Drug and substance abuse is today more than ever far and wide in Uganda. You can barely count the family, friends, and loved ones completely lost to theses addictions. The once promising student who picks the habit from peers in school and forever loses his way, the very educated man who gets hooke
By Gilbert Kidimu
Drug and substance abuse is today more than ever far and wide in Uganda. You can barely count the family, friends, and loved ones completely lost to theses addictions. The once promising student who picks the habit from peers in school and forever loses his way, the very educated man who gets hooked to alcohol and ends up jobless, hopeless and useless to his family, a friend who suddenly becomes a chain smoker, and multiple young men in the suburbs becoming slaves to marijuana, the list goes on and on.
Anyone lies if they deny knowledge of someone hooked to drugs or destroyed by them. You can rightly call it a scourge. It is owing to this dilemma that the National Drug Authority (NDA) and other stakeholders are holding a campaign today to finally get rid of the menace eating society away. Hellen Byomire, Head of Drug Information at NDA says the campaign is really a fight against drug abuse and substance use.
“People need to know how much all of us have been affected by drug use,” she emphasises adding: “If you have not used, at least there is someone you know or care about who has been a victim.” She says Uganda has been robbed of important citizens; talented, bright and promising students have dropped out of school, professors, doctors, and fathers, among others, have been destroyed. ‘It is a real danger in society, as drugs are no longer obscure like they used to be. They are everywhere and they come in variety,” she notifies.
Dr. Sheila Ndyanabangi, the officer in charge of Mental Health at the Ministry of Health, says the best part about the timing for the campaign is that June 26 is an International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Drugs and substance abuse takes in among others cigarettes, shisha, weed, kuber, marijuana, and alcohol. “All stakeholders are joining us in the campaign,”she says.
“General reports show a cause for concern as the situation is already out of hand; drug and substance abuse has infiltrated communities in the suburbs, schools and we want the general public to be well aware of the situation, take responsibility as everybody has an important role to play,” she explains.
She further says that while stakeholders like the police may do its work of stopping trafficking and enforcing laws on drug use, the general public such as the teachers, parents, members of communities, local leaders, and children plays the most important role of being vigilant and reporting cases.
Recently NDA did research among young people especially in high schools and they will display the current situation. “We are in the process of implementing the drug control master plan, which makes it important for us to know what really is going on. How they get the drugs, who is involved, what are the different types on the market because new ones keep being introduced.
This will help us prioritise and focus on the right groups of people and areas,” Ndyanabangi says. She points out that since currently the Narcotics Control Act is being reviewed in Parliament to make it relevant to the times, they need current information to make the right arguments for the provisions. She argues that many things have changed; the extent of use has increased tremendously and the country needs to address it at different levels and with different people, and make the penalties more stringent.
“We shall come up with a way forward after knowing how the situation really is; strengthen existing programmes, share with legislators, convey them correct information,” she pledges but observes that the challenge is and has always been the laws taking years in Parliament before being passed. “In this case, children are falling out of school, there is increased crime, and disruption of society; hopefully this will show urgency for parliament to act fast.”
Sachets of flavoured oral tobacco used by many young people
Teens, university students deep into drugs
By Vision Reporter
So creamy, thick and buttery, just like a blue berry muffin! I’ve never tried something that actually tasted just like the name. Hands down the best flavour ever,’ said a university girl. “My favourite mixed flavour is rum punch and mint. I’ve been smoking for two years now and love every minute of it,” voiced her male friend. “Vanilla is the best flavour that I personally have ever tasted; it gives the taste of banana flavoured toffee together with mint’s cooling effect, it is a must try. I’m sure 70% people like vanilla,” expressed another friend sitting across the table.
After these words, you will imagine the tastiest yogurts and ice creams in the world, but sadly the subject is anything but tasty or delicious, quite the opposite to be exact. Shisha, an oriental tobacco pipe connected to a container is what these young people describe using food connotations. While tobacco is the last thing on these campus students’ minds while relishing the silver pipe, tobacco is all that there is in shisha, only obscured by the fruit flavours the cunning manufacturers include. Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, officer in charge of Mental Health at the Ministry of Health says there is a general misconception that shisha is not tobacco.
“It is not only tobacco but worse than cigarettes because since an individual mixes it, they can add any other drug and the smokers will not know,” argues Ndyanabangi. She says this is an easy way to get introduced to other drugs and tobacco is consumed in large quantities. She says young people in high schools and universities as well as the uneducated in the city suburbs are the worst consumers of shisha and other drugs. Confidence Asiimwe, counselor with Care Counselling Centre, says when they did a survey with the National Drug Authority in schools; drug and substance use was discovered far and widespread among the teenagers.
She says what is more astonishing is that the general public doesn’t know how serious the problem is. “Parents think their children are fine and won’t get into drugs,’ she wonders adding: “All students questioned knew about the existence of drugs, had seen someone use them, while 20% of them had at some point used drugs.” Meanwhile, high school students are below the age of 18. She says the most common drugs among them are tobacco (cigarettes, shisha, kuber), weed (marijuana), khat (mairungi), and alcohol, although there are some children from affluent families who have access to A drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
Class A drugs are not only very intense but also hard to find among students or people with limited income Most children who have got into illicit drug use have because of the age-old peer pressure and curiosity. When teenagers see their peers do something that seems cool, they want to fit in and so end up doing the same.
“It is of utmost importance for children to know about the existence of these drugs from an early age because many of them get into them oblivious of the effects.” Just like the shisha, the sachets for the drugs such as smokeless tobacco are very well packaged with colours looking like chocolates and candies. “Although there are warning signs written on them, the addict hasn’t got the time to read,” argues Asiimwe.
It is a slow fade
Asiimwe says, they start with just trying out one puff of a cigarette and the rest is history. The second step is smoking the whole stick. They increase the number of cigarette sticks, before long smoking alone is not enough, so they upgrade to smokeless tobacco and marijuana, cocaine, heroin and a host of other harder drugs. When they wake up one day as addicts, most of them don’t know when or how things got out of hand. Rehabilitation may not help these people get well completely. Some of them relapse and give up completely, advises Asiimwe.
How to tell and help an addict
Different drugs have different symptoms. Weed makes one strangely thirsty, eat without getting full, they are disorganised, and isolate themselves. Hard drugs will drive someone into confusion when they don’t have access to them, they lie, steal, make up stories to get money to maintain their expensive habit. By and large, they don’t act normal. The person starts changing. Ndyanabangi says depending on the intensity of the situation, the addict can be helped by counselors in schools, hospitals, or churches but in case of extreme conditions, mental health professionals are the way to go.
Campaign to free Uganda of drug and substance abuse