Dele Ogbodo in Abuja
The Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse (CRISA), in collaboration with the Open Society Initiative in West Africa (OSIWA), have called on governments in Nigeria, Ghana, Togo and others in the continent to put an end to criminalisation of people who use drugs, in tandem with global best practices and realities.
While condemning the recent killings of some Nigerians in Asia over alleged drug offence, CRISA, said the use of criminal sanctions against drug users increases recidivism while the provision of treatment is associated with reduction in drug use.
Rising from its 12th biennial conference on drugs, alcohol and society in Africa, which ended in Abuja, week end, the Conference Chairman, Prof. Isidore Obot, averred that drugs laws, policies and practices where they exist in the continent should be revised in line with current realities and international best practices.
Such polices and laws, he said should put supply control, demand reduction and harm reduction programmes at the same level, and to end the criminalization of people who use drugs.
On the need for strong political will by government on drug drug supply control, Obot said: “There is need for political commitment on the parts of African countries, including taking the required steps towards reviewing their drug laws in order to promote the health and welfare of their citizens.
“Governments should develop a standard policy framework to guide the establishment and operation of drug treatment and rehabilitation centres across countries, with provisions for protecting the rights of the clients.” he said.
On funding for drug abuse reduction, Obot, said government should urgently consider increasing domestic funding for harm reduction programmes, adding that there is urgent need for the review of drug laws to address the issue of criminalization of users and increase access to legal assistance and justice for people who use drugs whose rights have been violated in the course of law enforcement.
The CRISA boss said: “Greater collaboration among government and CSOs in drug control and drug demand reduction should be promoted. Strong advocacy is needed in addressing and creating awareness about harm reduction among the leadership of key stakeholders such as CSOs, donors and governments.”
According to him, alcohol imposes a heavy burden on the health and social welfare of many Africans, stressing that few countries have controls on the marketing and promotion of alcohol by industry players.
“There is limited or no sustainable public health response (prevention, treatment and rehabilitation) to drug and alcohol use disorders in African countries. Stable funding for drug demand reduction activities is lacking in all countries in the region hampering the work of civil society and research organizations.
“There is increasing evidence that enforcement of the current drug laws which relies heavily on supply reduction and punishment of drug users has not led to significant reduction in availability and consumption of illicit drugs.”
On way forward for drug and alcohol reduction, Obot suggested for the establishment of well-equipped treatment and rehabilitation centres to increase access to treatment for drug use disorders.
He said: “For effective delivery of care, recruitment and training of counselors, social workers and other personnel should be given a priority.”
Messages were delivered by heads or representatives of European Union, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, Ministry of Health, NAFDAC and NDLEA.