By Innocent Anguyo and Clare Muhindo
HEALTH facilities in Uganda are registering increasing numbers of mental illnesses among the youth, due to the growing abuse of drugs in the demographic group, experts have warned.
Drug abuse, is a patterned use of a drug in which the user consumes the substance in amounts or with methods which are harmful to themselves or others.
Addressing a seminar at Uganda Christian University (UCU), the health experts warned that the country would soon lose a large portion of its productive work force to mental ailments, if drug abuse was not nipped in the bud.
They identified some of the drugs abused in Uganda as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, ephedrine, khart, shisha, kubar, alcohol, tobacco and a mixture of heroin and cocaine.
Dr James Mugisha of Butabika National Referral and Teaching Hospital said because of the growing consumption of drugs by Ugandans, cases of mental illness registered at the facility has doubled since 2013, with most patients being youths.
“Butabika records at least 28 cases of mental illness every month and most of these are youth. In fact, the figures would be higher if we did not turn away minor cases due to space constraints,” said Mugisha.
He advised drug addicts to seek treatment before their conditions are irremediable.
Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, the Principal Medical Officer for Mental Health and Control of Substance Abuse in the Health Ministry identified other long term effects of drug abuse as physical illness, epilepsy, breakdown of friendship, breakdown of families, school dropouts, poor academic performance, social misconduct and anti-social behavior.
Nyanabangi said people abused drugs because of peer pressure, political turmoil, idleness, inherited character, and self-medication and trauma reaction. She attributed the increment in crime across the country to consumption of drugs by the youth.
Police said scores of schools have taken to the vice.
Andrew Felix Kaweesi, the Kampala Metropolitan Police Commander said the problem of drug abuse was becoming so acute that the country could lose an entire generation of productive youth to the vice if deterrent steps were not taken immediately.
Rev. Dr. Canon John Ssenyonyi, the UCU Vice Chancellor admitted the university was grappling with a drug and alcohol abuse problem.
James Kyomukama, the acting director of the anti-narcotics department of police said alcohol, and cannabis (marijuana) are some of the most abused drugs in Uganda, with nearly all districts growing the latter.
“Other hard drugs like heroin, cocaine and amphetamines are smuggled in the country. The usage of these hard drugs is still low as Uganda is considered to be a transit country of hard drugs. Increased misuse of cannabis sativa, khart, kubar and traditional liquor is also on the increase,” noted Kyomukama.
He identified the leading cannabis producing districts as Busia, Malaba, Budaka, Mityana, Wakiso and Kasese.
In the fight against drug abuse, Kyomukama said between January 2013 and June 2014, 133.3 kgs of narcotics were seized at Entebbe Airport. 16 suspected drug traffickers were also arrested at the airport.
“An effort has been made to destroy gardens of farmers who have engaged in the cultivation of marijuana. Operations have been made in Busia, Manafwa, Mityana, and Wakiso and hectares of gardens have been destroyed,” said Kyomukama.
“We are planning to rollout our operations to the whole country and have all gardens destroyed and the cultivators arrested and taken to court.”
He however identified corruption, lack improved technology, lack of facilitation, porous borders, lack of expertise and weak laws as factors constraining the fight against drug abuse.
Rev. Dr. Canon John Ssenyonyi, the UCU Vice Chancellor said many schools and universities including UCU are facing the challenge of alcohol and other drugs abuse. He said UCU was set to launch a one-year project dubbed ‘Alcohol and other Drug Abuse campaign’ that will sensitize the public about drug abuse. The project is funded by UCU and GOAL, a US charity.
As much as drug abuse is on the rise in Uganda, the vice is a leading cause of significant health and social problems for the people who use them, and also for others in their families and communities across the world.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), at least 15.3 million persons have drug use disorders across the world. The organization further reveals that the harmful use of alcohol results in 3.3 million deaths each year.
WHO further reveals estimated that in 2008, 155 to 250 million people, or 3.5% to 5.7% of the world's population aged 15-64, used other drugs, such as cannabis, amphetamines, cocaine, opioids, and non-prescribed psychoactive prescription medication.
Globally, cannabis as established by WHO is the most commonly used (129-190 million people), followed by amphetamine type stimulants, then cocaine and opioids.
WHO estimated that 0.7% of the global burden of disease in 2004 was due to cocaine and opioid use, with the social cost of illicit substance use being in the region of 2% of GDP in those countries which have measured it.