Demystifying dangerous drugs: Part Three … say no to drugs

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DOCUMENTS presented to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs revealed an increase in drug abuse across most regions of the world, especially in Africa (including Zimbabwe), Europe (especially Eastern Europe), and the Americas (except for the Bahamas, Canada, Ecuador and the US).  

A mixed trend emerged in the Asian and Pacific regions, with as many countries reporting stable or slight decreases as increases.  

In the Near and Middle East, increasing abuse was found in Egypt, Israel, Pakistan and the Syrian Arab Republic.  

Whereas Bahrain, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia reported overall decreasing patterns.

In Zimbabwe, emphasis has been placed on drug abuse/demand, mostly in public statements and commentary in the media. 

Whereas the obligations of parties to the conventions on drug control concerning reductions in illicit supply are clearly defined, the implementation of demand-side obligations of States parties is not specified in the conventions and depends on the ability of States departments to carry out education, information, treatment and rehabilitation.

Since some drugs are more available and used more often than others, the questions that arise are: What personal characteristics of the users and what social or cultural factors in a given country influence the attractiveness of a drug? 

Or, why do users want certain drugs as opposed to others and how does this influence their willingness to pay for them?

Studies suggest the production and distribution of illicit drugs follow supply-demand principles with some allowance for the illegal nature of the product.  

In terms of their impact on global drug problems and their large-scale financial implications, opium-heroin and coca-cocaine are the primary drugs of interest.

The broader context of addictive substances includes tobacco, alcohol and solvents (including glues, thinners and gasoline).  

All these substances have several important characteristics in common.

They alter the function of the human brain and have an impact on behaviour. 

They are widely used throughout the world; and burden society by increasing social and economic costs for productive enterprises and by drawing upon limited government services.  

The most widely used addictive substances, alcohol and tobacco, are harmful and cause extensive damage to the individual, family and community.

In Zimbabwe, where poverty is endemic, the ease of availability of numerous nefarious substances, together with a lack of social safety nets and high unemployment (for all ages and sectors of society), coupled with the lack of suitable medical professionals and institutions as well as suitable recreational facilities, especially for young people, are compelling reasons for the increase in dangerous drugs and substance abuse in the country.

The escalating situation of substance use in Zimbabwe, involves both licit and illicit substances. 

Often overlooked or understated in the matrix of substance abuse in Zimbabwe are marijuana/hemp and alcohol addiction, including illicit ‘moonshine’ brews and the plethora of cheap, unregulated alcohols sold under the disreputable pseudonyms for whiskey, cane, vodka, gin, etc.  

For example, alcohol use was up from ninth to eighth place between 2009 and 2019, in the Top 10 Risk Factors that contributed to Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYS) in Zimbabwe.  

Local imbibers, both young and old, are often in a drunken state of unconsciousness, colloquially referred to as ‘kusticker’ – in reference to the paralytic-like stupor addicts high on substances befall.

The ease of availability of substances, together with a lack of socio-economic activities for people, has resulted in the increased use of substances of concern that are more complex economically and politically, with clear signs of moving beyond teenage experimentation or chosing unhealthy behaviours.  

But owing to the evolving complexity of the problem and the lack of a holistic national monitoring system for substance use, most of the evidence cited tends to be anecdotal in nature, and heavily reliant on secondary sources.

The global increases in the problems of illicit drugs (including in Zimbabwe), both reflect and contribute to national, regional and international tensions.  

The origins of some of these tensions: are clear; rapid changes in political alignment, reduced family and community cohesiveness, increased unemployment and underemployment, economic and social marginalisation and increased crime.  

At a time when dramatic improvements are taking place in some sectors like communications and technology, the quality of life for many people has fallen far short of the potential that exists and the rising expectations of people who know that life could be better.

At a time of rising socio-economic and political tensions, the macro-economic environment has fundamentally changed.  

Trade and investment have expanded and brought significant economic benefits to some areas of the developed and developing world– but not to others.  Capital, goods and people move much more frequently and freely across national borders than was the case previously.

For instance, the opening of European borders between East and West also facilitated contact and communication between traffickers as well as others, increasing the number of transit routes for drugs and the potential number of drug consumers.

In many industries, multi-national enterprises operate on a world scale by allocating production according to the comparative advantage of individual countries or regions, by selling in diverse geographical markets and by undertaking financial operations where it is most advantageous.  

One of the consequences of these developments is that financial markets have become more transparent, with massive daily transfers of money around the world.  Judging that the benefits of increased trade and investment outweigh a certain loss of sovereignty in controlling the entry and exit of people, goods and money, nation States seem to have made their fundamental choice in favour of economic liberalisation because of the expected material benefits to be gained.

The same macro-economic environment that facilitated the growth and development of global legitimate businesses has also provided the opportunity for drug producers and traffickers to organise themselves on a global scale, to produce in developing countries, to distribute and sell in all parts of the world, to move drug cartel members easily from country to country and to place and invest their drug profits in financial centres offering secrecy and attractive investment returns. 

The same deregulation that has allowed legitimate businesses to move money around the world electronically with few national controls has also permitted drug producers and traffickers to launder illicit drug profits so that these funds appear to be legitimate.

Today, in 2023, there is more awareness of the problems of illicit drugs and drug trafficking in Africa than ever before.  

But translating this awareness into constructive action is a major challenge.  

It is thus imperative for southern African States, as asserted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, to develop sustainable and human-centred approaches in response to the rising illicit substance crisis throughout urban and peri-urban Zimbabwe today!

Drug and substance abuse puts a heavy burden on families and communities in many countries, including Zimbabwe, frequently overloading welfare, treatment and law enforcement.  

However, policy instruments such as the Dangerous Drugs Act (Chapter 15:02), designed to curtail the demand for, suppress the traffic in, and control the supply of illicit drugs in Zimbabwe, have not produced satisfactory results.

Zimbabwe and our future must not be allowed to be annihilated in a demonic haze of toxic smoke. 

Say no to drugs! 

Dr Tony Monda BSc, DVM, DPVM, is currently conducting Veterinary epidemiology, and Agro-economic research in Zimbabwe. For views and comments, email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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