is based on actual 
narcotic confiscations by the police and their estimate of its street 
value. Memela said that in 2015, SARS confiscated narcotics to the 
value of R265 315 402 in 697 busts across SA.

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

Calculating the cost of substance abuse and independence is an 
"inexact science", Professor Charles Parry, an 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