Alcohol abuse among youth takes centre stage on International Day Against Drug Abuse

Social Development Concerned About Alcohol as First Drug of Choice This International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking

As the world commemorates International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the Department of Social Development is concerned about alcohol being the first drug of choice for young people.

International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is observed annually on the 26th of June. Commonly referred to as World Drug Day, it was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1987 to strengthen action and cooperation to achieve an international society free of drug abuse.

The significance of World Drug Day 2024 lies in its ability to raise awareness about the severe consequences of drug abuse and illicit trafficking. Drugs not only destroy lives but also disrupt communities, fuel crime, and weaken economies. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), around 269 million people worldwide used drugs in 2018, and these numbers continue to rise. World Drug Day highlights the global commitment needed to address drug abuse and illicit trafficking through education, support, and rehabilitation.

The day underscores the necessity of international cooperation as drug trafficking is a transnational challenge requiring a coordinated response from governments, organisations, and individuals.

The theme for World Drug Day 2024 is: “The evidence is clear: invest in prevention.” This theme emphasizes the importance of understanding that effective drug policies need to be grounded in science, research, compassion, and full respect for human rights. It also highlights the social, economic, and health consequences of drug use.

World Drug Day 2024 also emphasizes the importance of ending stigma and strengthening prevention efforts to combat drug abuse and illicit trafficking. By uniting globally and prioritizing compassion and education, significant strides toward a drug-free world can be achieved.

Individuals can contribute to the commemoration of this day by spreading awareness, supporting local prevention and rehabilitation programs, participating in community events, and advocating for policies that address drug abuse and trafficking.

The 2024 commemoration was preceded by a National Anti-Drug Awareness Week, which ran from 18-22 June 2024. During that week, the Department led various activities in all provinces to highlight the harmful use, abuse, and misuse of alcohol and drugs.

On the 18th of June 2024, the Department engaged with community members from Scenery Park, East London, which is grappling with a high rate of substance abuse, especially amongst the youth. The engagement coincided with the remembrance of the tragic deaths of 21 teenagers at Enyobeni Tavern two years ago, highlighting the ongoing challenge of drug abuse and community efforts to address the scourge.

Identifying the high rates of alcohol abuse in the area led to the formation of Lion Trackers, a women’s football team aimed at diverting young people from alcohol and drug abuse. Seventeen-year-old Sombesiwe Vakela, a representative for young people and a striker for the Lion Trackers, emphasized that winning the fight against substance abuse requires assistance from the community. She highlighted how activities like sports can keep young people away from alcohol and drugs. Parents were also urged to play an important role in protecting children against the use, misuse, and abuse of alcohol and drugs.

The Department, in partnership with the Eastern Cape Liquor Board and SAPS, engaged with liquor traders at Ndavana Community to raise awareness about the harmful use, abuse, and misuse of alcohol and drugs and the importance of responsible trading. The Eastern Cape Liquor Board’s Ms. Bongi Bozo explained the detailed process involved in verifying applications for a liquor license and the powers of the board to not only fine but arrest irresponsible traders selling alcohol to children under 18 and serving alcohol to pregnant women. Ms. Bozo appealed to liquor traders to comply with the trading guidelines.

One positive recommendation from the engagements was the need for initiating a forum led by the Liquor Board to regularly engage traders and the community on pressing matters such as the illegal shebeens that are mushrooming uncontrollably, the crime rate associated with substance abuse, and the selling of drugs and other harmful substances outside some taverns.

The Department also engaged the community of Nxarhuni, including children, youth, parents, and community leaders. Opening the engagement was a 12-year-old child with a powerful inspirational poem urging the youth to fight for their future by staying away from harmful substances and criminal activities. Young people at these build-up activities cited boredom, peer pressure, and easy access to drugs and alcohol as some of the major challenges in their community. They asked parents to actively support initiatives that educate everyone about the risks associated with substance abuse, advocating for a proactive approach to community wellness.

Ms. Motshabi Nkoane, the Social Work Policy Manager at the National Department of Social Development, raised a concern about the high level of alcohol abuse in South Africa, especially among young people, which includes binge drinking. She emphasized that substance abuse is not solely a Department of Social Development issue and that all relevant stakeholders, including councillors, traditional leadership, and communities, should be involved in fighting the scourge of substance abuse as stipulated in the National Drug Master Plan, the overarching blueprint of the country’s response to substance abuse.

The Department is concerned that alcohol remains the first drug of choice for young people. The policy on the prevention and treatment of Substance Use Disorders (SUD) will be finalised for tabling to the cabinet for approval. This policy seeks to empower the country to deal with the abuse of alcohol, especially by children, and replace ineffective policies with evidence-based ones. Finally, the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking coincides with an international conference currently underway in Thessaloniki, Greece, by the Global Commission on Drug Policy for credentialing and certification. South Africa is a member of the commission, and its participation aims to align the country’s interventions with international standards and certify practitioners to provide substance use services.

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