• Addiction starts with a single puff or sip, but recovery is a lifelong process
Today is the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The theme for this year being, “Better Knowledge for Better Care.” It aims to deconstruct the misinformation surrounding the drug menace, which is steadily rising.
Early this year, I was engaged in a debate with someone. One that would end in, “Anyway, wewe bado hujavuta bangi zenye nimevuta. Itakuwa vigumu uone life vile naiona. (You haven’t smoked the bhang I have. It will be difficult for you to see life from my perspective.)” A statement meant to insinuate that bhang makes you smarter.
I was bowled over, not just by those words, but that they were coming from someone we all once knew as a brilliant mind. “You mean they hypnotised you, too, into believing drugs make you smart?”
About a year earlier, I came across a primary schoolmate. During those days, he was a man of sturdy build. On this day, I could hardly recognise him. He was frail, red-eyed, had chapped pink lips, and looked generally unkempt. A pale shadow of his former, if I may say. Adverse effects of continuous drug use.
Then there was the genius whose star shone so bright. Growing up, he was an A student whose indiscipline would rank at an A as well. And since our education system ranks success with grades, no one bothered to polish his character. A feat that left him with a mesmerising intellect and a mesmerising drug problem as well. After years of losing touch, I would one day find myself added to a WhatsApp group titled, “Funds for our Dear Brother.” He had succumbed to a drug overdose.
A while back, tracts of land in the Aberdare forest had bhang. Forestry officials have been doing such an outstanding job! Don’t forget that with the stay-at-home order, an exposé by one media house showed how scoundrels, masquerading as shopkeepers, were selling drugs to children. Children born to parents who are drug users are at high risk as well. Schools aren’t safe, either. A learning institution somewhere even bears the nickname ‘Jujamaica’ for being a drug hub, as Jamaica is.
“Legalise the herb,” we hear many say. Some medics are joining the tune, arguing that this is for medicinal purposes. While this may be bona fide, we all know a whopping majority of the proponents only want to legally do what they’ve been doing illegally.
The stories could go on and on. That is just but the tip of an insidious societal problem. A cancer that is burgeoning, and which if not put in check, will be malignant and consequently fatal. Now you know why your teenager keeps asking for money to ‘buy new stationery’, or why your pocket change keeps disappearing mysteriously, or why they have a hustle but you never really understand where the money goes.
And if you think it’s the preserve of the boy child, well, shock on you. There’s a saying that what a man can do, a woman can do better. Young girls out here are proving it in all the wrong ways.
So, what is the solution to all these? Could it be the law? Like every other Kenyan problem, drug control laws exist, implementation is the issue. The Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act prescribes severe penalties for drug use or peddling. Hardly do we see such sentencing. Take the infamous Akasha brothers’ case, for instance. While the courts in Kenya were playing hocus pocus, the US courts swiftly dealt with the matter upon their extradition.
Those charged with effecting laws should step up. From my interaction with older people, I get a picture that in the eighties and nineties, drug peddling was a serious crime. But in this millennial era, it is the norm. It’s time we revert to the olden days.
Prevention will always be better. Considering the habit is mostly picked from peers, young people without rock-solid principles risk being swayed. Inculcate good morals in children. If we create a culture where we don’t do drugs, we will see less of this in society.
Education is necessary. But a different kind of education. Cigarette packs today even have pictures of smokers’ lungs, but people still buy them. There’s a passive attitude amongst drug users of, “I know the consequences.” Indifference is the greater issue today.
A lot of information on drug abuse sounds theoretical. Which explains why it is easily disregarded. Tell real stories. Let’s hear more from people who almost had their lives go down the drain. That way, there will be a more personal touch to it.
Further, let us give more detail on consequences of drug abuse. Conditions like liver cirrhosis are irreversible once the damage begins. Rather than say alcohol damages the liver, help people understand some of the intricacies. That way, they will have a clearer picture that is less likely to be ignored.
Support recovering addicts. Like released prisoners, they often face stigmatisation. Giving them acceptance ameliorates their predicament.
Our rehabilitation system needs rehabilitation. Rehabilitation in Kenya is an expensive process that costs millions. Many rehabs also offer poor care. Rather than support the addicts, they subject them to torture, causing their already fragile mental state to worsen. Government agencies should close down such dingy rehabs, while creating well-equipped ones which are affordable.
Find better ways to deal with issues. That false feeling of well-being that drugs give you doesn’t solve problems. One has to face them. Talk. Seek therapy. Seek help.
Be acquainted with facts. That way you won’t tell us how bhang heals 20 different cancers or how it makes you smarter. People with bright futures have thrown it all down the drain. Life has flown past addicts as they struggle to rebuild their lives. Addiction starts with a single puff, maybe a single sip, but recovery is a lifelong process. And a costly one so. Kabla uwashe kindukulu, think again.