The New Times (Kigali)

4 July 2012

East Africa: EAC Cited As Transit Route for Drugs

Data on heroin seizures and injecting drug use suggest that heroin markets are expanding in some parts of Africa and Asia.

The 2012 World Drug Report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), released last week, shows heroin, cocaine and other drugs continue to kill around 200,000 people a year, shattering families and bringing misery to thousands of other people, insecurity and the spread of HIV.

According to the report, an increase in heroin seizures has been reported, for example, in the coastal areas of East Africa, West and Central Africa, and North Africa, suggesting that Afghan heroin is being diverted to those areas.

The report says heroin impounded in 2010 increased most notably in Kenya (from 8.5 to 35 kg in 2010), in Nigeria (from 104 to 202 kg) and in Tanzania (from 7.9 to 191 kg).

Globally Mexico is the leader at 37%, 2,313,115kgs, followed by United States of America (31%), 1,930,988kgs.

Over 27 million people worldwide are problem drug users, with almost one per cent every year dying from narcotics abuse, while cannabis remains the most popular drug, according to latest UN report.

"Global production and use of illegal drugs remained relatively stable last year," the report found.

Cannabis remained the most widely used drug with up to 224 million users worldwide, although production figures were hard to obtain, the agency said.

The increasing use of heroin and drug injecting is also emerging as an alarming trend, particularly in Eastern Africa, it said.

In Rwanda, a recent study conducted by the Ministry of Youth, in collaboration with Kigali Health Institute (KHI), shows that close to 53% of the youth between 14 and 35 years of age had consumed one or more substances at least once in their life time.

The increasing abuse of drugs and consumption of alcohol have been highlighted as one of the contributors to mental disorder in Rwanda.

Yvonne Kayiteshonga, the head of the Mental Health department in the Ministry of Health, told The New Times that the majority of patients seeking treatment at various mental health units in the country are alcohol and substance abusers.

According to the Ministry of Health, in Ndera Neuropsychiatric Hospital, patients with alcohol and drugs induced mental illness who were received increased from about 23% in 2010 to about 30% in 2011.

This generally represents 746 patients out of 3,278 patients in 2010 to 989 patients out of 3,332 patients in 2011, respectively.

A statement sent to The New Times indicates 16 % of the mental health cases in the country are due to drug abuse. Most of all those are in urban areas.

"Due to regular substance/ use, one young man or woman out of thirteen (7.46 %) is alcohol dependent, one young man or woman out of twenty (4.88%) suffered from nicotine dependence and one young man or woman out of forty (2.54%) was cannabis dependent," the statement said.

Alcohol and drug abuse, are among fundamental causes of mental illness.

Mental illness is defined as a health condition that changes a person's thinking, feelings, or behaviour and that causes a person distress and difficulty in doing his or her daily routine.

"Drug abuse is a problem that affects individual health, social interaction and naturally, it has a bad impact on economic development since drug addicted people are leaded to work absenteeism and dropping out from school," Kayiteshonga explained to The New Times, adding that the use of psychoactive substances affects the brain by modifying one's behaviours, perception, thoughts.

With a six month campaign launched by the First Lady on May 26, 2012 against drug abuse especially among the young, government is optimistic that this strategy will curb this ever increasing abuse of drugs as well as mental health cases in the country.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime nearly 200 million people take drugs at least once a year.

Of these, 25 million are regarded as drug dependent. Every year 200,000 people die from drug-related illnesses. Young people are said to be more susceptible to drug abuse.

Europe was the biggest market for cannabis, most of it coming from Morocco, although Afghanistan is becoming a major supplier and domestic production in Europe is also rising, the UNODC said.

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