On the 26th of June is International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking. This week (21-27th June) is SANCA Drug Awareness Week.
This year will see the issue of addiction in South Africa face immense challenges and a growth in numbers of citizens who are addicted to a substance or behaviour. The biggest crisis our country faces is that 99% of South African’s still have no access to addiction treatment because it is unaffordable and inaccessible to people who do not speak English.
What South Africa still is not aware of is that we are in the midst of an addiction epidemic. Last year, the UNODC released a report claiming that 15% of our population are problem drug users. This means that 7.2 million people in South Africa require addiction treatment but have no access to it.
Addiction will kill more people this year than AIDS will yet corporates and philanthropies still have not identified the epidemic as one that requires their funding attention. “It’s just not a sexy issue to get involved in” and “why should we help people who are addicted if they did this to themselves?” are the replies that organisations such as The Addiction Action Campaign (AAC) hear when asking for financial assistance to address the issue.
The terrifying reality is that if the authorities in power and the corporates with funding power continue to adopt these ignorant attitudes, this figure will double within the next 5 – 10 years. Addiction today faces the same negative attitudes as HIV did 15 years ago and this must change.
The other mind numbing truth is that South Africa is dependent on the taxes generated from addictive products and services. We are addicted to money generated from addiction but are spending the taxes generated everywhere else other than on prevention and treatment.
Warren Whitfield who is the founder and chief executive of the AAC argues, “It is a disgrace and a national tragedy what is happening. The truth is at least 35% of the income generated in casinos comes from people who are problem gamblers and whose lives are being destroyed by gambling. Yet it was legalized to generate more income to fund social issues and last year casinos gave back less than 0.1% to prevention and treatment.” He said, “The same goes for other addictive products and services such as alcohol, tobacco, pornography and pharmaceuticals. Practically nothing is spent by these industries on prevention and treatment and they continue to deny any accountability whatsoever in addressing the harm their products cause.”
“How is it that we hold individuals accountable under the law for the harm that they cause to others but we don’t hold ‘addictive’ companies accountable for the damage they cause to South Africa? We’ve given companies in these industries the legal identities of individuals in the market place, yet they believe that they are immune to the responsibility that comes with being an individual”.
This week, government will continue to fill their coffers with funds provided by addicted people and profit driven corporates will continue to deny any accountability for addressing the epidemic that they helped to create. This week foreigners will continue to be blamed for the illicit drug trafficking trade thereby creating more xenophobia, while most South Africans are blissfully unaware that we have had no drug enforcement agency since 2004.
The issue of addiction in our country needs drastic and immense funding soon if we are to have any impact whatsoever on the epidemic within the next 10 years. The Addiction Action Campaign calls on government and companies to pay more attention to the subject and urges South Africans to join us in challenging those that need to be challenged, in helping those that need help and preventing future generations from finding themselves with an addiction.