MWAMISI: Normalisation of drug abuse among youths worrying

The habit perpetuate cycle of addiction and makes it harder for individuals to seek help.

In Summary
  • It is imperative that the law serves as an equaliser to ensure fairness and progress within our society.
  • By holding all individuals accountable regardless of their status or wealth, we can foster a more just and cohesive community.
Shisha pots at a nightclub in Nairobi.
DRUG ABUSE: Shisha pots at a nightclub in Nairobi.
Image: FILE

Whilst beer and other alcoholic drinks are legal in Kenya and their use can only be regulated, hard drugs are, of course, illegal, and being caught with them, can have major consequences for one's future, such as many years in prison.

One of the things that often receive insufficient attention is the matter of hard drugs entering the country from abroad. Hard drugs are substances that are highly addictive, have strong psychoactive effects and are associated with serious health and social consequences. These substances often have a high potential for abuse and are illegal in most jurisdictions, including Kenya.

Common examples of hard drugs include: Heroin, derived from morphine found in poppy plants, is a highly addictive opioid often sold as a white or brown powder or as "black tar heroin." Its consumption can lead to severe physical and psychological dependence. Similarly, cocaine, a potent stimulant sourced from coca leaves, is typically ingested as a white crystalline powder. Despite inducing intense euphoria and energy, cocaine poses significant risks of addiction and various health complications, including cardiovascular problems and neurological disorders.

Methamphetamine, a synthetic stimulant affecting the central nervous system, manifests as a crystalline powder or rock form, known as "crystal meth" or "ice." Its consumption through smoking, snorting, injecting, or swallowing can result in severe physical and psychological harm, including tooth decay and cognitive impairments. Crack cocaine, processed into a rock crystal, delivers rapid and intense euphoria but is highly addictive, contributing to violence, crime, and social breakdown. MDMA, popularly known as ecstasy or molly, is a synthetic psychoactive drug consumed orally for its euphoric effects. However, prolonged use can lead to dehydration, hyperthermia, and cognitive deficits.

LSD, derived from ergot fungus, induces profound hallucinations and sensory distortions when consumed orally. Though not considered addictive, its potent effects can trigger long-lasting psychological disturbances. These drugs are heavily regulated or prohibited in many countries due to their significant risks to health and society. They are often associated with addiction, overdose, criminal activity, and a range of physical and mental health problems.

However, over the years, this issue has received waning attention, and the use of these drugs has become a lifestyle for youths in Kenya from as young as 12 up to 35. It used to be a problem primarily among children raised in affluent homes, but now even those from middle-class and lower-class backgrounds are involved in the devastating use of hard drugs.

The issue of drugs and alcoholism among youth and other third-world nations is a multifaceted problem with deep-rooted causes and far-reaching consequences. Many of these nations face significant socioeconomic challenges such as poverty, unemployment and lack of access to education. These factors can contribute to a sense of hopelessness and despair among the youth population, driving them towards substance abuse as a coping mechanism. It is commendable that the government of Kenya is paying serious attention to the education sector and pushing to ensure access to education for all and streamlining the sector.

Another factor exacerbating hard drug use is that third-world nations often have limited resources allocated to prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse. Governments may prioritise other pressing issues such as healthcare, infrastructure, and basic needs, leaving substance abuse programs underfunded and understaffed.

It is positive that the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse, led by Dr Anthony Omerikwa, is beginning to have its presence felt, but much more can be done. A while back, speaking to heads of government agencies, the Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Felix Koskei asked all agencies to do their work so that change can be felt in the country. Nacada's primary mandate includes policy formulation, prevention, education, treatment, rehabilitation and advocacy related to substance abuse issues.

In many third-world nations, drugs and alcohol are readily available and affordable, especially in urban areas where there may be little regulation or enforcement of drug laws. The lack of stringent regulations makes it easier for young people to access these substances, exacerbating the problem. Therefore, the new measures taken by the Ministry of Interior, led by Kithure Kindiki, are absolutely important and should be supported by all Kenyans of goodwill. Despite the temptation for profit, safeguarding our youth should remain paramount.

There is a growing cultural acceptance or normalisation of substance abuse among the youth, making it more difficult for young people to resist peer pressure and societal expectations. This normalisation can perpetuate the cycle of addiction and make it harder for individuals to seek help. Drug networks have infiltrated spaces they weren’t in before, such as local market centres.

As observed in a commentary last year, they are sold as small affordable pellets even at 10/-, which has made it easier for children of all backgrounds to start consuming. The fact that some drugs lack a smell, unlike alcoholic drinks, makes their consumption almost stealth.

Substance abuse may be used as a means of coping with trauma and mental health issues arising from these experiences. Children who have had difficult backgrounds or certain life disappointments are always strong candidates to get into drugs use. There may be a lack of education and awareness about the dangers of substance abuse in many third-world nations. Without proper education and information about drugs amongst youths, parents, teachers and other opinion leader in the society, attacking and rolling back drug abuse cannot be effective.

Individuals believed to be involved in drug trafficking and selling must be thoroughly investigated and held accountable for their actions. Among them are prominent figures, including politicians, who are suspected of profiting from drug trafficking and sales while leading lavish lifestyles.

It is imperative that the law serves as an equaliser to ensure fairness and progress within our society. By holding all individuals accountable regardless of their status or wealth, we can foster a more just and cohesive community, allowing us to move forward with integrity and stability.

Political commentator 

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star