On Wednesday, I visited a friend in Nairobi to discuss his son who is hooked on drugs.
Incidentally, as I was to learn later, Wednesday was the International Day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking.
Leaving my friend’s house at midnight was no laughing matter considering our subject of discussion; but again, parenting is not the easiest of tasks.
Not too long ago, there was a time in our country’s history when smoking was cool, when HIV/Aids was seen as a death sentence.
Today, our collective attitudes are somewhat profoundly different- with obvious powerful and beneficial consequences. Smoking levels have gone down and so have deaths from Aids.
In the cases above and many attitudinal and behaviour change issues, it’s the change of attitude that helped to change the situation and as a result, took action to improve the quality of life for many Kenyans.
When I look at what is happening to our youth, time has now come for a fundamental change in attitude for many of us and about the pervasive and pernicious role drug and alcohol abuse play in our country.
Without doubt, a new strategy in the way we deal with it is needed urgently.
Kenyans drug use statistics indicate a worrying trend. The National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) revealed in a report last week that school-going children are abusing drugs.
Dubbed Status of Drugs and Substance Abuse among Primary School Pupils in Kenya, 2019, the report shows that 20.2 per cent of primary school pupils have used at least one drug or substance of abuse in their lifetime.
That students mainly get the drugs and substances from school neighborhoods is quite telling. And this leads to other related issues like class repetition and decline in academic performance and indiscipline in schools.
But pray, why has all this huffing and puffing in the current war on drugs and illicit substances not been able to blow the nation’s house of substance abuse and addiction? This is because the human misery that addiction and abuse cause can’t be calculated.
In fact, it is because the consequences of this epidemic are severe and worrying for the future.Yet as the situation worsens, Kenyan families continue to waste millions in health care bills because of substance abuse and addiction.
A terrifying lesson I have learnt in my experience with youth is that that youth who seek the high from substances like marijuana may seek better “highs” from other drugs. As the youth start using drugs and hang out with friends to share experiences, they are encouraged to use other drugs.
What is clear now is that it’s about time we recognised that substance abuse and addiction is a disease, not a moral failing or easily abandoned self-indulgence.
We must recognise that it is a complex disease with neurological, physical, emotional and spiritual components. We must recognise its impact on the most intractable domestic problems we confront; acceptance and recognition are good starting points.
As a country, we can carefully strategise to confront this challenge once we have accepted.
Courses in substance abuse and addiction should be made compulsory in our school system apart from professionalising the treatment system to enable us bring all into medical care which in turn, will help in obtaining parity of care.
In our schools through college, we should include age appropriate education about substance abuse as they do about other health and socio-economic matters.
Within our justice system, prosecutors, courts and prisons must seize the opportunity to reclaim hundreds of addicts by using the criminal justice system to offer effective treatment for all who need it and incentives for them to achieve and maintain sobriety.
Successful training of inmates could deliver the greatest reduction in criminal activity in Kenya’s history.
Indeed, it is time to end the denial we have lived with and stamp out the stigma associated with substance abuse and addiction and commit energy and resources to confront this plague. It is a real threat that could maim and kill Kenyan youth than all wars, natural catastrophes and many others combined.
Indeed, drug and substance abuse is an enemy that we must face squarely if we want to prepare the future generation. It’s time to reflect soberly on this scourge.
Prof. Mogambi, a Communication and Social Change Expert, teaches at University of Nairobi: hmogambi @ yahoo.co.uk