Combating drug abuse in South African schools

Combating drug abuse in South African schools

Nancy Strauss of Trulife talks about the prevalence of drugs within the schooling system - and how we can combat this scourge.

Drug abuse
Drug abuse/ iStock

A recent drug test carried out in the Western Cape revealed that for the first three terms of 2018, 57.9% of the primary school learners tested came back positive for drug use, while 72.9% of high school learners tested positive, too.

Meanwhile, the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) reports that 21% to 28% of the patients treated for substance abuse in 2016-17 were under the age of 20.  

All these statistics show that South Africa is facing a huge drug problem among the youth. 

Nancy Strauss of Trulife organisation says that “many teenagers try drugs out of curiosity, but also to escape the overwhelming pressures facing youth today. Drugs offer an easy escape from loneliness, anxiety, fear or pain, and the harsh consequences are too easily ignored. Television and film glamorise drug use, painting a false picture of the consequences and creating a culture of 'carefree' experimentation.” 

She adds that the common myths associated with drugs make matters worse: “The most common myth young people internalise is 'It won’t happen to me' – they believe that they can experiment or use drugs and somehow avoid the scientifically-proven consequences. This is flawed thinking! A recent myth is 'It’s natural so it must be healthy' – once again this myth is untrue and illogical. Many plants and insects are deathly poisonous, while still being 'natural'." 

Nancy says that “to combat these myths young people and their families need to receive correct information about drugs and be educated on their impact. To keep children away from drugs is increasingly difficult – we cannot shelter them from the world – but building healthy relationships both at home and with friends is key. This encourages honest conversations, self-awareness, and resilience. Healthier alternatives to coping with stress such as exercise, relaxation, and a good diet are also vital steps anyone can implement.”  

Although drugs are not permitted in school, pupils still use them. Nancy says to help solve the problem, schools should have more programs that teach vital life skills.

“Many schools face enormous pressure to produce results academically and in sport, but need to recognise firstly how prevalent substance abuse is, and secondly that the best results mean very little when a life falls apart because of addiction. Introducing more programs, talks, tools, and reporting measures for pupils to access - and partnering with both prevention and recovery experts, is essential,” says Nancy.  

She adds that ordinary citizens should not push the blame on the government and expect it to fight this battle alone.  

“It is the job of both government and every individual to take responsibility, not just for our own children, but our community. It takes a village to raise a child – we cannot wait for political leaders to solve the problem but should use our own influence to support addiction awareness. However, more support from government would always be welcome, especially in the training of teachers, and the creation of safe spaces and rehab centres,” she says. 

“Parents should get informed; seek help through rehabilitation centers and support groups, and break the stigma that keeps far too many silent. Addiction has a ripple effect on many lives, so get help for the entire family, not just the drug abuser. Learn the warning signs of manipulative or enabling behaviour that often keep kids trapped in a cycle of addiction."

Lastly, Nancy says anyone struggling with drug abuse should take practical steps to get help.  

“There is always hope – it is possible to stop. But you can’t do it alone. The first step is recognising the problem, and deciding what kind of future you want for yourself. Then it's time to be honest with those adults in your life that can help you. Take practical steps to get help, implement structures and make decisions that support you getting free. Pupils need to understand the underlying factors which have led to the addictive behaviour, and that addressing those takes support from a community, but it can be done!" she concludes. 

Trulife works alongside the next generation to educate, inspire, and equip them to make brave choices that will ultimately lead to better futures. They believe that knowledge is power and that passionate, well-informed, and motivated young people are the key to unlocking the best future for our world.

Trulife invite
Trulife invite/ Supplied

Show's Stories