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The Burden of Substance Use in South Africa: A Public Health Crisis

Updated: Jan 27

South Africa's Substance Use: Strengthening Public Health Solutions

Dive into the endemic crisis of substance use in South Africa, examining its severe health and socioeconomic consequences. Discover key issues related to the prevalence of substance use disorders, trends in both licit and illicit drug consumption, and the availability of treatment and harm reduction services. Uncover insights from SACENDU on national and regional consumption patterns, emphasizing the alarming rates of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine use, particularly among vulnerable youth. Recognize the need for expanded treatment and harm reduction services to address the magnitude of problematic use, as evidenced by the substantial numbers accessing services. Conclude with a call for urgent action, emphasizing the imperative for comprehensive evidence-based policies, strong leadership, and multi-sectoral collaboration to tackle this public health emergency.


 

Substance use and misuse have become endemic in South Africa, with severe health and socioeconomic consequences. This blog provides an overview of key issues related to the prevalence of substance use disorders, trends in both licit and illicit drug consumption, vulnerable populations, and the availability of treatment and harm reduction services.


Widespread Substance Use Disorders

An estimated 13% of South Africa’s general population meets the criteria for a substance use disorder during their lifetime. Alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine contribute to social problems, risks of morbidity and mortality, and economic losses equating to 6.4% of GDP annually.


Ongoing Use in Correctional Facilities

A study in Tshwane and Polokwane correctional centres revealed that a significant proportion of inmates continue to use non-injectable and injectable substances even within these controlled settings. This highlights the endemic nature of the problem.


Patterns and Trends in Substance Consumption

Data from the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) provides insights into national and regional consumption patterns and trends. Alcohol remains the most prevalent, but concerning rates of tobacco, cannabis, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine use persist, especially among vulnerable youth. Poly-substance use is common.


Need to Expand Treatment and Harm Reduction

In the first half of 2020 alone, over 6,000 people accessed substance use disorder treatment services across 82 facilities. Harm reduction providers reached over 15,000 individuals during the same period. While an important start, capacities need to be expanded to match the sheer magnitude of problematic use.


In summary, South Africa faces an endemic crisis of substance use that requires urgent prioritization and response through comprehensive evidence-based policies, expanded treatment and harm reduction services, and dedicated efforts to address social determinants of health. Tackling this public health emergency demands strong leadership and multi-sectoral collaboration.


Continue Reading


The Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse

Substance Use Trends and Strategic Interventions

Comprehensive Policy for Substance Use Disorders

Approach to Substance Use Prevention and Treatment

Approach to Substance Reduction Strategies

Overview of Substance Abuse Governance

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