Pubdate: Sun, 20 Feb 2011
Source: Daily Nation (Kenya)
Copyright: 2011 Nation Newspapers
Author: John B. Osoro
Note: Mr Osoro works at the Centre for Policy Analysis.
Bookmark: (Drug Education)


Having a conversation with the former boss of the National Agency for 
the Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada), Mr Joseph Kaguthi, on the 
drug abuse problem in Kenya is extremely enlightening.

Mr Kaguthi asserts that policymakers, civil society, and the 
citizenry need to arm themselves with the right information regarding 
substance abuse in order to assist in finding sustainable solutions.

Everyone concerned should know, for instance, that substances causing 
the greatest harm to the youth are those that are legally available, 
not the illicit ones.

Secondly, the negative public attitude towards drunkards and drug 
addicts as criminals deserving arrest and punishment needs to change.

These are sick people crying out for help. Ranking legal and illegal 
drugs according to the level of damage they cause to society, alcohol 
tops the list, followed by cigarette smoking, bhang, miraa, volatile 
inhalants, medical prescription drugs, and finally, cocaine and heroin.

Cigarettes are notorious for harming innocent bystanders, unlike 
alcohol, which explains why banning smoking in public places is the 
trend worldwide.

Next in line is bhang. Demand is so high that neighbouring countries 
are now growing the drug as a crop targeting the Kenyan black market.

Miraa has a unique quality as a gatekeeper drug that seduces an 
abuser to reach out for alcohol, cigarettes, and other substances 
during its long time-wasting chewing sessions. It is common in 
Nairobi, North Eastern, and coastal regions.

Volatile inhalants affect the poorest in society. Abusers are able to 
stop taking these drugs without suffering serious withdrawal symptoms.

On the other hand, medical drug abuse is a direct consequence of 
weaknesses in law enforcement as well as lack of professionalism 
among persons working in the medical field.

Heroin and cocaine have pitched tent in Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu, 
and Nairobi and its environs and may spill over to other areas unless 
corrective action is taken. These drugs arrive from the Far East and 
the West African circuit, attracted by Kenya's efficient 
communication system by air, road, IT, and other means.

Secondly, having enjoyed peace and stability for a considerable 
period of time, this country facilitates free movement to foreigners, 
attracting drug barons.

Initially, heroin and cocaine used Kenya as a transit point but like 
all drugs, they soon landed and local consumption began. However, the 
quick spread of hard drugs at the Coast was due to the speed with 
which security forces were compromised.

Despite this weakness, Muslim clerics and the media continue to put 
up resistance against drug peddling in coastal towns to the extent of 
naming offenders over the radio.

Nacada is the first institution established by the government 
purposely to deal with substance abuse. Unfortunately, however, the 
organisation was merely tasked to lead a campaign against substance 
abuse without matching enforcement powers.

Worse still, the presidential decree that established Nacada never 
outlined clearly its parameters of operation.

The solution to this country's drug abuse and transit problem lies in 
the immediate creation of an authority solely designed to deal with 
drugs and substance abuse control.

Once the authority is established, its leadership vetted, and 
parliamentary approval obtained, the organisation's CEO should report 
periodically to Parliament and the President regarding coordination 
of drug-related activities across the board.

The rationale behind this requirement is simple: no one government 
agency can effectively combat drug and substance smuggling, peddling, 
and abuse singly.

Since 2005/6 when Kenya became a consumer of hard drugs such as 
cocaine and heroin, the country has degenerated into a drug transit 
and storage area.

This dubious distinction was attained partly because arrested 
offenders were not debriefed on the source of their illicit 
merchandise and suitable policy action initiated.

Equally important, the Judiciary should hand down heavy sentences to 
proven drug barons and peddlers as a deterrent measure.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom