Addicts won't cope without booze and cigarettes, say drug activists

Drug campaigners have urged government to lift the ban on alcohol and cigarette sales to help addicts and prevent crime.
Drug campaigners have urged government to lift the ban on alcohol and cigarette sales to help addicts and prevent crime.
Image: 123RF/Stefano Carnevali

A drug pressure group has called for the lockdown ban on alcohol and cigarette sales to be reversed for the sake of addicts.

"Especially in the case of alcohol, many of those with substance-use disorders cannot simply stop using drugs," the SA Drug Policy Initiative said a statement on Tuesday. "If they do, they risk developing a range of symptoms including psychosis, seizures and ultimately death.

"This leads to the second reason why the banning of alcohol and tobacco is a bad move: those who have problematic drug-use disorders are now having to break the law by acquiring them from illegal sources, and run the risk of being arrested."

The pressure group was founded in 2018 to campaign for the legal regulation of all drugs and what it describes as "humane, rational drug laws to reduce drug-related harms and the proliferation of organised crime and gangsterism".

It said the principles of the Covid-19 lockdown were fundamentally sound and in line with global best practice. However, the ban on alcohol and cigarette sales, while well-intended, was a mistake

"This ad-hoc law fails to adequately consider the harms its enforcement will do to the many vulnerable individuals who suffer from substance-use disorders," it said. "This is a medical condition that often affects people with mental illness or underlying psycho-social problems, but can be managed and treated by health-care specialists with drugs, psychiatric care and other supportive measures.

"As our health services are understaffed and unable to cope with substance-use disorders during ‘normal’ times, it is unlikely adequate treatment or support will be available to those who now find themselves without the drugs or help they need. This will lead to more pressure on an already burdened health-care sector."

The leaders of the drug policy initiative - general medical practitioner Keith Scott, drug counsellor Ashley Potts, criminologist Anine Kriegler and Prof JP van Niekerk - said most people with a drug problem relied on more than one substance.

"Someone who is addicted to, for example, heroin, but can get by with alcohol, cannabis or tobacco, will not be able to cope unless they break the law and buy those drugs on the black market," the statement said.

"People who have the space to grow cannabis and those who have the financial means were able to buy and store adequate quantities of tobacco and alcohol products before the lockdown came into effect.

"However, the indigent sector of the population, many of whom have lost their jobs as a result of the lockdown, are expected to confine themselves in cramped, hot, poorly ventilated shacks and houses.

"And they have to do without drugs that are essential for some, and provide some relief for others who find it difficult to cope with the dire situation in which they find themselves.

"This demand invites criminal elements to meet this need by increasing the supply of contraband alcohol and tobacco."

The statement said it appeared the potential drawbacks of the alcohol and cigarette ban were not considered or were given insufficient weight.

"Either way, the decision should be reversed as soon as possible as it discriminates against the poor, puts the health of the mentally ill and marginalised at risk, and gifts crime syndicates and gangs another source of income."


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