Concern for drug abuse continues to grow

A close acquaintance in Uganda recently opened up to me about one of the things that fill him with dread that many parents can identify with: the prospect of any of his two daughters falling prey to drugs.

A close acquaintance in Uganda recently opened up to me about one of the things that fill him with dread that many parents can identify with: the prospect of any of his two daughters falling prey to drugs.

“One is never sure whether the ground rules in the home and ‘being there for the children’, in school and a watchful community, is ever enough,” he explained.

 

I agreed with his thought that the message in this year’s theme for the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking could not be emphasised enough.

 

The broad effects of drug abuse lend to the urgency in the Day’s global theme: “Listen First – Listening to children and youth is the first step to help them grow healthy and safe.”

 

On its part, this year’s World Drug Report, now in its 20th issue, rolled in the numbers giving it context. Globally, there are an estimated minimum of 190,000 – in most cases avoidable – premature deaths from drugs, the majority attributable to the use of opioids, which include heroin and other drugs derived from opium, or weed.

The UN estimates that roughly 7.5 per cent of African adults smoke weed in a typical year, almost double the global figure of 3.9 per cent.

And while it admits of dire inadequacy of drug-use surveys in Africa, the trends indicate an alarming spread of the harder stuff such as heroin and cocaine, mainly driven by the continent providing traffic routes onward to Europe and Asia.

The UN puts the number of injecting drug users in Africa anywhere between 330,000 and 5.6m.

East Africa is particularly affected by drug abuse, as it lies directly on the drug smuggling routes from Afghanistan and Pakistan on the way to Europe and a lucrative Hong Kong market where the drugs are repackaged for sale in countries such as Indonesia, Australia and China’s Macau.

Last year, BBC reported how hundreds of East Africans were serving prison sentences in Hong Kong jails after being convicted of drug trafficking, with the number of traffickers arrested increasing by 150 per cent. Nearly half of those detained come from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

It goes to underline the disturbing trends. Though there was no breakdown of the particular drugs in use, figures from Rwanda’s Ministry of Youth and ICT reported in this newspaper earlier in the week show how up to 52 per cent of youth aged between 14- 35 in the country use drugs once or more than once in their lifetime, with 7.5 per cent of them being addicts. The figures are similar elsewhere in the region, if not worse.

The World Drug Report 2017 acknowledges the dire challenge caused by drugs, to health, development, peace and security, in all regions of the world.

It looks at the links with other forms of organised crime, illicit financial flows, corruption and terrorism.

It then points out how drugs continue to represent a major source of revenue for organised crime networks, and business models are changing, with criminals exploiting new technologies, such as the darknet. A darknet is an internet space that is not discoverable by any usual means, such as when you search through Google or other search engines.

Along with corruption, a great enabler of organised crime, the UN cites evidence suggesting how Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates primarily in North and West Africa, has been involved in cannabis and cocaine trafficking, including in protecting traffickers. Note the East African connection as a major conduit to West and Southern Africa.

Globally, the magnitude of the harm caused by drug use is underlined by the estimated 28 million years of “healthy” life (disability-adjusted life years (DALYs)) lost worldwide in 2015 as a result of premature death and disability caused by drug use.

And yet, as the 2017 report notes, fewer than one in six persons with drug use disorders receives treatment each passing year, as the availability of and access to science-based services for the treatment of drug use disorders and related conditions remain limited

My friend was heartened that the report suggests workable steps to curb the scourge riding on our governments’ increasing concern.

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