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Stiff penalties needed to fight drug lords

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ZIMBABWE is currently battling drug abuse problems, especially among youths. Interventions to curb drug and substance abuse such as criminilisation and education on its dangers have, however, failed to tame the problem.

A local non-governmental organisation, Ezer Zimbabwe has committed to assist government in fighting drug and substance abuse among youths. NewsDay (ND) reporter Thomas Chidamba spoke to Ezer Zimbabwe founding trustee and director Takunda Witness Mtetwa (TWM), who is also a lawyer, on different issues pertaining to how drug and substance abuse has shattered the future of youths. Read on  . . .

ND: What has your organisation been doing to deal with the drug problem in Zimbabwe?
TWM: Ezer Zimbabwe seeks to raise awareness and lobby government to put in place policies that mitigate the effects of drug exposure and effects on the vulnerable groups, especially youths in terms of sections 19, 20 and 81 of the Constitution. Our aim is to provide requisite interventions for young children and youths who are exposed to drugs, including scenarios which bring them in conflict with the law because of drug and substance abuse in the country’s justice system.

ND: Cases of drug abuse among youths are rampant, what is your organisation doing to educate communities about the dangers of substance abuse?
TWM:  If drug and substance abuse is left unchecked, it shatters lives, hinders creativity or destroys hopes and dreams of the young generation. We have been engaging youths in Bulawayo, Gweru, Harare and Chitungwiza through awareness campaigns at churches, schools and community halls. We have discovered that youths are abusing drugs such as alcohol, cannabis, heroin, cocaine, cough mixtures such as Bron Cleer and Histalix. Lately, there has been a spike in use and abuse of amphetamine drugs also known as speed. Speed is the common street term of synthetically manufactured drugs whose other street names include meth, ice, crystal meth and crank. In Zimbabwe, crystal methamphetamine (meth), also known as mutoriro, use among youths has risen sharply due to the COVID-19-related lockdown restrictions.

ND: We understand your organisation carried out research on the impact of drug abuse in youths, what were the results?
TWM:  The studies revealed that cannabis and glue use among pupils aged between 13 and 15 years in Harare was around 9,1%. Generally, the use and abuse of a variety of illicit drugs currently stands at around 57% among youths. There is also the sad reality that 50% of admissions in mental health institutions are those with a background of drug and substance abuse.

ND: What do you think should be done to curb substance abuse?
TWM:  Generally, lack of parental supervision, peer pressure, social media exposure, unemployment and economic hardships, among other contributory factors, have led to drug and substance abuse. This, therefore, calls for community social responsibility.  The community and parents must instil the virtues of responsibility and accountability in the young generation.

ND: Some drugs are smuggled into the country from neighbouring countries, have you done research on how drugs are trafficked into Zimbabwe?
TWM:  Zimbabwe is a drug transit point where drugs destined for other  countries in the Southern Africa Development Community such as South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana pass through the country. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2013 report estimates that there are 28 million drug users in Africa with 37 000 people dying annually from diseases related to consumption of drugs.

ND: What are the legal solutions to drug trafficking?
TWM: Currently, cross-border haulage trucks have largely been instrumental in drug trafficking in Zimbabwe. As a country, we need vibrant law enforcement systems to curb drug trafficking. As you know, by virtue of its position, Zimbabwe is a transit country, especially for cocaine and cannabis. There is need to intensify arrests as well as expedite disposal of cases by courts and also ensuring that drugs seized by law enforcement agents do not get back to the market due to lack of vigorous disposal mechanisms.

Stiff jail penalties are also required to dissuade drug trafficking. Zimbabwean laws are disappointingly lagging behind with regards to drug trafficking and enforcement as they are not up-to-date with the emerging drugs which will render enforcement and regulation problematic. Zimbabwe has two pieces of legislation regulating drug use which are the Dangerous Drugs Act (Chapter 15:02) and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) (Chapter) 9:23). Currently, the courts are grappling with enforcement of dealing with and use of a potent drug crystal meth whose classification as a dangerous drug is still hazy in an effort to discourage its inevitable spread.

ND:  Some youths are abusing prescribed drugs which are legal.  What must be done to regulate drug abuse?
TWM: Unfortunately, this abuse is not only confined to youths. It is happening among adults on a large scale as well. There is widespread abuse of painkillers as well as stimulants. While painkillers are easily accessible over the counter, stimulants are widely distributed through sophisticated and enticing distribution networks, sometimes upmarket areas involving women and children. Some addictive painkillers include endorphin, enkephalin, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and others. In turn, youths abuse the same drugs, not only obtained from pharmacies or drug dealers, but those readily available at their homes.  Awareness campaigns need to be carried out to educate people on the dangers of dependency painkillers.

ND:  Government recently allowed cultivation of marijuana to licensed people, are we not likely to see the herb shipped onto the streets?

TWM: This is still a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe as the first licence was issued in 2019. However, there is need for control mechanisms to ensure that use is confined to medicinal purposes and there is no abuse which tends to be detrimental to a person’s health. The pot (marijuana) clearly lacks control or expert supervision, thereby, prone to abuse.

ND: Are all drugs used by the youths addictive, and what makes them addictive?
TWM:  Every drug or substance that is prone to overreliance or abuse is potentially addictive and poses health risks to users.  Some of these drugs are popular for triggering effects such as sedation, pain relief, slowed breathing, weight loss and euphoria in the short-term, while in the long-term result in cases of mental distress in the form of frequent cases of anxiety, uneasiness, tension, and sweating and increased pulse rate.

ND: Do you think the drug control laws are effective?
TWM:  Zimbabwe has two pieces of legislation regulating drug use. While we acknowledge government efforts to curb drug and substance abuse; sadly, the laws are not up-to-date with the new variant of emerging drugs which renders enforcement and regulation problematic. This is what has been happening in the case of crystal meth, well-known and popular for all the wrong reasons as a potently dangerous drug. However, it is yet to be included on the list of dangerous drugs on the schedule of the Dangerous Drugs Act. Further, arrest and enforcement are so disoriented and ineffective given that it is the small fish who get arrested, while drug lords are roaming the streets freely.

This is due to the fact that while these drug dealers are well-known in their communities, they use influence, money and power to evade arrest. According to a Unesco survey, in 2012 youths constituted 50,5% of the world’s population while in sub-Saharan Africa the youth constitute over 70%. In Zimbabwe, youths constitute 67,7% of the population. The Constitution creates a discord and vacuum in its section 81 which covers rights of children who are defined as those under the age of 18 while excluding youths who are above 18 who in terms of section 20 which says youth include persons between 15 and 35 years. The majority of youths are left out in the cold as their rights are not even constitutionally declared.

ND: Some music genres such as Zimdancehall promote the use of dangerous drugs which in turn motivate youths to use drugs, is it legally permissible to censor music lyrics that promote drug use?
TWM: There is nothing wrong with music, its creativity and artistry should translate into sales which is every artist’s dream. Drug use and abuse is all about the attitude of an individual. Sometimes what singers say in their music or portray in videos the world over is not the life they lead. Listeners need to be responsible and in control of their lives in the same way musicians ought to be about theirs as well.

Follow Thomas on Twitter @chidambathomas

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