Drug abuse is a ticking bomb

What you need to know:

  • Fortunately, Keko will be fine, from the video we can see police staging an intervention. I say this because if Keko, as purportedly assumed, is in Canada, the state will take care of her.

Plenty of news platforms have been awash with videos of rapper Keko streaming herself on Instagram under the influence of what is said to be either drugs or alcohol or both. To make the situation worse, she looked nothing like the superstar rapper we all grew to love. From her skin and conduct one could tell that something has terribly gone wrong in her life.

Fortunately, Keko will be fine, from the video we can see police staging an intervention. I say this because if Keko, as purportedly assumed, is in Canada, the state will take care of her.

She will be taken into treatment for her substance use disorder and the Canadian health services will rehabilitate and try to integrate her back into society. I wouldn’t be surprised if two years from now Keko is back to her normal life. This got me contemplating about the current drug abuse scourge in Uganda.

Take a trip to Butabika Mental Health hospital and you will understand why I call it a scourge. According to research, 30 percent of admissions into the hospital are related to drug abuse.

The reason we are now starting to notice the problem is thankfully due to social media. Over the past few years famous people, with a following on social media, have been bringing the problem to our attention, through their own unfortunate circumstances.

I won’t add on the already existing stigma by mentioning their names but I’m sure you’ve all seen the videos. It’s quite alarming that we think substance use disorders are a new problem in society. We all know it’s always been a problem.

The problem is so big, so big that there’s a couple of songs about it with the most notable being Paul Kafeero’s “Dipo Nazigala”. Keko will be rehabilitated by the Canadian government, But what about the average Ugandan?

That 16-year-old boy in Kisenyi slum, that neighbour who is always smoking Marijuana, or that uncle of yours who the whole family has given up on because he is a drunkard.

Uganda has one of the highest populations of youth in the world. As we all know, young people are more susceptible to experimenting with drugs and alcohol due to a lot of biopsychosocial factors that lead to drug and alcohol abuse. If nothing is done about this problem, we will end up with a disaster on our hands.

Many lives will be cut short because addiction is a fatal disease. You either have to stop or it gets worse and most times lead to death. So, what is our problem? Currently, Uganda’s drug policies are more punitive than rehabilitative. This is a big problem.

According to international drug policies of which Uganda is a signatory, abusers are meant to be rehabilitated but our current laws say a person caught with drugs can serve a sentence of up to 25 years. When policymakers make such laws, to punish the addicted into stopping, we’re ignorant of the fact that addiction is a disease that should be treated like any other disease. When it comes to treatment, currently the National Mental Health Facility can’t cope with the numbers.

The designated Alcohol and Drug Unit in Butabika is always full to the brim and people have to wait in order to get a bed. The few private rehabilitation centres are not affordable to the average Ugandan. The stigma around substance use disorders is even more appalling. I don’t know what is worse, the fact that Keko was in such a state or the comments that were made by people about that video.

Some went as far as calling it a punishment from God for her past. It was heartbreaking to read the comments and I think a lot of our people need to be educated on the disease model of addiction.

This leaves us with a problem. Keko is not the first person with a drug problem and I guarantee she will not be the last. Our own people will die from this disease because of the laws, of the stigma and furthermore the lack of accessible treatment.

Brian Muhumuza, Recovering addict/alcoholic

Addictions Counsellor based in Johannesburg, South Africa

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