In early January 2017, the Zonal Representative participated in an advocacy training workshop at Uyo Akwa Ibom State. The training was organised by Community Intervention Network on Drugs (CIND) and coordinated by Dr. Ebiti William. The workshop was to sensitise Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working within its network on the legal regulation of drugs and how to advocate for drug control policy/policies. Participants at the workshop cut across CSOs working in the area of drug prevention, demand control, treatment and rehabilitation.
The key message at the training was the need for stricter legal regulation or control policy on the production, supply and use of illicit drugs. A few of the CSOs present at the workshop shared their field experiences working within drug users’ communities. They noted that several interventions with this high risk group do not usually get the desired impact due to the following reasons; (i). Misinformation on the source, quality and type of drugs people consume. Most users have no idea of the source, quality of drug or drugs mixture they consume. An ex-user shared with the group that sometimes users are sold paint (powdered paint) for ‘crack cocaine’. He told the group that there is a dramatic change in the trend of drug use from the 1980s and 1990s. These days, creativity has been introduced into the use with complex “cocktails” of unimaginable substances ranging from pharmaceutical products (like Tramadol, Codeine) to dung, paint and other conventional drugs. He also noted that legal control would give cover over packaging, vendors and outlets, users will be more open to treatment and freely access health facility for help, (ii) Drug abuse or use is treated as a crime rather than a public health issue. A case of alcohol use was compared to a wrap of cannabis. A person who is a drunk is not seen as a criminal but one caught with a wrap of cannabis would most likely be considered a criminal and can be detained, in other cases imprisoned or fined. A critical consideration of both cases would present issues for public health as both alcohol and cannabis abuse present similar negative outcomes, health impact and social affectation. All drug users are not drug dependent or addict and drug use is not synonymous to crime but problematic drug use would present criminal outcomes. Therefore, regulation and better health education would be more effective and humane ways of encouraging people to make healthier lifestyle choices, (iii) prohibited drugs are unfortunately affordable and this makes it difficult to control supply, (iv) drug users are mostly labelled and stigmatised resulting to affected persons developing fear of ‘coming out’, delay in seeking necessary care, fear of discrimination and self stigmatisation.
This calls for CSOs and other stakeholders in the health sector to support government efforts in curbing and bringing to the barest minimal the impact of drug abuse on individual health, society through awareness programmes, lectures and for CSOs to advocate for stricter policy control and regulations on drug production, supply and demand.
This training came at the time when Gede Foundation is reaching out to communities and stakeholders to deepen its partnership in intervening for mental health as an essential aspect of health development programmes.
Written by Ekaette Udoekong
The Zonal Representative