Eze Eluchie is the Sub Saharan Africa representative at civil society taskforce of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, and board member, World Federation Against Drugs (WFAD); a group of individuals and non-governmental organisations working towards a ‘drug-free’ world. He speaks to ADAM ALQALI about the menace of drug abuse among youth in Africa and how to tackle it
As representative of Sub Saharan Africa at the civil society taskforce of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, how serious is the challenge of drug abuse among youth in Sub Saharan Africa?
When you know what the predisposing factors into drug abuse are you will really understand why it is a serious challenge for countries going through economic challenges; some of these predisposing factors are poverty, broken homes, peer pressure and poor parenting; I mean cases where parents have less time for their children due to economic pressure and the need to earn enough to make ends meet.
This means the children are left on their own hence they are not properly mentored and so they end up adopting whatever they watch on television as their own pastime. These youths don’t just take substances like heroin and cocaine instead they take all sorts of concoctions that are equally very dangerous to health.
The problem is increasing across Africa by the day and we are living with its reality, if you go to our major cities you will come directly into contact with the effect of drugs abuse and realize that many of our youths are going astray. So, the earlier the society begins to address the issue holistically the better for everybody.
We are now in a globalized world and the issue of drug abuse is also a global problem and so different countries have different approaches to curtailing drug abuse, countries in North and Latin America are thinking of legalizing substances like marijuana and making it publicly and commercially available. But looking at our own part of the world one will realize that we are still battling with basic preventive healthcare issues like malaria and immunization not to talk of tertiary preventive healthcare issues like treating addiction and rehabilitation.
So, at United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs which is a global body, what we are trying to fashion out is a middle ground so that entire countries of the world can still continue with their effort of curtailing drugs and substance abuse domestically yet are also able to key into the global effort to address the challenge.
So, the challenge of drug abuse is a complex issue which is why even those that have legalised drugs and substances are now realising that they have made a mistake and so are now trying to limit the legalization. We cannot successfully address the challenge drug abuse without taking preventive measures; if the youths were prevented from engaging in drug abuse there won’t be any need to curtail it.
It seems addressing the challenge must be multi-stakeholder in nature, what do you think must all stakeholders do collectively to address the challenge?
Everybody has a role to play; the role of the government is to fashion out policies that will help the society to progress as such the government has a very key role to play by sensitizing parents about these drugs and their implication, if abused.
This way the youths can be prevented from becoming addicted to drugs, which make it more expensive to address. Everyone has a role to play including the family, religious and educational institutions. Thus, there is need for a central policy articulating the role of each of the stakeholders so as to avoid duplication of efforts.
Some are advocating for a ban on the importation of illicit drugs being abused by youths into respective countries in Africa. What is your take on this as a solution to the challenge of drug abuse?
Well, banned illicit drugs and substances like cocaine still find their way back into our countries so we have to be weary of the approach of ban and punishments and instead adopt approaches like preventive education, public enlightenment, empathy, care and treatment.
So, governments should learn to focus on cheaper approaches of curtailing drug abuse which is basically prevention, prevention and prevention! By the time we make the family learn how to prevent their children from engaging in drug abuse and they are able to successfully apply those preventive mechanisms by the time the children grow up they would be immune from engaging in the scourge.