To many patriotic Ugandans, it has become very worrying to see that the general public in Uganda behaves as if they are not aware of how serious the problem of illicit drugs and alcohol abuse is in the country today. It is even worse when we consider our children in schools, the youth and adolescents in universities and other tertiary institutions, both the employed and the unemployed, who seem to be the target of drug and alcohol sellers, especially in sachets and powder forms in the case of marijuana and njai among others.
Many of the parents and guardians of these children also seem to think that their children are alright and cannot indulge in drugs abuse.
In 2017, Catherine Abbo, etc, asked 2,902 students aged between 12 and 24 years from Gulu and Kampala schools whether they had ever used alcohol and illicit drugs. Of these, 70 per cent said they had ever used alcohol and illicit drugs. And 39.1 per cent said they regularly used substances of abuse. The most common drugs consumed are tobacco in form of cigarettes, Shisha and Kuber, marijuana (weed), Mairungi (khat), and some children from affluent families get access to cocaine and heroin.
In 2013, Agnes Namaganda said substance abuse is the leading cause of students’ school dropout. Imagine 80 per cent of all clients at the National Care Centre (NCC) are school dropouts at between 18 and 23 years of age. NCC is one of the few private drug rehabilitation centres in the country. In the same year, Violet Nabatanzi said 45 per cent of school children in the country take marijuana, alcohol and Heroine and the number of victims is increasing. This has also contributed a lot to the increase in crime and disruption of society.
In 2014, the World Health Organisation’s Global Status on Alcohol and Health Report indicated that Uganda was the highest consumer of alcohol for each person (per capita) in the entire East African region. Consequently, 10 per cent of males and 1.5 per cent of females in Uganda have an alcohol-related disorder. Christopher Jones-Cruse says smugglers of the illicit drugs are said to be transporting large quantities of drugs, including heroin and cocaine through Uganda to Europe. Some of the illicit drugs are also sold in Kampala.
In March 2013, Uganda was ranked 8th in the world and the first on the African continent in taking alcohol, with Waragi taking the top position. Illicit drugs and alcohol have infiltrated communities in the suburbs, schools, universities and other higher institutions. Uganda is one of the few countries where alcohol and drugs are sold and bought anywhere, any time and to anyone, regardless of age.
One has to give credit to the districts which decided to make “by-laws” controlling times when to open bars and places of recreation. Some districts have also banned any alcohol sold in sachets. Discipline is very important in development. Singapore and South Korea are good examples. Dangers of Illicit drugs and Alcohol Abuse. Illicit drugs and alcohol can have very negative effects on one’s life. Drug and alcohol use impact nearly every part of one’s body from head to toe . Drug-related deaths are on the rise in Uganda. Alcohol specifically results in 5.2 million accident injuries and 1.8 million deaths worldwide each year. Many of the worst alcohol-related illnesses are neurological as it is affected in many ways. The National Mental Health Hospital, Butabika, shows that 40 per cent of hospital admissions these days are related to drug abuse.
The consequences of alcohol and drug abuse are strongly correlated with poverty. Alcohol not only prolongs poverty, but it also promotes alcoholism. Drug and alcohol abuse often lead to social problems like the serious violence commonly witnessed these days, the terrible motor accidents on our roads, suicide cases especially among adolescents, rapes which usually end up in killing the victim, rampant child abuse, the terrible domestic violence witnessed these days.
It is suspected that the horrendous behaviours we see in Uganda today such as a man cutting off the head or arm of his wife during domestic violence, are associated with increased use of illicit drugs and alcohol sold in sachets. This is why countries such as China are very strict and ruthless with people who are caught and are proved to deal in drugs. They face the firing squad or life imprisonment. These countries know and fear the consequences of their population indulging in drugs. Uganda has become an all-important transit point for drugs on their way to especially Europe and Asia. Illicit drugs are very expensive for many Ugandans afford, narcotics traffickers sell to consumers in pocket-friendly packages like sachets.
Children in boarding schools find sachets very convenient to smuggle into their dormitories or classrooms. Many use Foam mattresses cut them in the middle and stuff them with sachets of alcohol and illicit drugs. Female students may use packets of their sanitary towels like “Always” and push in the sachets of alcohol or packs of drugs.
I can say the “Time Bomb of Illicit Drugs and Alcohol abuse” in Uganda is already ticking.
While fighting the Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), we should take Illicit drugs and excessive alcoholism as our enemy number one. There is need for advocacy, metorship and counselling. This should start at home, then schools, Churches and all big gatherings.
There is a suggestion that in order to stop illicit drugs entering boarding schools, head teachers should hire sniffer dogs and take them around dormitories at the beginning of each term to check smuggled dangerous substances. There should also be effective counselling and mentorship. Alcohol in sachets contribute to road accidents, among other things. A new law on narcotics was recently passed by Parliament and assented to, but it has never been put to force, thus the reason why Uganda still lags behind in drug control in the region.
Prof Kirya is the chairman of Butabika National Referral Hospital Management Board and former vice chancellor, Makerere University. [email protected]