South Africa has been ranked among the top ten countries in the world for narcotics and substance abuse, according to a study released by the Soul City Institute in Johannesburg aimed at looking at the impact of drug abuse among young women in South Africa.

The Soul City Institute report says it is estimated that South Africans abuse drugs ten times more than people in other countries and twice as much globally. It says close to 10 percent of the population start experimenting with drugs at the age of 13.

Young women and youth abuse over-the-counter prescription drugs.

Those found with a pinch of recreational drug, should be rehabilitated, and not sent to jail with hardened criminals. That, at least, is the view of the Central Drug Authority, a government advisory body, whose recommendations may influence the new National Drug Master Plan.

The vast Cape Flats, a notorious gang and drug-scourged area of informal settlements in the centre of Cape Town, also contributes to factors of high levels of unemployment. The Soul City Institute study looks at the devastating effects of substance abuse in that area.

Researcher Bongiwe Ndondo said: "We have a big drug problem in South Africa and the youth affected are mostly males. We have the worst levels of drug abuse in the continent we also have twice the global average levels so that tells us there is a really big problem."

On the ground, the current system of arrest and jail time is perceived as simply not feasible.

Central Drug Authority spokesperson Dr. David Bayever said: "People are being arrested for very small amounts of drugs then put into jail. However, those who go there learn new abilities to make more money on the streets.

"By learning new tricks of the trade from other people rather than being rehabilitated for the problem they present us with a challenge."

The Central Drug Authority says the arrests merely turn people into hardened criminals while rehabilitation should be the answer.