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Substance abuse is a preventable health menace

That drugs and alcohol abuse are a major problem in our urban populace is not in doubt. We even have a National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA), whose vision is to free our nation from the effects of substance abuse.

Every age group is vulnerable to substance abuse, but more so young adults at the peak of their productivity. The most commonly abused substances in Kenya include alcohol, tobacco, bhang (marijuana) and miraa (khat). But it’s common knowledge that other types of drugs are also readily available; including cocaine, LSD, narcotics, steroids and tranquilizers among many more.

Why do we have a problem with substance abuse? Unemployment, poverty, peer pressure, easy accessibility to drugs and alcohol all play a role. Men are more likely to abuse substances compared to women, and the problem is more rampant in younger age groups spanning from schools and colleges, to the working class.

Ill health effects of substance abuse are multiple. Mild use is often associated with pleasurable feelings of elation, confidence, alertness and distortion of reality. Such pleasurable feelings are quickly overridden by a craving for more, leading to addiction and grave health and social effects. Substance abuse is linked with crime, reduced productivity, school drop-out, family life disruptions, and self-harm among other social ills. Health effects are equally bad and include cardiovascular diseases, organ damage (liver, kidneys etc), mental disorders, increased rates of various cancers and sexual infections including HIV. Death is fairly common in cases of acute intoxication.

We must do more to stop our youth from becoming good-for-nothing drugged zombies. The main strategy must be about prevention. We must find alternate recreational activities and create more jobs. The earlier we introduce educational programs about drugs and alcohol in schools, colleges and other institutions, the better. Families are directly responsible in guiding their children too. Moulding behaviour helps in making the right choices. Some will still choose to abuse substances, but we can’t shun them from our midst. It is every County’s duty to facilitate provision of Counselling and Assessment Centres. Addicted individuals must have 24-hour access to help lines and Rehab Centres. NACADA maintains a list of accredited regional rehab units, with location and contact details readily available on their website.

Legal measures to control drugs and alcohol abuse must be clear and enforceable. Licensing for sale of alcoholic beverages must be explicit with age limits, opening hours etc. So called Mututho laws immediately come to mind. Possession, sale and use of illicit drugs must attract non-negotiable stiff penalties both in incarceration times and fines. It’s either that or some tolerance of drugging ourselves in regulated environments, as happens in the famous Dutch Coffeeshops in Amsterdam!

Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynecologist and Fertility

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