9 July 1998

Namibia: Drug Taking Habit Creeps Among Namibian Youth

WINDHOEK, Namibia (PANA) — A fair amount of Namibian youths are drug abusers and the number is set to increase with the seemingly ready supply of the substances from foreign countries.

Experts on drug abuse have expressed concern, and without concrete measures, it will be not be long before a whole lot of Namibian youngsters are classified as drug abusers or addicts.

When Stephen Adei, UN Resident Co-ordinator, said at a recent International Narcotics Day commemoration that Namibia has a heroin problem, he hit the nail right on the head.

Also, he should have added that the country has a mandrax, dagga, cocaine and morphine problem. All these are are readily and cheaply available on the market.

Namibia, Mauritius and South Africa are considered as the major transit points for drugs, such as heroin, according to a UN report. However, not only are these countries transit centres, their youths are caught up in the web of consuming these substances.

The opening of the much-heralded Trans Caprivi and Trans Kalahari highways are also said to have led to the availability of drugs in the country.

And youngsters have adopted a cunning way of consuming these drugs. Drug abusing youngsters - boys and girls - can be seen at clubs and other public places sporting cans of the world-popular Cola beverages.

For an unsuspecting observer, the youngsters are just quenching their thirst but an inquisitive individual can easily discover that these youths have blended their Cola drinks with either mandrax, heroin or cocaine.

So serious is Namibia's drug abuse problem that if not checked on time, the country will not only be a conduit for drugs but also a lucrative market for these harmful products.

Research carried out by the Council of Churches in Namibia in 1994-

95, on the pattern of drug abuse among youths, indicates that school children's experimentation start with tobacco. Then they are introduced to alcohol and then inhalants.

Dagga (cannabis) follows next and mandrax is then introduced at the age of 15.

The investigation found that dagga was used by an estimated 8.2 percent of the 300,000 youngsters, while mandrax is used by approximately 3.3 percent of the same number of youngsters who are aged between 17-30.

The researchers also found that other factors which influence the use of drug abuse among school children and non-school going ones was parental patterns. School children who stay with non-family members or in hostels as well as those who have step parents are more at risk, regarding active involvement in drug abuse.

Even children of highly placed people, who live with their parents, abuse drugs. Some of them are languishing in jail.

The findings further indicated that the youth are influenced by successful models who abuse drugs.

Presently, the magnitude of drug abuse is not known. What is more worrying is the lack of a monitoring system to determine the amount of the problem.

Ludwig Beukes, senior social worker in the ministry of health and social services said a lack of funds is the problem.

But Onesmus Akwenye, deputy permanent secretary of the ministry said a nation-wide baseline survey on alcohol and drug abuse is currently being conducted in order to collect information on consumption patterns and the social and psychological factors fanning consumption.

Whatever the findings, Tanya Koehler of the Drug Action Group (DAG) said the problem of drug abuse among the youth has gotten out of hand and needs quick and serious remedy. The findings of the survey will only be available in the middle of 1999.

Previously, DAG only offered preventative services in conjunction with the Teenagers Against Drug Abuse Association. However, because of the high incidences of abuse, it has been obliged to focus attention to counselling and rehabilitation of drug abusers.

Parents, teachers, clerics and friends all bombard the DAG office with queries on how to save their loved ones from perishing at the hands of drugs.

"The situation is urgent and calls for immediate attention," Koehler said.

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