How Rwanda has combated abuse and trafficking in illicit drugs

The world on Friday celebrated the International Day against Drug Trafficking to raise awareness on the dangers of illicit drugs to society.

The world on Friday celebrated the International Day against Drug Trafficking to raise awareness on the dangers of illicit drugs to society.

According to 2014 statistics from Kigali Health Institute, more than half of the youth in the country (14-35 years) have consumed one or different types of drugs.

Dr Yvonne Kayiteshonga, the head of the Mental Health Division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, says one-in-13 youth is alcohol-dependent.

This is cause for concern considering that figures from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda show that out of a total population of 10.5 million, the youth represent 40 per cent, and, in urban areas where the drug problem is thought to be more rampant, the youth population is recorded at 53 per cent.

Police says abuse of drugs and illicit alcohol are considered to be the root causes of most violent crimes, especially gender-based violence.

Marijuana and a local brew commonly known as ‘Kanyanga’ are among the most consumed illegal substances.

Local leaders say the brew that finds its way from neighbouring countries through porous border points, has found a niche in Rwanda. It is relatively affordable, going for as little as Rwf250 a litre.

According to statistics from Rwanda’s top mental health facility – Ndera Neuropsychiatric Hospital – as of last year, in just four years, patients who checked into the facility with alcohol and drug induced mental illness almost tripled.

“Statistics at Ndera hospital, Kigali, show that 11 per cent of the patients registered have ailments related to drug abuse,” Jeanne d’Arc Dusabeyezu, the in-charge of drug abuse prevention and treatment at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said.

“I was a drug addict for about 3 years. That time was punctuated with spending nights on road sides, and hurling insults at strangers,” confesses Eugene Niyitegeka, who has since overcome the addiction.

“In 2009, we treated 440 patients with substance abuse-related ailments but, by 2012, the number had risen to 1,099,” said Jean Michel Iyamuremye, the director of nursing at Ndera Neuropsychiatric Hospital.

Police are constantly involved in run-ins with dealers and consumers of illicit drugs and brews across the country.

While Police destroys any confiscated substances to raise awareness and deter any potential dealers and abuse, the forces of demand appear to be having an upper hand.

Theos Badege, the commissioner for Criminal Investigations Department, says Police always come up with measures to break the supply chain and rehabilitate the addicts.

Eastern and Western provinces had the highest cases of drug abuse in the country as of June last year, Police figures show. The two provinces border countries where the substances are largely smuggled from.

According to the Rwanda Bureau of Standards, any drink whose alcohol content exceeds 45 per cent is considered a banned narcotic drug.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that every year, 210 million people use illicit drugs.

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