Drug abuse in South Africa, as in many countries all over the world, has been an issue for years. However, the number of different types of drugs available has grown dramatically, at a variety of price points, and cheap recreational drugs are now easier to come by than ever before. By Rhys Evans

Drugs have essentially become more affordable than alcohol, giving rise to increasing levels of abuse and addiction. For employers and businesses, this can have serious negative consequences, as drug abuse does not only affect home lives but work performance as well, not to mention the negative impact on health and safety.

Education is a vital component of helping to curb drug abuse, however, it is often not sufficient in isolation.

Implementing stringent and fair drug testing policies and leveraging the latest equipment for testing, which is capable of detecting these new, cheaper drugs, is essential.

This can help organisations to identify employees with problems and take the necessary action to assist them and ensure compliance with necessary health and safety regulations.

The local drug industry is not new yet it initially revolved mainly around cannabis, as this is easy to grow and accessible.

It is only in the 1980s and 1990s that other drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin began to emerge.

Cocaine usage, however, has always been limited to higher income groups, as it cannot be manufactured locally and must be smuggled through customs, which significantly raises the price.

Amphetamines such as speed and ecstasy became popular in the 1990s among party-goers.

Heroin also became more available in the 90s; however, it was almost always used intravenously and therefore never gained widespread use due to a prevalent fear of needles with many people.

While all of these drugs are addictive and cause social problems, addiction and work-related issues such as illness, absenteeism, mood swings and more, it is only recently with the emergence of cheap street drugs that drug abuse has become a real challenge for the majority of South Africans.


Mandrax, tik and whoonga

Drugs such as mandrax and tik are commonly used in the Western Cape, and crystal meth is growing in popularity among the party set in Gauteng, who snort it as a cheaper alternative to cocaine.

In addition, a new drug nicknamed nyaope or whoonga, a mixture of low-grade heroin, rat poison, detergents – and sometimes anti-retrovirals (ARVs) – is a growing problem in the townships of South Africa.

This drug is cheap and easy to make as it is derived from readily available substances, is highly addictive, and the side effects are truly horrendous. This growing problem is affecting more and more South Africans at home and in their places of work.

Drugs are often used as a coping mechanism for those who are stressed, unhappy or not dealing with the pressure of their everyday lives.

In addition, in industries such as farming and construction, drug usage can result from boredom and workers being away from their families for extended periods of time.

Whatever the reason, the availability and low price of recreational drugs presents a challenge for many organisations. As people become increasingly addicted to a substance, they often spend a large portion of their income on it, and cannot support themselves or their families.

They also often stop eating and do not sleep, so they lose weight and their health and concentration levels decline. Their work performance usually suffers, absenteeism increases, and ultimately they are unable to perform their jobs effectively.


Towards a drug-free workplace

Ensuring a drug-free workplace helps organisations to improve safety, decrease risk, comply with health and safe regulations, improve productivity and employee performance, and curb a growing problem in South Africa.

Education is a large component of dealing with drug abuse. Many users of drugs are unaware of the implications and effects of drugs, as well as how to go about getting help once they realise they have a problem.

However, organisations need to also implement drug policies as well as testing procedures to monitor employees for drug usage. This requires the use of the latest equipment to ensure fast, accurate and minimally-invasive testing.

With regard to testing equipment, a number of different solutions are available Urine testing is a cost effective option that comes in a number of different forms, including single and multi-panel dip tests, cassette tests where a pipette is used to drop samples for testing onto the tests and integrated cup tests, which incorporate the test panel into the sample cup.

Urine testing, however, requires special consideration, such as the need for private bathrooms, and the requirement for testers to be the same gender as those being tested.


Saliva drug testing

In environments where this is not possible, saliva drug testing may be preferable. Saliva testing uses a swab to produce results in a matter of minutes, and can be used to screen for a panel of five common illegal substances including heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines.

In addition to urine and saliva testing, test kits are also available that enable the testing of solid substances for the presence of drugs. Using one of these testing options can benefit organisations by assisting them to enforce drug-free workplaces.

Drug abuse is a growing problem in South Africa, and it affects both work and home life for those caught in its vicious cycle.

Employers should implement educational practices as well as testing policies and procedures to help curb drug abuse in the workplace. Not only is this a health and safety requirement, it can also benefit them by improving productivity and employee health.


Rhys Evans is a director at ALCO-Safe


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