Protecting Our Youth Against Illicit Drugs

mahama ayariga 1_3Fatherless and abandoned by his mother at tender age, Yao grew up in an orphanage, but when he turned 12, he escaped from the facility, and joined the company of young destitute and drug addicts.

Yao and his gang found a new home on the streets of Agbogbloshie, a suburb of Accra, where they undertook menial jobs for a living.

Predictably, Yao transformed into a hardened criminal, when he was 17, and the list of his criminal escapades included violence, theft,, rape, and drug abuse, and consequently, he and his gang were put on the police wanted list.

The case of Yao is a demonstration of the extent to which Ghanaian youth are vulnerable to peer influence and start experimenting with illicit drugs. The most susceptible persons are those from broken homes, as well as poor and unstable backgrounds, who may consider drugs as an escape from life’s pressures.

In what appears to be a confirmation of the situation, Mr Ben Dadzie, Ashanti Regional Commander of the Narcotic Control Board, said a research it conducted revealed that about 70 per cent of youth from junior and senior high schools are facing the risk of drugs abuse.

Speaking at a sensitisation programme, organised by Five Star-Bil, a printing and advertisement company, for second cycle school students in the region, he said the study also showed that about 70 per cent of inmates in the country’s psychiatric hospitals were youth from the ages of 18 and 35.

Dr Akwasi Osei, Chief Psychiatrist at the Accra Psychiatry Hospital, indicated that about 30 per cent of out-patient visits to the health facility each year, were marijuana-related and about 10 per cent of admissions were connected to the drug.

Though the situation sounds alarming, it is the tip of the iceberg, and epitomises what the world is generally experiencing in terms of the dangers of illicit drugs. Statistics generated by the United Nations’ Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) reveals that 200 million people are addicted to illicit-drugs and trafficking of cocaine, cannabis, hallucinogens, opiates and sedative hypnotics.

Globally, drug-abuse is no more considered only as a social and health problem, but as a development issue, because it is consuming the human resource base, especially able-bodied youth.

The overwhelming effects of drugs on young people have brought havoc and misery not only to their parents or families, but the entire society.

The situation in Africa is particularly disturbing, as UN study reveals that the continent occupies second position worldwide in the trafficking and consumption of illegal drugs. According the data, 37,000 people on the continent die annually from diseases associated with the consumption of illegal drugs, and further estimates that there are 28 million drug users.

Gilberto Gerra, Chief of Drug Prevention and Health branch at the UNODC, attributed Africa’s rising illegal drug consumption to political instability as well as porous borders, adding: “West Africa is completely weak in terms of border control and the big drug cartels from Colombia and Latin America have chosen Africa as a way to reach Europe.”

He said West African countries such as Guinea Bissau, Liberia and others were becoming the target of these criminal organisations, which are taking advantage of the weakness of the police and the lack of money and resources, to use these countries for transit purposes.

The effects of illegal drugs are enormous and far reaching. This is because different drugs have varied chemical structures that can affect the human body in different ways. Some drugs can even change a person’s body and brain in ways that last long after the person has stopped taking them. In the worse scenario it maybe even be permanent.

Health experts say most abused drugs directly or indirectly target the brain’s reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, cognition, motivation, and feelings of pleasure.

The specialists also indicated that when drugs enter the brain, they can actually change how the brain performs its functions, leading to compulsive drug use, the hallmark of addiction.

Although initial drug use may be voluntary, drugs have been shown to alter brain chemistry, which interferes with an individual’s ability to make decisions and can lead to compulsive craving, seeking and use, which becomes a substance dependency.

Indeed, medical scientists claim illicit drugs can affect almost every organ in the human body, it can weaken the immune system, increasing susceptibility to infections, cause cardiovascular conditions, ranging from abnormal heart rate to heart attacks. Injected drugs can also result in collapsed veins and infections of the blood vessels and heart valves.

The drugs can also cause nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, make the liver to over work, possibly causing significant damage or liver failure. Furthermore, they can cause seizures, stroke and widespread brain damage that can impact all aspects of daily life by causing problems with memory, attention and decision-making, including sustained mental confusion and permanent brain damage.

The World Health Organisation has indicated that through out the world, deaths, illnesses and disabilities stem from substance abuse than from any other preventable health condition.

Additionally, one in four deaths is attributable to illicit drug use, and people who live with substance dependence have a higher risk of all bad outcomes, including unintentional injuries, accidents, risk of domestic violence, medical problems, and death.

Marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other illicit drugs may pose various risks for pregnant women and their babies. Some of these drugs can cause a baby to be born too small or too soon, or to have withdrawal symptoms, birth defects or learning and behavioural problems.

Aside, pregnant women who use illicit drugs may engage in other unhealthy behaviours that place their pregnancy at risk, such as having extremely poor nutrition or developing sexually transmitted infections.

Socially, drug abuse often have telling effects on the behaviour of users, such as paranoia, aggressiveness, hallucinations, addiction, impaired judgment, impulsiveness and loss of self-control. Rape, armed theft, robbery, assault, violence and other cases are linked to the use of illicit drugs. Parents, teens, older adults and other members of society tend to characterise drug users as morally weak or as having criminal tendencies.

These myths have stereotyped not only those with drug and other substance use disorders, but their families, their communities and the health care professionals, who work with them.

The magnitude of the effects the trafficking and consumption of illicit drug, led the UN to institute measures to curb the menace, including the observation of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26 each year. The event, which is to raise awareness of the major problem that illicit drugs represent to the society, is supported by individuals, communities and various organisations all over the world.

Additionally, UNODC has over the years engaged in campaigns to mobilise support for drug control, and worked with other organisations, and encouraged communities to actively take part in the fight against the use of illicit drugs.

At the local level too, individuals, organisations, and governments, have put in place larger scale measures, such as public workshops, enactment of laws, coupled with mass media campaign, all in the bid to eliminate the trafficking and use of illicit drugs.

Notwithstanding these efforts, it appears not enough is been done to deal with the canker because it has gained roots in communities at an unprecedented rate, and has become complex and difficult to tackle.

But we cannot throw our arms in despair and watch the youth, the cream of society, perish under the yoke of illicit drugs. It is rather a wake up call for all and sundry to support innovative and comprehensive measures being taken to deal with the menace.

Governments and policy makers in particular, should involve institutions frequented by the youth, like churches, mosques and schools, in programmes aimed educating young people and society at large, about the dangers of trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs.

By Clemence Okumah

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