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Keywords:

  • AOD use;
  • consequences;
  • epidemiology;
  • South Africa;
  • surveillance

ABSTRACT

Aims To (1) describe the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU), (2) describe trends and associated consequences of alcohol and other drug (AOD) use in South Africa for January 1997 to December 1999 and (3) outline selected policy implications identified by SACENDU participants.

Methods A descriptive epidemiological study of AOD indicators based on data gathered from multiple sources, including specialist treatment centres, trauma units and quantitative studies of target groups such as school students and arrestees. Networks were established in five sentinel sites to facilitate the collection, interpretation and dissemination of data.

Results Over time alcohol has been the most frequently reported primary substance of abuse across sites. Trauma and psychiatric data highlight the burden associated with alcohol abuse. Cannabis and Mandrax (methaqualone), alone or in combination, are the most frequently reported illicit drugs of abuse, generally comprising the largest proportions of drug-related arrests, drug-related psychiatric diagnoses and drug-positive trauma patients. From 1997 to 1999, a significant increase in indicators for cocaine/crack and heroin occurred in two sites. Ecstasy (MDMA) use, alone or in combination with other substances, is reported among young people.

Conclusions A broad range of globally abused substances is present in South Africa and the use and burden of illicit substances appears to be increasing. This points to the importance of ongoing monitoring of AOD trends. Through regular, systematic data collection the SACENDU project has made available more evidence-based information to direct AOD abuse policy and practice and has had an impact on research agendas.