PREMIER'S PERSPECTIVE: Act to save youth from drugs

Substance abuse is killing our society and the future of our country.

The link between substance abuse and violence cannot be underestimated. Police Minister Fikile Mbalula reported recently that children who abuse drugs were being used to fuel tensions and carry out violence in volatile communities.

“There is a force here which hires young abusers to attack others. Basically a rented mob. There are politicians masquerading as people’s leaders who are hiring criminals to torment society. That is why the police must intervene,” the minister said while visiting Hout Bay police station near Cape Town.

Hout Bay is not the only place ravaged by violence which many say is linked to substance abuse. Many suburbs, townships and villages in our own province face similar challenges.

Why? Important studies indicate that the increasing number of hours today’s children and teens spend without adult supervision or structured activity are the major risk factors for early substance abuse, sexual experimentation and involvement in crime and violence.

Police have also testified to the link between substance abuse and horrific crimes. We have heard stories of how, when addicts are high, they are devoid of human feeling and can commit vicious crimes.

There have been cases of youths slitting the throats of their victims. We cannot have a society like that.

Our children are growing up believing that alcohol should be part of everyday life. While alcohol is still the most abused drug, marijuana and stronger substances, such as cocaine, heroin and ecstasy, are common in junior and senior high schools.

Heroin is having a resurgence.

According to the latest United Nations World Drug Report drug consumption in South Africa is twice the world norm, with 7.06% of our population abusing narcotics of some kind. A total of 15% of South Africa’s population has a drug problem. Drug abuse currently costs South Africa R20-billion a year and it could pose a bigger threat to the country’s future than the Aids pandemic.

According to police figures, 60% of crimes committed nationally are related to substance abuse – perpetrators are either under the influence of substances or are trying to secure money for their next fix.

It’s pretty scary, actually.

Probably any teenager who really wants to get hold of drugs can. As a government education official, I’m particularly worried about drug abuse in our schools.

As a province, we need to address the serious issue of youth access to drugs and alcohol. Establishments with licences to sell liquor need to take a firm stand not to sell to underage buyers. Local law enforcement must conduct regular compliance checks.

Parents need to network with each other and be very clear about their expectations regarding drugs and alcohol use.

It really takes a community of parents, businesses, law enforcement, school leaders and elected officials to send out a strong message that supplying drugs and alcohol to teenagers will never be okay.

Sometimes people shy away from identifying and facing the role that alcohol plays in active domestic violence. Most people consider themselves social drinkers. But sometimes, the level of social drinking escalates from, say, two drinks to maybe five, or even 10 drinks – well above the level that affects judgment and inhibition.

We all tend to avoid or deny what otherwise might be obvious – that drinking alcohol, particularly abusing it, results in problems such as violence.

If you or someone you know is abusing drugs, free treatment for drug addiction is offered at public hospitals. You can also call the Sanca national toll-free number 0861472622 or visit www.sancanational.org.za to find the closest Sanca office. And you can call the SA Depression and Anxiety Group toll-free on 0800205026 or SMS 32312.

Substance abuse is associated with traumatic injury, violence from fights, drowning, suicides, robberies and rapes.

Substance abuse is highly correlated with unplanned sexual activity by teenagers and unplanned pregnancies.

Research has found that brain development continues into the mid-20s.

So exposing the developing brain to drugs carries the risk of impeding its development during this critical period.

If, as a parent, you are doing your best, yet a child is troubled, you should act immediately.

It is your job, your moral obligation, your duty to society to provide an environment that is protective, nurturing, instructional and loving.

The addiction epidemic is becoming a seemingly unstoppable tempest sweeping over many of our communities. Please let us help children to be children.

Phumulo Masualle is premier of the Eastern Cape. Follow him on @EC Premier

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