Anti-drugs fight: Govt can’t do it alone

Broncleer cough syrup is addictive

By Tinotenda Chishiri
PHILLIPINO nationalist and scholar Jose P Rizal once remarked that youths are the hope of the future. In Zimbabwe, this hope and the future is under threat from rising drug and substance abuse cases.

The Health and Child Care ministry reports that alcohol and substance abuse are among the most prominent underlying causes of mental health challenges across the country.

Young Zimbabweans are the largest users of illicit drugs and substances such as crystal meth, marijuana, BronCleer and alcohol.

A lot of them consume drugs to escape from the realities of social and economic hardships.

The drug abuse challenge is so widespread that it is no longer just the user’s problem or that of their family, but a societal challenge that affects the bulk of the population and requires equal societal effort to fight the scourge.

A recent survey by Accountability Lab and Nayo Civic Action Teams (CivActs) found that drugs have been wreaking havoc in Chitungwiza.

Most respondents (98%) described the prevalence of drug and substance abuse as high. The most used drug was crystal methamphetamine (49%).

Commonly known as mutoriro, crystal meth is highly addictive and has severe effects on brain function.

It specifically compromises learning, motor skills, emotions, and memory.

Frequent use of crystal meth can result in convulsions, heart attacks, stroke and even death.

In Zimbabwe, drug abuse is prohibited by two laws, the Dangerous Drugs Act and the Medicines and Allied Substances Control Act.

These laws ban the selling and distribution of dangerous drugs with violations leading to prosecution.

In 2021, police arrested 7 263 suspects on drug-related charges and seized about $38 206 058 worth of drugs.

Despite the volume of arrests, the National Prosecuting Authority only convicted 189 offenders.

The majority of those arrested were released back onto the streets, most, will likely continue their work in the illicit drug supply chain.

The CivActs survey referenced above found that drugs are highly accessible, with 72% of respondents reporting that it was “very easy” to acquire drugs in Chitungwiza.

Most respondents felt let down by police failure to stop the movement and sale of drugs.

While the reports of inaction on the part of law enforcement were concerning, the survey also found that residents do not report illicit activity involving drugs.

Only 30% of those surveyed reported ever having made a police report on drugs. As such, part of the reason for the low action rate on the part of law enforcement may be related to lack of citizen action and reporting of crimes in their neighbourhoods.

In 2020, government launched the national drug masterplan, which aims to reduce the use, supply, and harm of drug use through a multi-pronged approach.

The plan specifically intends to reduce the demand for drugs by raising awareness of the dangers they pose in schools, workplaces, and families using several methods that include social media, workshops, and the distribution of educational materials.

In addition, the plan proposed increasing the number of rehabilitation centres nationally to help those struggling with drug addiction. The plan further proposes updating and improving Zimbabwean laws on drugs in line with regional and international recommendations, improving enforcement of the laws, and working collectively with others locally and within the region.  On February 21, 2022, Zimbabwe celebrated its National Youth Day under the theme Towards Achieving Vision 2030: Alleviate Substance and Drug Abuse by Youth.

During the commemorations, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced the implementation of several measures from the national drug masterplan.

These included the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee on drugs and substance abuse and the creation of a drug abuse fund.

As citizens, it is also our responsibility to be aware of the policies and initiatives that the government puts in place to address the challenges we face.

They say knowledge is power and knowledge of these policies can help us to ask the right questions about whether these policies are being fully and properly implemented.

Citizens must play a part in fighting drugs and substance abuse by:

  • Monitoring the implementation of policies on drugs by the government, reporting drug suppliers and corrupt police officers who work together with the suppliers
  • Assisting those struggling with substance abuse by referring them to rehabilitation centres
  • Educating ourselves on the dangers of drug abuse and spread on the word about them, and
  • Lending our voice to parliamentary public hearings when the Dangerous Drug Act and other related laws are being reviewed.

Government cannot do it alone. There is a need for collective efforts between government and citizens to work together in identifying and tackling not only the impacts but also the drivers of drug abuse.

As a famous African proverb goes, if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.