ELKANA JACOB: Gachagua right on fight against drug abuse

Drug abuse and HIV/Aids has increased rapidly in the past 10 years at the Coast in particular.

In Summary
  • Drugs are man-made or naturally occurring substances used without medical supervision basically to change the way a person feels, thinks or behaves.
  • There's no doubt the gravity of the situation not only endangers public health but also has broader implications for the stability and security of the nation.
Media consultant and security analyst Elkana Jacob.
Media consultant and security analyst Elkana Jacob.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has reaffirmed both his personal and government's commitment to resolving drug and alcohol abuse menace across the country and this must be complimented.

Drug abuse that involves use of cocaine and other hard drugs is prominent at the Coast.

The DP hit headlines when he questioned Coastal leaders over their lack of commitment to the fight against drug abuse despite it having destroyed the future of a whole lot of generations in the region.

The anti-drug and alcohol meeting in Mombasa that the DP graced was an eye opener that revealed the glaring mistakes we have made as a nation to let the vice thrive.

Research indicates that more youth are abusing drugs than during any other time in history, and many of them are found mostly along the Coastal counties of Mombasa,  Kilindi,  Kilifi,  Malindi and Kwale.  

An argument has been advanced that if the same trend continues for the next 10 years, then the Coastal region will miss a whole generation. 

Understanding what drugs are is fundamental to understanding their potential abuse. 

A psychoactive substance is something that people take to change the way they feel, think or behave. Some of these substances are called  drugs, and others, like alcohol and tobacco, are considered dangerous but are not considered to be drugs. 

The term drugs also cover a number of substances that must be used under medical supervision to treat illnesses.

According to the United Nations, a drug is any substance which when  introduced into the body will alter the normal biological and psychological functioning of the body especially the central nervous system (Escandon and Galvez, 2006). 

Drugs in many ways are man-made or naturally occurring substances  used without medical supervision basically to change the way a person feels, thinks or behaves so that they "can have fun." 

Substance abuse has many negative physiological health effects, ranging  from minor issues like digestion problems or respiratory infections, to  potentially fatal diseases like HIV/Aids and hepatitis C.

A study by the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) shows that drugs and substance abused both licit and illicit are forming a sub-culture in Kenya among youth and the students. 

This is a big challenge to Kenya and more so at the Coastal region. Some drugs are very addictive, like heroin, while others are less so. But the upshot is that regular drug abuse or sustained exposure to a drug - even for a short period of time - can cause physiological dependence, which means that when the person stops taking drugs, he/she experiences physical withdrawal symptoms and a craving for the drug. 

Drug abuse also causes brain damage. Again, depending on the drug.

But one thing is clear, drug abuse affects the way the brain functions and alters its responses to the world.  

That is what psychoactive means - something that acts on your brain. Drug abuse affects behaviour, actions, feelings and motivations by meddling in the natural ways the brain functions.

Abusers expose themselves to risks they may not even have imagined.  A study by Winger et al (2004) found various physiological effects such as  accelerated heart beat, speeding in the peripheral circulation of the  blood, alteration of blood pressure, breathing rate and other body  functions  normally decline. 

Substance use and abuse by young people and problems associated with this behaviour have been part of human history for a long time. What is different today is increased availability of a wide variety of substances and the declining age at which experimentation with these substances take place (WHO, 2005).  

Additionally, there are some drugs like heroin and crack cocaine that are highly addictive. 

This means that even if they are used recreationally, they tend to induce physical dependence, leading to an increased need for the drug. Even  those drugs that people think they can take occasionally, the so-called party drugs (like Ecstasy and Speed), tend to produce a craving to repeat the sensations again and again. 

The effects of most drugs are not very well known. Even when they are, their influences are dependent on an individual's physical and psychological makeup, and even occasional drug use can lead to  unforeseen complications and reactions.  

Drug abuse and HIV/Aids has increased rapidly in the past 10 years at the Coast in particular.

As a major drug transit channel with sources of drugs from the golden tangle and gold crescent in Asia, the Coast has also become a major drug consuming market. 

About half of sampled population reported drug use, many share needles and other ills associated with drug abuse. IDU has contributed to a big  percent cumulatively reported HIV/AIDS cases thus far.  

It is worth noting that drug trafficking is illegal in Kenya and can lead to death penalty. The government of Kenya through public administration department has made commitments to adopt zero tolerance approach to  drug use.

Past experiences along the Coastal line of Kenya show that cracking down on drug smuggling and prohibiting drug use alone cannot prevent or solve illicit drug-related problems in the era of globalisation. 

In recent years, the national government outlined a series of pragmatic  policies to encourage harm reduction programmes. Meanwhile, some local governments have not fully mobilised to deal with drugs abuse and  HIV/Aids problem seriously.  

Strengthening government leadership at both central and local levels requires scaling up methadone substitution and needle exchange programmes; making HIV voluntary counseling and affordable to both urban and rural drug users and utilising outreach and non-governmental organizations to offer additional strategies to help cope with drug abuse problem along the Coast. 

We must applaud efforts by non-governmental organisations along the Coastline which are contributing positive activities towards assisting the central government and other government agencies.  

I was happy to read that Gachagua has held similar meetings in Nyeri, Nakuru, Nandi and Chuka where he reaffirmed government’s commitment to resolving the drug and alcohol abuse menace.

His promise that the Kenya Kwanza government was going to make Kenya safe from the killer drinks as well as make sure the manufacturers of the drinks meet the required standards is commendable.

There is no doubt that the gravity of the situation not only endangers public health but also has broader implications for the stability and security of the nation.

All stakeholders must now unite against this scourge of drug and substance abuse in the Coastal region and end the menace once and for all. There is need to use local communities and government's rehabilitation model to reintegrate drug addicts at the Coast region and perhaps Kenya at large.

Elcana Jacob is a criminologist, security expert and communication consultant

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