Tackling Substance Abuse needs a whole-of-society approach

Albert Fritz

Western Cape Minister of Social Development

Note: The following speech was delivered by Minister Albert Fritz at the Substance Abuse Impact Forum on Tuesday 19 August 2014 (today), Protea Hotel President, Bantry Bay

Good morning ladies and gentlemen,

I feel privileged to be among your company today. Indeed I have learnt much here today.

The discussions I have had with some of you have been an enriching. But before I continue, allow me to acknowledge the presence of;

  • Prof Glenda Gray – President of the South African Medical Research Council
  • Dr Wendee Wechsberg – Senior Director of the Substance Abuse Treatment Evaluations and Interventions Research Programme at RTI International
  • Prof Bronwyn Meyers – Chief Specialist Scientist : Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to share how inspired I am by the people who have taken up the battle to beat their addiction to drugs and alcohol. Let me tell you this is no easy feat, especially given the prevalence of addictive substances in the Western Cape.

They prove to every one of us on a daily basis to never give up hope.  This is why our support for their journey to recovery is a resolute one.

As the provincial government we have a responsibility to tackle the grimy underworld which peddles the drugs. It is an underworld driven by a gang-culture that is incentivized to create dependency amongst users.

Indeed our response to this has been to increase pressure on the South African Police Services to reinstate the sort of specialized police units which could shatter these networks, and for the Justice Cluster to mete out strong sentences to act as a necessary deterrent.

As it relates to alcohol, we equally have a responsibility to effectively regulate the sale of alcohol, and through our numerous campaigns, encourage the responsible consumption of it.

I can confidently say that the Western Cape Government is proud to be at the forefront of the fight against substance abuse in the province.

However the truth is government cannot do this alone.

If we are to truly make a greater dent, and rapidly reduce the harm caused by substance abuse, we need to adopt a whole-of-society approach.

Our efforts must be coordinated. They must be inclusive of the private sector, NGOs, religious formations, research institutions, and most importantly individuals in our communities.

DSD Interventions

The Department of Social Development’s public policy response to substance abuse is about achieving harm reduction.

We see the plight of desperate communities due to substance abuse. It creates serious social challenges, especially amongst the youth.

That is why over the last five years we have more than doubled the substance abuse budget, and will be spending just over R82.6 million during this financial year.

Our approach as government is to focus on;

  • awareness,
  • early intervention,
  • statutory services and,
  • after-care support programmes.

Over 10 157 people access substance abuse services in the province and our plans are to expand community-based treatment programmes with a focus on rural areas.

Child Treatment

It has been concerning to note that the trend of drug and alcohol abuse is affecting younger people, including children.

In light of this, the department is encouraged by the successful pilot projects which provide treatment and brief interventions for school children in Eerste River and Mitchell’s Plain. We have now extended the project to Steenberg and Hout Bay, and will continue to expand into other parts of the province.

Matrix Clinic

I’m pleased to announce that a Matrix Treatment Clinic is on the cards for Atlantis.

True to the spirit of partnership, the Matrix Clinics are a joint venture between the City of Cape Town, Department of Social Development and SANCA. This clinic should be up and running within the next few months, bringing the number of Matrix sites to seven.

Opiate Substitution Programme

In order to address the rising use of heroin in the province, we have embarked on an outpatient-based Opiate Substitution Treatment programme in Mitchell’s Plain.

The project has now been running for seven months, and the feedback from Sultan Bahu, our NGO partner in this venture, is that the clients are responding positively.

In their latest report to us they cite how the of the first cycle of clients, 16 out of 21 clients (76.5%) whocompleted their statutory phase, are still testing negative for illicit substance use in their continuum of care. The second cycle of 24 clients is currently undergoing treatment, and only 4 are testing positive, an encouraging drug-free percentage of 83.3% of clients.

This is most pleasing, as the result far exceeds the treatment outcome expectations reported in international literature.

Partnership with Medical Research Council

Ladies and gentlemen, from a government and public-policy perspective, we clearly have pockets of excellence.

However our department ascribes to the practice of continuous learning, and more importantly evidence-based delivery. To this end, research from academics and research institutions is an invaluable tool for us.

The quality of services that people receive at the various treatment centres is very important to us. We have contracted the Medical Research Council (MRC) to conduct a Service Quality Measurement (SQM) survey across the spectrum of treatment centres.

The findings and recommendations that came out of this survey will be implemented in this financial year. This will ensure service delivery of the highest standards to all our clients.

Our relationship with the MRC, with its world-renowned researchers and key thinkers, has indeed been an enriching one. We are proud to have worked closely with them on many initiatives of the Department.

At this point let me single-out Prof. Bronwyn Meyers. Her devotion over the last 10 years to research on gender, HIV and substance abuse matters has formed an invaluable intellectual back-bone to our policy approaches as a Department. She is one of the lecturers for the Postgraduate Diploma in Addiction Care.

I look forward to unpacking the many studies that have presented here. I am encouraged to note that they have successfully demonstrated how HIV risk reduction, through the decline in alcohol and drug use, also reduced the victimisation of women, and decreases risky sexual behaviours. Such findings only reinforce our view that harm reduction in substance abuse is a key goal to achieve if we are to tackle the many social ills affecting the province.

In this regard, I would like to repeat the notion that partnerships are very important in this regard. The department is collaborating with other provincial and local government departments such as education, community safety, cultural affairs & sports; and ofcourse, the City of Cape Town. We also continue to work with NGOs and the private sector.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, in concluding here today, allow me to wish all the women a happy women’s month. Being in this space, and having engaged with women from the MRC and RTI, I can see why working together we will achieve great things. The years ahead will require hard work and commitment if we are to realize our goal to reduce the harm caused by substance abuse, and help more people beat their addiction. We as a provincial government are determined to play our part and deliver, especially to women and youth. Key to this will be to adopt a whole-of-society approach, after-all success is best achieved “Better Together”.

Thank you.