One in Five South Africans Is Addicted to Drugs, Report Finds

By Paul Gaita 07/24/15

Cheap high quality drugs and a depressed economy have led to a drastic rise in addiction.

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Drug addiction has reportedly reached critical levels in South Africa, with some research organizations reporting that more than 11% of residents, or one out of every five South Africans, are struggling with some form of addiction.

The data was issued as part of the South African government’s annual Drug Awareness Week, which took place in 2015 from June 24-28. According to Nathan Rogerson, a representative of Akeso Clinics, which provides private, in-patient psychiatric care, an array of factors has led to the rise in numbers.

“Easy access to high quality and relatively cheap drugs, coupled with high levels of unemployment, trauma, violence, and the deterioration of social support by family members, friends and the community, has led to the increase in the incidence of drug abuse and addiction in South Africa,” he told IOL News.

Marijuana, or “dagga,” and alcohol were the substances most abused among South Africans, but cocaine use has also risen over the past decade, from 1.5% in 1996 to 17.5% in 2008.

Heroin in South Africa has followed trends similar to those in the United States, with greater availability and lower prices causing an increase in use among younger South Africans in areas outside of major cities like Cape Town.

Two homegrown street drugs are also taking their toll on the country’s drug users. Methcathione, also known as “cat” or “bathtub speed,” is an easily synthesized mix of ephedrine, acetone, or paint solvent and sulfuric acid that provides a euphoric reaction similar to that produced by speed or Ritalin. It can also generate debilitating depression or even psychosis spawned by days of sleep deprivation.

Nyaope, known as whoonga, plazana, or kwape, has also spread throughout the country’s more impoverished areas. Its main narcotic component appears to be heroin, though various sources have reported that dealers have added cannabis, meth, or tik, ammonia, pesticides, baking soda, and chlorine to their particular strains.

Rumors that the substance also contained anti-retroviral drugs like efavirenz and ritonavir, which are used to treat HIV, have been debunked as urban legend.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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