How About Declaring Drug Abuse a National State of Disaster?

A man smokes a marijuana cigarette as about 100 Rastafarians and other members of the public sing and dance outside the Cape Town High Court in support of a court application to decriminalise dagga (marijuana/cannabis) on December 7, 2015 in the Cape Town centre. This case is one of several legal actions actions taking place around marijuana, including decriminalising hemp, used for making cloth, and various marijuana extracts used medicinally. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH
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THAT drug and substance abuse affects development in an emerging economy like Zimbabwe that is on an unprecedented path to success is not an understatement.

By Lovemore Chikova

As the problem grows in Zimbabwe, many are now realising how communities are watching helpless as young people and in some instances the elderly indulge in the illicit drugs that come in various types, some home-made, while others are smuggled from across borders.

A major problem now in Zimbabwe, if not addressed drug and substance abuse can lead to catastrophic results on the country’s development agenda.

President Mnangagwa’s government is fully aware of such consequences, hence the President has set up the National Committee on Drugs and Substance Abuse chaired by Defence Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri.

There is also the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Drug and Substance Abuse for which experienced health expert Dr Agnes Mahomva will be appointed the national coordinator.

The National Committee on Drugs and Substance Abuse is made up of various stakeholders, including Government, the police, the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

Last week, Cabinet received and approved a report by the Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Drug and Substance Abuse that Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri presented.

The national committee has frequently met in light of the observed increases in drug and substance abuse cases.

The pillars of this national committee chaired by Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri include supply reduction, demand reduction, harm reduction, treatment and rehabilitation, psycho-social support and community re-integration, and the media and information pillars.

After establishing these steps towards eradicating the drugs scourge, the next step should be the declaration of the problem as a national state of disaster.

This is because drugs have affected the whole nation, with the potential to reverse the developmental gains being scored by the Second Republic.

Declaring the drugs problems a national state of disaster will trigger emergency powers which enable the Government to triple efforts to mitigate this disaster.

This will give the Government additional powers to respond to the crisis, with fewer bureaucratic delays and less oversight.

There is indeed a huge link between development and drugs, and the link is not helpful at all.

Drugs have a huge potential to derail development in many ways.

Apart from disrupting the flow of developmental programmes, drugs are a security threat to the nation and this could explain why President Mnangagwa had to appoint the Minister of Defence to chair the national committee on drugs and substance abuse.

It is clear from the recent experiences in Zimbabwe that youths are the most affected by drugs, although many other elderly are now taking them too.

Yet, youths should be the major drivers and beneficiaries of development as their full participation is vital. Drugs do not discriminate on the basis of one’s gender, education, or any other qualification. People from various walks of life are taking drugs.

The drugs problem has ceased to be just an individual matter, but a cause of concern for the whole country.

This is because the impact of drugs is easily felt on health, development security and peace.

Many of the youths who are into drugs are compromising their health, in the end overwhelming the health delivery system as they seek treatment and rehabilitation.

There were reports recently that the majority of those in rehabilitation centres in Zimbabwe were mainly youths suffering from the effects of drugs. These young people, who are the most affected, have their future soiled as they may be unable to realise their potential to contribute or benefit from development.

In fact, it is now known that drugs can overwhelm various systems of governance as resources are diverted to deal with their effect on individuals. The more people indulge in drugs means more funds have to be directed towards law enforcement as crime is set to increase because of the reckless behaviour that is associated with getting high.

Just this week, Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga revealed that criminal cases dealt with by the police rose 12 percent during the first eight months of this year compared to the same period last year, with most of the extra caseload being linked to drug abuse.

The justice delivery system, mainly the courts, are in turn inundated with cases emanating from crimes committed under the influence of drugs.

As pointed above, the healthcare system has to fork out more resources, both financial and human, to attend to those whose health is negatively affected by the drugs.

No person can give their all to an assignment when they are high on drugs, and this means affecting productivity in industries and on farms, with devastating consequences on the nation’s economic progress.

Communities become no longer safe as cases of violence, murder and robbery increase because of those in the habit of taking drugs.

This calls for a systematic fight against drug and substance abuse and the national committee and the inter-ministerial taskforce on drug and substance abuse have been established for just that purpose.

In the matrix of fighting drugs abuse should be the media, which has the potential to either bring relevant messages that turn people against the drugs or inflame the situation.

It is time the media in Zimbabwe, both print and broadcast, re-examine their programming and content to ensure anything that appears to incite people to take drugs is eliminated from reaching their audiences. But it is unfortunate that some, especially radio stations, have been found wanting on this front and need to have a re-look at how they conduct their business.

Some radio presenters have been bringing guests in studio whom listeners can adjudge to be high on drugs, while the presenters themselves worsen the situation by appearing to acclaim them.

It is now common to hear a radio presenter saying to a guest on air: “Aaaah mudhara makatobatwa ka imi” (elder you are high on drugs).

In the end, the conclusion coming out of such a discussion appears to condone the taking of drugs, as it ceases to be a campaign against the vice.

Apart from the media, law enforcement agents should up their fight against drugs, ensuring that all the so-called “drug bases” are destroyed.

Drugs do not start with those who take them, as there are a lot more people involved.

There are the drug lords themselves and their runners who bring the illicit product to the consumers. These should be identified and dealt with without fear or favour.

In short, the battle against drugs has to be multi-pronged including arresting and prosecuting dealers, producers, smugglers and suppliers; cleaning up the mess that the drug trade leaves in its wake and trying to persuade as many people as possible to stop experimenting with drugs.

There are physical signs which experts note can indicate someone is taking drugs.

Anyone has the potential to take drugs despite their status in society. This gives everyone a duty to watch over potential indicators that some may have started taking drugs.

Physical signs to watch for include mood swings, irritability, unjustified anger, delusions or hallucinations, inability to focus or make decisions, paranoia, depression, anxiety and violent tendencies.

Individuals who take drugs can suffer from loss of appetite, disrupted sleep patterns, increased risk of heart attack or stroke and lung or heart disease. Health experts also note that drugs can cause a diminished immune system function and infection, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems, liver damage, kidney damage and neurological issues.

Imagine all these health problems or even some of them, affecting one person. The result is in most cases death. This calls for a holistic approach to the drug and substance abuse, lest the problem continues to affect the country and in the process hindering development.