ADDRESSING SUBSTANCE ABUSE: A CALL FOR ACTION ON WORLD DRUG DAY

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  • The urgent issue of alcohol abuse among young people is highlighted as the world commemorates International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
  • World Drug Day 2024 focuses on raising awareness about the devastating effects of drug abuse and the importance of investing in prevention.
  • Community engagement and responsible alcohol trading are critical elements in the fight against substance abuse, emphasised through various activities during National Anti-Drug Awareness Week.

As the world commemorates International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the Department of Social Development is raising the alarm over alcohol as the primary drug of choice among young people. Observed annually on 26th June, this day, commonly referred to as World Drug Day, was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1987 to strengthen action and cooperation towards a drug-free international society.

World Drug Day 2024 holds significant importance in raising awareness about the severe consequences of drug abuse and illicit trafficking. Drugs not only destroy lives but also disrupt communities, fuel crime, and weaken economies. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), around 269 million people worldwide used drugs in 2018, and these numbers continue to rise. This day underscores the global commitment needed to address drug abuse and illicit trafficking through education, support, and rehabilitation.

The theme for World Drug Day 2024, “The evidence is clear: invest in prevention,” emphasises the importance of grounding effective drug policies in science, research, compassion, and full respect for human rights. It highlights the necessity of understanding the social, economic, and health consequences of drug use and ending stigma while strengthening prevention efforts.

Individuals can contribute to the commemoration of this day by spreading awareness, supporting local prevention and rehabilitation programs, participating in community events, and advocating for policies that address drug abuse and trafficking.

The 2024 commemoration was preceded by National Anti-Drug Awareness Week, from 18-22 June, during which the Department led various activities across all provinces to highlight the harmful effects of alcohol and drugs. On 18th June, the Department engaged with community members from Scenery Park, East London, an area grappling with high rates of substance abuse among the youth. This engagement coincided with the remembrance of the tragic deaths of 21 teenagers at Enyobeni Tavern two years ago, highlighting the ongoing challenge of drug abuse and community efforts to address this scourge.

In response to the high rates of alcohol abuse in the area, the Lion Trackers, a women’s football team, was formed to divert young people from alcohol and drug abuse. Seventeen-year-old Sombesiwe Vakela, a representative for young people and a striker for the Lion Trackers, emphasised that winning the fight against substance abuse requires community assistance. She highlighted how activities like sports can keep young people away from alcohol and drugs. Parents were urged to play an important role in ensuring that children are protected against the use, misuse, and abuse of alcohol and drugs.

In partnership with the Eastern Cape Liquor Board and SAPS, the Department engaged with liquor traders in the Ndavana Community to raise awareness about the harmful effects of alcohol and drugs and the importance of responsible trading. Ms Bongi Bozo of the Eastern Cape Liquor Board detailed the process for verifying liquor licence applications and the board’s authority to fine or arrest irresponsible traders selling alcohol to minors or pregnant women. She appealed to liquor traders to comply with trading guidelines.

One positive outcome of these engagements was the recommendation to initiate a forum led by the Liquor Board to regularly engage traders and the community on pressing issues such as illegal shebeens and the crime associated with substance abuse.

The Department also engaged the community of Nxarhuni, including children, youth, parents, and community leaders. A 12-year-old child opened the engagement with an inspirational poem urging the youth to fight for their future by staying away from harmful substances and criminal activities. Young people cited boredom, peer pressure, and easy access to drugs and alcohol as major challenges and asked parents to support initiatives that educate everyone about the risks associated with substance abuse.

Ms Motshabi Nkoane, Social Work Policy Manager at the National Department of Social Development, raised concerns about the high level of alcohol abuse in South Africa, especially among young people, including binge drinking. She stressed that substance abuse is not solely a Department of Social Development issue and called for all relevant stakeholders, including councillors, traditional leadership, and communities, to be involved in fighting substance abuse, as stipulated in the National Drug Master Plan.

The Department is particularly concerned that alcohol remains the first drug of choice for young people. The policy of Prevention and Treatment of Substance Use Disorders (SUD) is being finalised for tabling to the cabinet for approval. This policy aims to empower the country to address alcohol abuse, especially among children, and replace outdated policies with evidence-based approaches.

The International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking coincides with an international conference in Thessaloniki, Greece, by the Global Commission on Drug Policy. South Africa’s participation aims to align its interventions with international standards and certify practitioners to provide substance use services. By uniting globally and prioritising compassion and education, significant strides towards a drug-free world can be achieved.

 

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