Feature: Drug Abuse Remains A Challenge For Namibia And Africa

09 Mar 2015 13:50pm
WINDHOEK, 09 MAR (NAMPA) – It is 06h45 on a Monday morning and 20-year-old Antoni (not real name) is thinking what he can do for the day to easily get N.dollars 100 to buy some crack cocaine.
The Grade 10 school drop-out has been unemployed for the past three years. He shares an outside room with his sister - a domestic worker - and two other younger siblings who are getting ready for school.
Antoni’s drug addiction is no secret to his family. They realised this since he abandoned his education, and also because of his regular temper tantrums and/or irrational behaviour.
He can also be aggressive towards the children, and always make unnecessary demands to his sister when he wants money to feed his habit. The people he live with wish every day that he just finds a job, obtains medical help and lives a healthy and productive life like other young men his age. But Antoni is only thinking about the nice feeling he gets from ‘rocks’, the name for crack cocaine in local drug circles.
As the children say goodbye to walk the long road to their primary school, Antoni daydreams about putting the small hardened white powder on his glass pipe, heating it up with a lighter and inhaling the intoxicating vapour that “makes all his troubles vanish”, albeit only for about 45 minutes.
Antoni is of one of thousands of unemployed Namibian youth, both boys and girls, who are caught up in the evil of drug addiction. It force them to wander the streets looking for a way to get another “fix”. If they cannot 'score rocks', they will use whatever to get 'high', even marijuana, also called cannabis, or glue.
The exact number of drug users in Namibia is not known and generally, information regarding the consumption, cultivation, production, manufacture and trafficking of narcotics in Africa remains very limited.
The Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said in its Annual Report for 2014 issued last week that many countries in Africa, including Namibia, lack the capacity and systems for monitoring drug abuse and collecting and analysing drug-related data.
The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in its resolutions 1985/15 and 1987/30, requested governments to provide the Board with details on trade (data broken down by countries of origin and destination) in their annual statistical reports on psychotropic substances. Psychoactive substances are drugs which have effects on the mind, emotions, and behaviour. Some legal drugs such as Lithium for bipolar disorder are psychotropic. Many illicit drugs such as cocaine are also psychotropic.
According to the report, complete details on such trade were submitted by 134 governments for the year 2013, which was about the same as for 2012. Namibia is among eight countries in the world - the others being Angola, Bahamas, Botswana, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, and Tonga - which failed to submit any details on such trade for 2013.
“Therefore, assessing the extent and patterns of drug abuse in the region, including accurate prevalence rates, remains a challenge for competent national authorities. Furthermore, national healthcare systems are often inadequate and do not meet the needs of local populations with regard to the treatment and rehabilitation of drug-dependent persons. In some cases, such facilities are non-existent or depend on assistance from international or non-governmental organisations,” it stated.
Local psychologist Dr Shaun Whittaker agrees that the Namibian healthcare system appears to be inadequate in dealing with the challenges of rehabilitation and treatment of drug addicts. He told Nampa on enquiry recently that these people are often faced with a blame-the-victim mentality from the relevant authorities and family members, instead of emotional support and attempts to seek professional assistance.
“No significant effort has been made to monitor or do research on drug abuse here. This is an area that needs to be urgently rectified, as an effective intervention strategy should start with an accurate picture of the substance abuse crisis. From our experience as mental health workers, nonetheless, it would seem that the abuse of, for example, 'rocks' and mandrax are undoubtedly widespread in Namibia. A well-developed distribution network makes these dangerous substances easily accessible,” he lamented.
According to Whittaker, it is always surprising to note that family and friends are unaware of the effectiveness of psychotropic medication in dealing with for instance, withdrawal symptoms such as aggressive behaviour or depression.
The very few rehabilitation centres in the country depend for their financial survival on a small medical-aid base which usually makes it possible for patients to stay there for only a short and insufficient period of time. In Namibia patients stay for example one or two weeks, rather than the minimum of six weeks for in-patient treatment in other countries.
Namibia now only have two rehabilitation centres after the Nova-Vita Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre closed its doors towards the end of last year after its main sponsor Telecom Namibia withdrew its funding.
Currently, the Etegameno Resource and Rehabilitation Centre near Brakwater is the only State-owned treatment centre for those struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. Privately-owned rehabilitation centre, Okonguarri Psychotherapeutic Centre, is situated south-east of Outjo.
Whittaker said mental health unfortunately does not seem to be a “priority in Namibia as no political will seems to exist in this regard”.
In many countries, he said, monies confiscated by the authorities from drug dealings are usually channelled into inexpensive rehabilitation programmes. Another crucial strategy would be to decriminalise low levels of drug abuse, especially cannabis, and to use the existing resources more efficiently.
He recommended that it would also be vital to set up support groups throughout the country, but this would have to be co-ordinated by a Government ministry.
Furthermore, the INCB highlighted that while the first case of cocaine trafficking in Nepal was detected in 2012, in the year 2014 there were new instances of trafficking of cocaine to the country by carriers from Namibia, Pakistan and Thailand via Brazil and Peru.
It raised the concern that in southern Africa, there has been an increase in trafficking of heroin by means of international mail and parcel services. In the past year, concealment methods have diversified and become more sophisticated.
Southern Africa continues to be a key link in the global transit of heroin and cocaine, according to the report. Well-developed transportation infrastructure in southern Africa facilitated the shipment of cocaine and heroin in 2013, as evidenced by large seizures of heroin in South Africa.
Although no comprehensive or robust nationwide surveys of drug-use levels have been conducted in any country in the southern Africa sub-region, there are indications from South Africa of an increase in the abuse of heroin, methamphetamine and methcathinone. Methcathinone or 'cat' is a synthetic stimulant similar to the natural drug plant ‘khat’, which has been used for centuries in east Africa.
Under recommendations, the report stated that an important component of investigating and combating illicit drugs is the strengthening of legislation and national capacities for implementation. It suggested that the legal framework in place throughout much of Africa, however, does not match the urgency of rising drug use on the continent and its continuing status as a major transit and trafficking destination. The report added that in the past year, very few developments could be detected with respect to advancing national regulation and action.
Antoni, in the meantime, got the 'high' he was craving, and in his trance reckons that by becoming a merchant he would have as many 'rocks' as he wants. However, one problem remains - how to get money to buy the 'rocks'.