Experts have warned about a silent heroin epidemic in SA, with the country firmly gripped by international drug syndicates’ ingenious ways to make the drug affordable to the lower-class market and using aggressive marketing strategies.12
New research has uncovered a widespread and problematic heroin trade in small towns, big cities and even rural areas.
According to the survey, the rapid growth of the heroin market has been traced to organised crime networks, local gangs and incompetent or rotten police.
The results of the joint survey by the Institute for Security Studies, Interpol, the Global Initiative Against International Organised Crime, the European Union and Enact were released in Pretoria yesterday.
Researchers believe the problem in SA is a spin-off from a growing drug smuggling route down the east coast of Africa for distribution to international markets.
Senior analyst and author of the report Simone Haysom said the scary part of the heroin epidemic was that it had spread covertly and that the scale of the problem would take authorities by surprise.
“Heroin spread is considerably hidden and never raised as a national issue. It is hidden by the fact that it is a criminal activity, stigmatised and embarrassing,” she said.
Haysom said the spread of heroin, driven by high profits for mafia-like figures in Durban, as well as foreign underworld networks, was so severe that in some areas it had become the second-most coveted drug after dagga.
She said repercussions included gang violence, assassinations, the innocent getting caught in the crossfire and ambulances being unable to access the injured.
“I feel strongly that it is an epidemic that needs policy and a political response,” Haysom said.
Brigadier Ebrahim Kadwa, head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), agreed that the heroin market was booming but said they, in partnership with their regional and international counterparts, were using an expertise-focused approach and had made considerable success.
International drug networks used aggressive marketing strategies, even branding their packaging and selling a heroin-induced hit for just R10 to R30.
“This is a well-orchestrated marketing strategy to make heroin cheaper and penetrate a mass market, with low-income communities being the hardest hit.”