The notorious township drug whoonga does not contain anti-retrovirals and saying it does is dangerous, says President Jacob Zuma.
“Perpetuating such inaccuracies is dangerous as it may make drug addicts steal anti-retrovirals (ARVs), which would put the lives of people on treatment at risk,” Zuma said. “Fighting substance abuse is a collaborative effort. Government cannot do it successfully alone, given the magnitude of this societal problem.”
Zuma was speaking at the opening of the three-day second biennial summit on substance abuse held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban, which runs from the 15th to the 17th.
Many people believe whoonga is made of crushed HIV treatment drugs, mixed with other chemicals, but according to experts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, whoonga does not contain ARVs, but is made up of heroin mixed with rat poison and other chemicals, BuaNews reports.
Users apparently crush ARVs and smoke them with rat poison, detergents and dagga to get high. A packet of whoonga powder costs around R30, Fox News reports. The drug has been blamed for thefts of AIDS medication and has killed numerous addicts because of its toxic contents.
Whether dealers actually put ARVs in whoonga is not always clear. “We are not even convinced that whoonga contains ARVs,” says Treatment Action Campaign spokesperson Caroline Nenguke. “The dealers just say it does.”
However, whoonga is not the most heavily used drug in South Africa as alcohol is the most abused substance, followed by cannabis/dagga. The World Health Organisation recently stated that South Africa is one of the countries with the highest rates of alcohol abuse.
Children as young as 10 years are experimenting with these substances. Zuma said reports showed children between the ages of 9-15 start with cigarettes, alcohol, dagga and mandrax. A 2008 Youth Risk Behaviour Survey showed that 41% of grade 8-11 learners in the Western Cape had been binge-drinking in the month before the survey. According to the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA), 20% of the people they treat for drug abuse are between 14 and 17 years old. Only 16% are between 18 and 21 years whilst the majority (35%) are between 22 and 35.
However, the true extent of the problem in the country cannot be clearly reflected. “Substance abuse or addiction to any substance is not a notifiable condition. Families and addicts are not obliged to report to the authorities. This makes it difficult to have an accurate picture of the extent of the problem. We also do not want to create a scare and portray our nation as the capital of drug and alcohol abuse, because we are not,” said Zuma.
While KZN is trying to control the whoonga dilemma, government in the Western Cape is fighting against Tik (methamphetamine) and in Gauteng they are battling with the heroin-based drug called Nyaope.
“It is shocking that human beings can inflict such damage on themselves and imbibe such a dangerous substance. It indicates the extent of the problem we are facing,” said Zuma. Combined with poverty, drugs play a role in many of the crimes committed in South Africa. Drug-related crime is skyrocketing, with police statistics showing that drug-related crimes rose by 15% to 134 800 incidents last year.
Zuma asked the delegates to come up with resolutions that will help improve education and awareness among the youth, saying he hoped the summit would assist law enforcement officials to deal with drug traffickers and help the country to improve treatment for addicts and support for families.
“The deliberations should help us to promote and implement the country’s National Drug Master Plan and the mini-drug master plans, which are our blueprints in the fight against substance abuse,” said Zuma.
Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, said during her opening remarks at the summit that it was vital for all sectors of society to tackle this problem.
“Alcohol and substance abuse is a major contributor to crime, foetal alcohol syndrome, gender-based violence, poverty, dysfunctional family life and many other social ills. Tackling this problem requires co-operative action between government and the support and involvement of all sectors of our society,” said Dlamini.
The minister added: “We need to create a supportive environment where children and young people have opportunities to be involved in healthy activities and where substance abuse is not promoted by peers, family and other influential actors in the community. Alcohol and substance abuse is everybody’s problem, and its solution is everyone’s responsibility.”
But Zuma is adamant that alcohol and drug addiction can be cured. “Government is planning to expand treatment centres and to ensure accessibility even in rural areas,” said Zuma.
The opening session of the summit had government heavyweights with national ministers, the Central Drug Authority officials, and KZN MECs in attendance.
One of the topics up for discussion at the summit is raising the legal drinking age to 21. Other proposals include the banning of alcohol advertisements and improved law enforcement around taverns and shebeens.
“Our government recognises that alcohol and substance abuse constitute a serious threat to health and development. This undermines our ongoing efforts to build safe and healthy communities,” said Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini on Thursday ahead of the summit.
Alcohol abuse is linked to drug abuse, violence, criminality, health problems like foetal alcohol syndrome and road deaths. In fact, Alcohol is a factor in 29% of driver injuries and 47% of driver deaths, according to News24.
The purpose of the summit is to find ways to deal with the problem of alcohol and drug abuse in South Africa. The summit will conclude with the adoption of a National Declaration that will guide the development of a five year plan of action.