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Navigating the Shadows: Understanding Methamphetamine Use in South Africa

Updated: Jan 27

Methamphetamine Use in South Africa: Trends, Risks, and Compassionate Interventions

Delve into the complex landscape of Methamphetamine (Tik or Crystal Meth) use in South Africa. Explore treatment admissions, regional trends, and the characteristics of Methamphetamine. Uncover public health risks associated with injection drug use and scrutinize harm reduction and treatment services. Discover the gender-sensitive interventions needed and address challenges in Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) accessibility. Learn about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on substance use and conclude with recommendations for a more compassionate and inclusive approach to substance use disorder management in South Africa.



Methamphetamine, known colloquially as Tik or Crystal Meth, has entrenched itself in the complex tapestry of substance use in South Africa. This article explores the treatment admissions and regional trends, delves into the characteristics of methamphetamine, scrutinizes the public health risks associated with injection drug use, examines harm reduction and treatment services, highlights gender-sensitive interventions, addresses challenges in opioid substitution therapy (OST) accessibility, delves into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and concludes with recommendations to pave the way for a more comprehensive and compassionate approach to substance use disorder management.

Treatment Admissions and Regional Trends

Treatment admissions for Methamphetamine (MA) as a primary substance of use reveal a mixed landscape across South Africa. While generally low in various sites, the Western Cape (WC) and the Eastern Cape (EC) stand out with higher prevalence. In the WC, MA took the lead as the most common primary drug in 2020, indicating a concerning spike compared to previous periods. Among individuals under 20, the proportion reporting MA as a primary or secondary substance of use surged significantly, reaching a staggering 52%.

Characteristics of Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine, a potent stimulant, orchestrates a chemical dance in the brain by elevating dopamine levels. Short-term effects, including reduced appetite, heightened wakefulness, motivation, and increased energy levels, give way to potential harms that are dose-dependent. These may include psychosis, sleep deprivation, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other side effects, often exacerbated by concurrent use of other drugs.

Injection Drug Use and Public Health Risks

Methamphetamine ranked as the second most injected drug after heroin, brings forth a host of public health risks. The act of injecting, often without access to sterile equipment, becomes a breeding ground for bloodborne viruses, including HIV and HCV. Moreover, the drug's influence on sexual drive is linked to the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, presenting a double-edged sword that heightens vulnerability.

Harm Reduction and Treatment Services

Specialist substance use treatment centres strive to provide psychosocial services, including detoxification and opioid substitution maintenance therapy (OST) in selected programs. Civil society organizations implement needle and syringe services across nine health districts, integrated with behaviour change interventions. Yet, community-based overdose prevention and treatment services remain limited, exposing a treatment gap that persists, especially in marginalized communities and among women.

Gender-Sensitive Interventions

Treatment centres predominantly catering to adult males contribute to a significant treatment gap for women. Gender-sensitive interventions emerge as a crucial necessity to address the complex needs of women, including those who are pregnant or have minor children. Bridging this divide is essential for a more inclusive and effective approach to substance use disorder management.

Opioid Substitution Maintenance Therapy (OST) and Accessibility Challenges

The demand for OST exceeds availability, leading to waiting lists in centres where this service is provided. Shockingly, only 1% of people who inject drugs have access to OST, a far cry from the WHO and UNODC recommendation for high OST coverage (>40%) for a population-level impact on HIV and viral hepatitis epidemic control.

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic unmasked vulnerabilities within the substance use landscape. Over 1,076 homeless people with opioid dependence in Tshwane and 240 in eThekwini were placed on methadone to manage opioid withdrawal, emphasizing the critical role of essential services during challenging times.


Addressing the treatment gap and ensuring gender-sensitive interventions are crucial for comprehensive substance use disorder management. Expanding harm reduction services and increasing accessibility to OST can contribute significantly to minimizing public health risks associated with drug use. These recommendations serve as beacons, guiding South Africa towards a more inclusive and compassionate future in the realm of substance use management.

Continue Reading

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Comprehensive Policy for Substance Use Disorders

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Approach to Substance Reduction Strategies

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