Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle’s announcement this week of a R9-million investment in private drug rehabilitation in the province must be commended.
This investment signals an acknowledgement by provincial government that the high rate of substance abuse is destroying families and young lives, and harming society in general.
While non-profit organisations involved in fighting the scourge of addiction mostly do a stellar job, funding is always stretched and very much dependent on the generosity of donors. Treatment centres simply cannot stay ahead of the problem.
The impact of drug and other forms of addiction is far-reaching: crime, unemployment, deteriorating health and family dysfunction typically result, and with this comes a growing burden on public resources.
Masualle is wise to realise that a balanced approach is needed if the battle against addiction is to be properly addressed – criminalising substance abuse will never solve the problem on its own.
Speak to anyone associated with a treatment centre in the Bay in particular and they are unequivocal: drug abuse is a growing problem, particularly among the youth.
Every day you will see more and more youngsters, who might otherwise have had a bright and productive future, hustling on the streets for their next fix. Others get sucked into a life of crime to fund their habit.
Heroin use in particular is far more prevalent in the Bay than most people assume.
And just when the treatment facilities think they have even the slightest handle on a particular addiction, a new drug – take “krokodil”, for instance – will crop up to inflict devastating harm.
The fact that private centres like Sanca in Port Elizabeth are treating patients as young as seven for serious addictions is a tremendous worry. Tragically, starting an addiction cycle this early in life is frequently a determiner of the path that child will ultimately follow and, more often than not, their stories do not end well.
Addiction affects people from every tier of society and it is a problem we have to face together.