Government leaves substance abusers high and dry

James Masango MPL

Provincial Chief Whip of the Official Opposition

Serious crime, petty crime, suicide, accidental death – these are all synonymous with substance abuse and addiction – a social ill which has gripped Mpumalanga, a province where sadly there isn’t many alternatives for treatment to arrest this deadly disease.

Despite the scourge of substance abuse and addiction in Mpumalanga (Emalahleni having the second highest rate of drug abuse in the country) the province still only has six treatment centres of which only three are in-patient facilities. Statistics by the South African Community Epidimiology Network on Drug Use (Sacendu) also paint a dreary picture, showing a significant escalation of individuals seeking treatment mainly for dagga, alcohol and heroine.

In view of these alarming numbers, the DA is urging the departments of social development and health to urgently look into the shortage of rehabilitation facilities.

The current shortage not only puts pressure on existing institutions, it also results in thousands of alcoholics and addicts, who want and need treatment, being left in the lurch. Budget cuts for state rehabilitation institutes in the 2012/13 year also crippled state facilities, forcing them to offer sub-standard services, which further amplified the plight of these desperately ill people.

Currently desperate individuals are forced to wait for weeks, even months, to be admitted locally or to seek treatment in private institutes in other provinces. The latter is generally very costly, and often unaffordable, for most. Furthermore, given the context of this baffling disease, the waiting period can have serious consequences for addicts and alcoholics such as death from overdose, excessive drinking and even suicide.

Although additional state institutions would help address the matter, the DA understands that establishing such facilities could currently be out of the department’s financial reach. This thus justifies the establishment of private rehabilitation institutions.

But many applicants have given up trying to establish such institutions due to government’s attitude towards their applications. They blame this on bureaucracy between municipalities and the health and social development departments as well as inexperienced application officials.

Furthermore, the DA believes that the establishment of private institutions would also assist the social development department to fulfil its commitment to hundreds of social workers. These individuals were offered scholarships on the basis of being absorbed by the system at the end of their studies, but are still unemployed due to the department’s lack of funds for salaries.

In this view, the DA will write to health and social development MEC Candith Mashego-Dlamini, requesting statistics on the number of private applications received and approved over the last five years, as well as the number of patients currently receiving treatment at state facilities. We also want to know how many individuals are currently on waiting lists for such treatment and how the department plans to address this matter.