Dr Ellapen Rapiti, Kenwyn

The World Health Organisation’s latest declaration that addiction is a disease like diabetes and hypertension, should compel governments, policy makers and society to look at addiction differently and to change the way we treat people with addiction. Diabetes, hypertension and addiction are all characterised by remissions and relapses.

None of these can be cured but they can be controlled.

Hypertension and diabetes are the leading causes of death and morbidity in Africa largely because of under-detection, lack of accessibility to treatment and a failure by patients to adhere to treatment.

Addiction on the other hand is probably the leading cause of: death and morbidity amongst the youth; unplanned teenage pregnancies; HIV and sexually transmitted diseases; crime from robbery to murder; violent trauma; a drain on health care resources; early school drop-outs; a spiral in the gang population; the rise in the number of unemployable youth. If we include cigarette smoking and alcohol then addiction is the leading cause of heart disease; road deaths; liver disease; a variety of cancers and foetal alcohol syndrome.

The first major difference between addiction and the other chronic diseases is that people, who suffer from an addiction, have lost the power of choice, whereas people with other chronic diseases are in full control of their mind. Drug addic-tion is most prevalent among young children and youth, who are unable to make inform-ed choices about drugs, due to a lacklustre attitude by our educa-tion department to introduce a module on drug addiction like they have done with HIV and sex.