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What effect did Covid-19 have on drug abuse in South Africa

What effect did Covid-19 have on drug abuse in South Africa

Could the nationwide lockdown which was implemented in the interests of the health of the people of South Africa have been detrimental to aspects of the South African populations’ mental health, particularly for those struggling with addiction?

From midnight on Thursday on 26 March 2020 South Africa went on its first lockdown and the nation was forced to stay home in order to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Technology had to pave the way forward for those who required various forms of assistance and support which was up until that point provided in person and in groups.

Among those who require this level of support are recovering drug users. In these communities the importance of connection and a sense of belonging as part of sustainable recovery cannot be stressed enough. It assists in the solidification of newly developing aspects of self-identity through a shared sense of security, acceptance, participation and value. O.J. Morgan states in Addiction and spirituality: A multidisciplinary approach that, ‘the “soul” of addiction is lack of connection and belonging.’

Recovery related support during lockdown had to be provided through online recovery groups. These groups aimed to facilitate that those suffering from addiction and those in recovery were not cut off from community. People recovering from addiction could connect with others from all over the country and share their personal stories, within the safety of their homes during the pandemic.

The current public health problems which result from addiction requires not only law enforcement and public education but also the restoration of connection in meaningful relationships.
Since the pandemic there has been an increase in South Africans showing signs of depression and anxiety. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) reported an increase in calls to their helpline from about 600 to 1400 calls per day. They noted substance-abuse-related calls amongst the top five.

This can be attributed to facing further threat to the sense of belonging as a result of physical and emotional isolation amongst the members of society who are already struggling with disconnection.

What must also be considered is that the drug industry recovered relatively quickly from restrictions imposed during the pandemic, with some trafficking dynamics even increasing during Covid-19. South Africa’s geographical location and trade links with countries in Asia, Latin America, Western Europe, and North America have made it an attractive drug transit country.

Because the country has porous border control its even more attractive to international drug syndicates who can choose from fifty-two legal and illegal entry points.

Governments should work together and exchange law enforcement intelligence and implement real-time data monitoring systems for detecting and addressing drug market changes resulting from the pandemic.

If we start looking ahead at the post-covid-19 economic crises, according to the World Drug Report released by the United Nations, the greatest impact is on the drug market. In Africa the number of drug users is expected to increase by 40% in the next 8 years as food insecurity intensifies illicit drug cultivation and the protracted economic crisis accelerates the progression to drug use disorders. This is compared to the 11% increased expected globally.
Although physical isolation and social distancing are still part of daily living, the opportunity for connection, community and care between people remains accessible through online recovery groups to all those committed to healing.

Post-pandemic recovery plans that include housing, food supply, and economic assistance will be required to alleviate the negative consequences for vulnerable and marginalized population groups. Support to those in vulnerable circumstances must be provided so that they are able to face the stresses of the pandemic without resorting to any negative coping mechanisms.

In Southern Africa there is also a high prevalence for HIV among people that inject drugs. Addressing this problem requires an integrated approach in which community stakeholders and society work together and mobilise state and non-state resources at all levels.
The corruption and collusion amongst the local police services and drug syndicates in Africa cannot be overlooked as a reason for increased drug availability on the continent. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Strategic Vision for Africa 2030 outlines a mission to provide more safety to Africa’s people, government and institutions from drugs, crime, corruption, terrorism and illicit financial flows.

Six change enablers have been identified to overcome post-pandemic economic stress of which the impact of drug-use measures highest. These are facilitating partnership, reinforcing the role of women, empowering the youth, prioritising prevention, innovation led impact and the elimination of discrimination and stigma.

Southern Africa as a collective is advised to focus on projects that define and apply innovative and cost-effective assessment systems for regular monitoring of the extent of drug use on the continent. This is exactly the product and service suite offered by the iMed Group.  We focussed our research on providing tests that detect substances used specifically by the South African population. We also provide corporate training to assist in quality management. Contact us today to find out more. 

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