BY NOBUHLE MAPLANKA
People who use and inject drugs have called for an urgent need to formulate a national drug policy or reform drug laws to augment the recently adopted Zimbabwe National Drug Master Plan (ZNDMP) to solve drug use problems and improve the quality of life for citizens, especially the youth.
Deliberating at the recently ended Civil Society position paper workshop on drug use in Zimbabwe, participants argued that the current pieces of legislation have no capacity to support the implementation of the ZNDMP as they are outdated and most of them were crafted during the colonial times. Zimbabwe is grappling with an unprecedented drug use scourge especially among the youth.
Zimbabwe does not have official data on drug or substance use because a population size estimate has never been done before although anecdotal evidence points to a lot of illicit drug use on the ground in the country.
It is estimated that 60% of young people aged between 16 and 35 years could have used or are using drugs or substances while 60% of admissions to mental institutions is linked to drug and substance use.
The meeting was convened in Harare by people who use and inject drugs and supported by the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCDLN) and its partners. Participants challenged policy makers to push for the enactment and implementation of the ZNDMP.
They said the existing legal frameworks such as the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Chapter 9:23 (57) and the Dangerous Drugs Act Chapter 15 were outdated and do not sufficiently deal with the importation, exportation, production, sale, distribution, use, misuse and trafficking of drugs.
“People who use and inject drugs say Zimbabwe is now an attractive destination for international drug traffickers because of the multicurrency regime,” said Kudakwashe Madzima, who chaired the meeting.
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“They said we are also battling an upsurge in illicit drug trafficking and use among productive ages. The socio economic and political challenges this poses to the nationinclude fuelling crime, deviance, violence and the spread of diseases such as HIV and Aids, Hepatitis C, as well as TB, among others.”
The meeting also deliberated that current laws that criminalise drug and substance use are a major barrier in responding to TB and HIV treatment of people who use drugs, as the fear of criminal measures and arrests force many drug users to go underground.
They said the current and existing drug policies, measures and strategies by both the Health and Child Care ministry and Home Affairs ministry through its various law enforcement agencies have yielded limited positive results to curtail drug use in Zimbabwe.
As such, people who use and inject drugs have challenged policy makers to exercise their responsibility by enacting laws that protect the rights and civil liberties of its citizens.
They said implementation of the ZNDMP, which was adopted in September 2021 by Cabinet, was critical in effectively minimising the effects of drug use and misuse within communities.
Among critical strategies to be implemented include the reform of the Dangerous Drugs Act Chapter 15 and the Criminal Code Chapter 9:23(57) and treat drug use as a public health challenge and not a criminal issue.
They said there is need to introduce harm reduction to people with drug use challenges as per the ZNDMP for total treatment of drug challenges using modern day treatment methods as per the UNAids recommendations to curtail the spread of HIV and Aids in Zimbabwe.
People who use and inject drugs also called for the review of existing drug laws (Criminal Code Chapter 9:23(57) and Dangerous Drugs Act (Chapter 15) and policies that impose harsh penalties and measures on people who use drugs and substances, and hamper access to essential HIV and TB prevention and treatment health services that are essential to saving lives.
Cited by the participants was the need to update the current list of controlled and illicit drugs and substances to include the new forms that have flooded the streets and communities so that there are no legal loopholes for peddlers, for instance mutoriro (Crystal Meth) and other hazy substances is critical, people who use drugs say.
They want the criminalisation of trafficking and selling of illicit drugs and substances while government adopt harm reduction strategies, providing counselling, treatment and rehabilitation of drug users as opposed to incarceration.
A participant from the Students for Sensible Drug Policies explained that integration of counselling, treatment and rehabilitation of drug users with existing TB and HIV services was key in ensuring the wellbeing and health of people who use drugs.
People who use drugs also called for the establishment of low threshold treatment, counselling and rehabilitation centres for people who use drug. The meeting recommended the crafting of a paper that was supposed to be shared by members of parliament for consideration.
They also called for the promotion of scientific evidence-based community, family and school programmes and strategies for the purpose of preventing drug use among children and adolescents.
They urged government to craft measures to prevent HIV and other blood-borne diseases associated with the use of drugs, and increasing financing for drug use prevention similar to HIV and AIDS, TB as well as malaria control while intensifying coordination and cooperation between the Health, Education, Home Affairs and Justice ministries to address and counter the national drug problem.
Enhancing the capacity of health professionals, law enforcement, border control and other relevant agencies to counter illicit drug trafficking as well as provision of primary health care to people with drug use challenges through training and provision of other resources is critical, government was urged.
ZCLDN executive director projects Wilson Box said for these strategies and implementation to be effective, they should revolve around three pillars, thus demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction.
“Strategies to minimise drug use problems should be balanced across the three pillars,” Box said.