Criminalization and discrimination are tools which African governments employ in fighting drug abuse; unknown to them, these tools do more harm than good.
"It is hard to understand addiction unless you have experienced it."
- Ken Hensley
Drug abuse continues to be a menace in the African society that has eaten deep into the social-ethnic fabric of youths and young adults. Despite all their measures and attempts to curb the scourge, it appears drug abusers continue to be on the rise and the millions of dollars spent yearly are being washed down the drain. This is mainly as a result of the crude practices employed by African governments in controlling the trend.
African leaders and stakeholders must come to an understanding that drug abuse is a condition and not a crime in itself. Thus when handling issues relating to job abuse, one must be careful and it is best to leave it to professionals who have received adequate training in this area.
Government and other stakeholders must accept the fact that the war against drug abuse is not a war against the drug abusers themselves but the habit. This war cannot be won by force or the law enforcement agencies but only by adopting the best practices – no matter how unconventional they may seem.
It is surprising how our leaders are quick to copy only the wrong things from foreign countries but tend to overlook the policies that are actually working. It is in this vein that one is forced to question the commitment of our leaders towards development and achieving the right results.
It is very popular for African governments to use the strong arm of the law in employing criminal procedure and discrimination to fight drug abuse. This has done more harm than good and statistics clearly shows this. It is surprising that despite the fact that many African governments can see that fighting drug abuse with the criminal justice system is yielding very little or no result, they are adamant to change the model and accept the propositions from drug experts who believe decriminalization and zero-discrimination is one of the answers to solving the many problems encountered through drug abuse.
A few days ago, there was a publication on The African Exponent (TAE) which addressed the issue of Cannabis cultivation of export for medical and commercial purposes and how African governments are missing out on a market that can fetch over $6 billion because they fail to see farther than their noses.
One thing we must get clear is that drug abusers are not criminals and thus they need help, not incarceration – as is the case in many countries today. But this will not be heeded by many African leaders because governments in this part of the world are always in need of scapegoats.
Drug abusers should be shown love, care, and support – not put behind bars, especially since that doesn’t help the issue in any way. There are reported cases where random drug users become addicts as a result of incarceration and poor rehabilitation centers which ends up exposing them to even higher drug usage and dosage. Only through support based approaches, can the level of a person’s drug use be detected and the best way to assist the individual mapped out.
Although the government is stiff in its resolve and does not readily buy into these arguments, one aspect they should pay attention to is the fact that drug abuse cuts across gender, class, and values; thus the only difference is the type of drug the individual in question indulges in. A drug is a drug and a drug abuser is a drug abuser, so the idea of treating some drug abusers different from the others is not in the best interest of the state.
African government believes that adopting drug abuse control models as advised by drug use and control experts makes their government and the law look weak this is untrue and is one many other drug policies and reforms that is in urgent need for review, because while we agreed that many criminals abuse drugs, drug abuse doesn’t make one a criminal!
We are not winning this war against drug abuse and it is time for a change of strategy!
Header Image Credit: SABC News
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