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When the pain of using drugs is greater than the pain of getting clean

The Department of Health’s vision of South Africa is of a caring and humane society with access to affordable, good quality healthcare.

But what happens when your disease is addiction?

Contrary to popular belief and the stigma surrounding drug addiction, an individual doesn’t use drugs as their primary coping mechanism because of environmental factors, a dysfunctional family, trauma or a poor, weak or immoral character. The World Health Organisation and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), both recognise that a genetic predisposition leaves them vulnerable to dependency.

80% of crime is related to drug and alcohol abuse.  Addiction has been linked to risky sexual behaviour, and sexual and physical abuse, especially in the family setting – often resulting in children who are abandoned and uncared for and ultimately perpetuating the cycle.  The disturbing knock-on effects of drug abuse are felt on a national level and such issues plague South Africa’s society intensely.  Globally, the impact of the untreated disease of addiction is felt in social ills such as gangsterism, gender violence, unemployment and poverty.

The truth of the matter is that people in active addiction will do anything to get their fix and no amount of imprisonment, religious exposure, or a decrease in drug availability will prevent them. Yet the consequences of long-term drug use are so dire – from serious health problems, legal and financial consequences to a complete breakdown of most relationships – that eventually most addicts will reach some form of “rock bottom” and want to seek help. When that happens, what help is available? How easy is it for a desperate addict to come clean, and learn more about their disease?

Private rehabilitation treatment is almost exclusively available to those who can afford the tens of thousands of Rands needed, or those who are lucky enough to be employed or have medical aid benefit.  Currently, there are very few state-assisted options for addicts who want help but are unemployed or poor.  Does this lack of facilities to a certain sector of the population constitute a human rights abuse?

Substance Films proposes two 52-minute documentary films that explore the current challenges that poverty-stricken addicts face in accessing the critical treatment that they need.  As filmmakers, we do not interfere with these outcomes, but simply frame them with the context of society’s culpability in the continued lack of treatment for this illness.

Substance Films aims to use Dying to Stop to bring these issues into the forefront of the public conscience.  Hopefully, this documentary can allow addicts who are actively using to see that there are state-assisted options for them to get clean; and to educate those who are family or friends of addicts so they can provide the correct support.

It is estimated that 10% of the population will suffer from addiction; it does not discriminate and can be found across all strata of our society.

© 2010 Substance Films
This project was supported by a grant from