Children as young as six abusing drugs, new government study says

National Authority for the Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada) chairman Stephen Mairori (left) and Interior PS Raymond Omollo (centre), among other officials, during the launch of the latest survey on the status of drug and substance abuse in Kenya at the Weston Hotel in Nairobi on Friday, May, 12,2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Children as young as six years old are now abusing drugs, the latest government report shows.

The report released on Friday, May 12, 2023, by the National Authority for the Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada) notes that the minimum age for children using drugs had been 11 over the years.

The 2023 National Survey on the Status of Drugs and Substance Use in Kenya, released every five years, noted an increase in the number of minors caught up in the web of drug abuse.

The report links this problem to early exposure by parents, especially during family outings and meetings. During such functions, children copy what they see adults doing, including taking alcohol and other substances, in their presence.

It also emerged that up to one million people are addicted to bhang, the report linking this trend to remarks that have been made by politicians about the drug. Some politicians have emphasized the health benefits of bhang and have called for its production for commercial purposes.

Between 2017 and 2022, the report says, the use of bhang increased by 90 per cent.

Nairobi region has the highest number of users of cannabis, at 6.3 per cent, followed by Nyanza at 2.4 per cent.

According to the survey, one in every eight Kenyans, aged 15 to 65 years, is using alcohol, translating to about four million Kenyans. Of these, 1.3 million people are addicts, the report shows.

Police officers in Kisii County destroy a chang'aa distiller at Kionganyo in Kisii Central on Sunday, February 5, 2023. [Eric Abuga, Standard]

Overall, Western Kenya had the highest number of people abusing alcohol, at 23 per cent, followed by the Coastal region at 13 per cent and Central at 12.8 per cent.

Western region is also leading in chang’aa consumption, at 11.4 per cent, followed by Nyanza at 6.3 per cent and Rift Valley at 3.6 per cent, according to the survey that sampled Kenyans aged 15 to 65 in selected clusters in all counties.

“Nairobi had most manufactured legal alcohol, at 10.3 per cent, followed by Central Kenya at 10 per cent and Eastern at 8.4 per cent,” the study said.

Most portable spirits were found in Central, at 4.1 per cent, followed by Coast at 3.2 per cent and Rift Valley at 3.1 per cent, according to the survey.

There are about 2.3 million people who are using tobacco with the report indicating that at least one in every 12 Kenyans is smoking.

The Central region had the highest number of tobacco users at, 10.8 per cent, followed by Eastern at 10.7 per cent.

One in every 28 Kenyans, aged between 15 and 65 years, is using miraa with the Eastern region leading at 9.6 per cent. North-Eastern follows it at 7.2 per cent and Nairobi at five per cent.

“It is worrying that the initiation age is now between six to nine years of age.  It is very worrying to our country, it is not good news for us,” said Nacada chairman Stephen Mairori, who spoke during the launch of the report in Nairobi.

He added: “The report is giving red danger sign that things are not good for us, we are calling on all Kenyans to join us in this fight.”

Dr Raymond Omollo, the Principal Secretary Ministry for Interior, said:  “We recognize the urgency of this issue, and on behalf of my colleagues in this sector, I commit that we will take bold steps to protect our citizens.”

Omollo said the government will not hesitate to take stern action on administrators who will be found colluding with illicit brewers.

“We send a strong warning to any law enforcement officers who may be involved in this illegal trade. Your actions will not be tolerated, and you will be held personally accountable for your betrayal of the public trust,” the PS said.

Nacada said there is a need for county governments to review their licensing regimes and incorporate public participation as a way of checking the proliferation of liquor-selling outlets.

The authority also called on the Kenya Bureau of Standards to review standards for alcoholic drinks so as to regulate the potency of cheap and readily available liquor in the market.