Original Research

Epidemiology of drug abuse treatment in South Africa

Shandir Ramlagan, Karl Peltzer, Gladys Matseke
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 16, No 2 | a172 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v16i2.172 | © 2010 Shandir Ramlagan, Karl Peltzer, Gladys Matseke | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 05 December 2008 | Published: 01 April 2010

About the author(s)

Shandir Ramlagan, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa
Karl Peltzer, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa
Gladys Matseke, Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria

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Background. The aim of the study was to explore the epidemiology of drug abuse treatment in South Africa.

Methods. Treatment demand statistics were analysed from South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use records, and a rapid situation assessment was conducted. Twenty-one key informant interviews were conducted in all 9 provinces among provincial substance abuse co-ordinators, and one manager per treatment centre from a sample of treatment centres. Three focus groups were conducted and 46 self-administered questionnaires were distributed among inpatients at 2 selected treatment centres in Free State and North West provinces. Qualitative data were analysed using grounded theory, and quantitative data analysed using SPSS.

Results. Treatment records show that the most frequent substance of abuse was alcohol (51%), followed by cannabis (21%), crack/cocaine (9.6%), heroin/opiates (7.9%), methamphetamine (Tik) (4.5%), prescription/over-the-counter drugs (2.0%), and cannabis/mandrax (1.7%). More substance abusers were male, of lower education, white or black, than were female, more highly educated, coloured and Indian/Asian. Key informant interviews showed that females are the ‘hidden’ substance abusers and tend not to be identified in research statistics and at treatment centres. Poverty, unemployment, lack of recreational facilities, being surrounded by substance abusers, and long work shifts were also mentioned as factors contributing to substance abuse. The age of initiation of substance abuse using non-drugs such as glue was 9 years old, alcohol 10 - 12 years old, dagga 11 - 12 years old, poly-drug use (alcohol, tobacco and dagga) 14 years old, and harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin at 16 - 17 years old, as reported by key informants. Family care and support, improved socio-economic conditions and increased law enforcement would help to discourage substance abuse.

Conclusion. Prevention interventions and policies in South Africa should focus on reducing substance abuse by targeting the ‘at risk populations’ identified in this study.


Epidemiology; drug; abuse; treatment


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