Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Les Politiques en Matière de Drogues sont-elles un Choix entre une Cage à Rats ou un Paradis pour Rats ?

Réflexion à l’Occasion de la Journée Internationale ontre l’Abus et le Trafic de Drogues

Je suis récemment tombé sur un tweet suggérant que le stress était comme une cage à rats qui prédispose à la consommation de drogues, et, qu’au contraire, un environnement dépourvu de stress serait comme le paradis pour les rats, dans la mesure où il diminuerait le risque de consommation de drogues. La littérature scientifique décrit ce phénomène qui a été présenté de façon très éloquente par le docteur Carl Hart, professeur en neurosciences à l’université de Columbia à l’occasion d’une conférence TED. Le tweet renvoyait également vers un lien pour un article incitant à la réflexion, portant sur d’autres expériences sur les rats qui établissent une relation entre le niveau d’hormones de stress et les risques d’une rechute pour un consommateur de cocaïne, publié sur le site de l’Institut National de l’abus de drogues (NIDA), une agence du département de la Santé du gouvernement américain.

La dichotomie « cage à rats – paradis pour rats » mérite d’être considérée de plus près.

Selon une estimation des Nations Unies, l’usage de drogues est répandu dans le monde entier. Près de 7% de la population consommerait des drogues au moins occasionnellement. En observant les chiffres globaux, le nombre de victimes liées aux drogues est dix fois supérieur au nombre de victimes du terrorisme. L’Europe ne compte pas moins de 16000 décès liés aux drogues chaque année, les opioïdes étant les substances illicites des plus problématiques.

Les personnes les plus vulnérables de la société, surtout les enfants, les personnes qui ont été physiquement ou sexuellement abusées, les réfugiés, les migrants, les personnes déplacées mais également les personnes souffrant de discrimination et de marginalisation sont les plus exposées aux troubles liés à la consommation de substances. La prévalence de l’utilisation non médicale de médicaments prescrits sur ordonnance est particulièrement élevée chez les femmes. Le Groupe Pompidou, le « laboratoire d’idées » des politiques en matière de drogues et la plateforme de coopération du Conseil de l’Europe, a mené une recherche qui révèle que des situations occasionnant du stress peuvent être à l’origine de ce type de troubles. Le risque augmente également avec la stigmatisation de l’usage de drogues : la consommation est souvent présentée comme un vice, et l’addiction comme une forme extrême d’auto-gratification et de complaisance. Cette stigmatisation est aussi alimentée par les effets secondaires de la guerre contre les drogues, en particulier le trafic illégal et d’autres actes de délinquance générés par les drogues.

Comme le stress et le traumatisme, l’usage de substances et les troubles qui y sont liés n’ont pas de frontières sociales. Mais leur acceptabilité a, apparemment, souvent évoluée avec, dans un premier temps, l’indulgence en face de l’utilisation de substances psychoactives à des fins récréatives ou pour se soulager par différents élites puis, dans un deuxième temps, la diabolisation de cette consommation lorsque d’autres secteurs plus larges de la société se sont appropriées ces mêmes substances.

Les substances psychédéliques, l’opium, et d’autres substances psychoactives à base de plantes mais également l’alcool ont une longue histoire. Remémorant les 100 ans de guerre contre les drogues, qui a commencé avec la Convention Internationale sur l’Opium en 1912, la BBC a rapporté qu’au 19ème siècle, la bière était parfois servie avec de l’opium, ou que la Reine Victoria consommait de la drogue, à l’occasion accompagnée par le jeune Winston Churchill. La BBC notait que l’Angleterre Victorienne avait été « inondée d’opium ».

Beaucoup d’autres exemples récents peuvent être trouvés dans le monde de la consommation de substances, qu’ils soient problématiques ou non, parmi des hommes et femmes d’Etat, leurs frères et sœurs, des célébrités, et bien d’autres encore. Il y a quelques jours, nous avons été informés grâce à des séquences diffusées par les médias d’un supposé brillant employé travaillant dans le quartier financier de « la City » inhalant de la poudre blanche dans le métro londonien au milieu de la foule.

La dichotomie « cage à rats / paradis pour rats » pourrait, dans une certaine mesure, expliquer les similarités entre ces différents scénarios et également l’obsession des drogues dans beaucoup de structures pénitentiaires. Et si le docteur Carl Hart et les autres personnes partisantes du paradigme de la cage à rats avaient raison ? Cela expliquerait-il aussi les séries de succès (paradis pour les rats) puis d’échecs (retour à la cage à rats) des cures de désintoxication ?

Selon l’Observatoire Européen des Drogues et des Toxicomanies (OEDT), le taux de mortalité liée à l’usage des drogues dans l’Union Européenne varie de trois par année par million d’habitants au Portugal à plus de cent vingt en Estonie. Ce taux quarante fois plus élevé pourrait, en partie, s’expliquer par les choix de politiques qui se rapprochent soit du paradis pour rats (exemple : par la dépénalisation de l‘usage, la réduction des dommages, et le traitement), ou bien de la cage à rats. L’Espagne présente un taux cinq fois plus élevé que le Portugal, et le Royaume-Uni quinze fois plus élevé. Aux Etats-Unis, les taux de mortalité liée à l’usage des drogues semblent être encore plus élevés, avec, pour certains Etats, un taux cent fois plus élevé que celui du Portugal.

Si les scénarios favorables à la consommation de drogues sont le stress, l’abandon et le désespoir, sous fond de traumatisme, ne serait-il pas plus judicieux de répondre avec de l’empathie, de la compréhension et un peu de chaleur humaine (le stéréotype : « affrontons les drogues avec des embrassades ») plutôt qu’avec de la stigmatisation et des sanctions ? Même l’utilisation récréative ou celle qui a pour objectif la recherche d’un bien-être pourraient être expliquées par l’image de la cage à rat : lorsque le recours aux substances psychoactives est le moyen d’étouffer instinctivement les sentiments et les émotions, ou de céder à la pression de son entourage afin de s’intégrer et de surmonter la peur de la solitude.

Nous devons continuer à chercher des réponses sur le long terme qui résisteront à l’épreuve du temps, contrairement à la guerre contre les drogues que les gens considèrent comme un échec et comme la cause de dommages collatéraux considérables. Comme le Secrétaire Général des Nations Unies l’a déclaré à l’occasion de la journée internationale contre l’abus et du trafic de drogues « Nous devons étudier des solutions autres que la pénalisation et l’incarcération des consommateurs, pour privilégier l’action pénale contre la filière de l’offre. Nous devons nous attacher davantage à des questions telles que la santé publique, la prévention, le traitement et la prise en charge et rechercher des stratégies dans les sphères économique, sociale et culturelle. »

En effet, il serait opportun de s’associer à la proposition « soutenez, ne punissez pas », un pas vers le paradis, un qui s’éloigne de la cage, promue par plus de cent cinquante organisations de la société civile dans le monde entier ainsi que par de nombreux politiques et personnalités de notoriété mondiale. Le 26 juin est un jour pour réclamer des politiques en matière de drogues qui donnent la priorité à la santé publique et qui soient basées sur les droits de l’homme. Cela pourrait être la meilleure chance de survie que nous pourrions offrir aux prochains milliers de victimes potentielles des drogues.




Par Jan Malinowski
Secrétaire Exécutif du Groupe Pompidou
Conseil de l’Europe



[1] Les opinions exprimées ici sont seulement celles de l’auteur.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Third West Africa Executive Course on Human Rights and Drug Policy ends



West Africa looks forward with optimism; civil wars have receded, democracy has gained ground and economies are growing. But a destructive new threat is jeopardising this progress; with local collusion, international drug cartels are undermining our countries and communities and devastating lives.

Illegal drugs production, abuse and trafficking is almost commonplace in Africa. West Africa in particular is fast establishing itself as a hub and transit point for drugs (especially heroin, cocaine and cannabis) moving between Europe, Latin America and Asia. The situation is creating a major burden for African governments which seem to be unprepared for this phenomenon and resorted to taking reactive, as opposed to proactive, measures to deal with the menace. The measures have focused on criminalisation and interception of drugs as measuring rod for determining success in “drug war” and denial of fundamental human rights for drug users, producers and traffickers.

To adopt a human rights approach to drugs is perceived as being “soft” on drugs and or “encouraging” their use. Incidentally, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has acknowledged the damaging “unintended consequences” of this approach, such as the unsustainably high numbers of individual in prison or pre-trial detention.

Evidence drawn from all countries of activities often undertaken by police and other law enforcement agencies, including often those involved in the provision of other public services [through the public and private health systems, the correctional system, employment provision and child and welfare services] reveal infringement of human rights on drug users, producers and traffickers. Thus increasingly and inexorably, it is becoming clear that understanding political, social and economic development  is impossible without a complex understanding of drugs and relationship with economic, social and political conditions and institutions. This realisation calls for adopting a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach touching on among others, economics, sociology, political science, public health and law to deal with the problem.

Against this backdrop, the Open Society Foundation in New York, USA, Open Society Institute for West Africa in Dakar, Senegal, and Global Drug Policy Program, in collaboration with the School of Law, University of Ghana, Legon, has recently conducted the third series of executive course on human rights and drug policy in Accra, Ghana, with participant drawn from various sectors working on drugs related problems in English West Africa countries. Modules taught at the courses include: history and development leading international drug control conventions; drug control and criminal law; human rights and drug policy formulation; human rights and drugs; psychology and drugs; gender dimension of drug law/policy; international/regional approaches to drug control; national drug policies(West Africa; review of the implementation of national policies outside Africa; public health and drug policy (harm reduction); and CSO advocacy on application of human rights and public health approaches to drug use.

On the last day of the course some participants visited few drug ghettos in Accra and a drug rehabilitation centre.

Thirty (30) participants took part in this 3rd West Africa executive course on human rights and drug policy, with yours truly amongst the five participants from Sierra Leone. The course aims were to develop competencies of participants to help support their home governments to adopt drug policies which are underpinned by public health and citizens’ security, anchored in evidence-based harm reduction approaches and backed by laws or practices that keep people who use drugs out of stigmatisation, cells, courts and prisons.

In addition, the course helped develop a more complex understanding of illicit drugs and identify the contributions that different academic disciplines can make to the development of evidence-based policies. This goal will be realised through discussion and review of data, information and analysis to develop and apply human rights principles to the assessment of existing drug policies. It also aimed at giving participants the opportunity to reflect on the development of reform of public policy so that policies are based on accepted human rights laws and conventions, together with respect for the rule of law in all countries.

Finally, the course aimed to deconstruct some stylised facts which have served as a stumbling block to tackling the drug menace and reconstruct public policy on drugs on the harm reduction which emphasises human rights and public health.



Saa Mathias D. BENDU is National Coordinator Development Initiative and Hope for the Vulnerable and Director of Communication West Africa Drug Policy Network Sierra Leone Chapter.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Plaidoyer auprès des Leaders Religieux pour Renforcer la Prévention et Faciliter l’accès aux Soins des Consommateurs de Drogues au Sénégal.

En 2011, le Conseil National de Lutte contre le Sida (CNLS) et le Centre régional de recherche et de formation sur la prise en charge du VIH/sida (CRCF) ont conduit une enquête sur les usagers de drogues au Sénégal (UDSEN). L’enquête portait sur la prévalence et les pratiques à risque d’infection à VIH, VHB et VHC chez les consommateurs de drogues dans la région de Dakar. Selon les résultats de l’enquête, le nombre d'injecteurs de drogue dans la région de  Dakar et son agglomération est estimé à 1324. La prévalence du VIH est de 9,4% chez ces derniers, 21,1% chez les femmes injectrices et 7,5 % chez les hommes.

Le Sénégal, s’est alors engagé à traiter l’utilisation des drogues comme un problème de santé publique avec l’ouverture du Centre de Prise en Charge Intégrée des Addictions de Dakar (CEPIAD). Une référence en Afrique de l’Ouest, le centre combine réductions des risques et activités liées à l’autonomisation des consommateurs de drogues (ergothérapie, réinsertion professionnelle, activités de convivialité, auto-support, etc.). Aussi faudra-t-il ajouter le traitement de substitution aux opiacés par méthadone, la prise en charge addictologique, somatique et psychiatrique des dépendances, le conseil et dépistage du VIH.

Cependant, force est de constater que les lois en matière de drogues sont toujours punitives comme partout ailleurs dans la sous-région, ce qui limitent les programmes de réductions de risques envers les usagers de drogues sur l’ensemble du territoire national et perpétue également la stigmatisation des ces derniers.

C’est à travers ce constat que le Réseau National des intervenants de la Société civile sur les Drogues (RNSD) qui est la section du Sénégal du Réseau Ouest Africain des Politiques en Matière de Drogues (WADPN) a établi son plan de plaidoyer couvrant la période de juin à novembre 2016 avec l’assistance technique de l’Institut de la Société Civile de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (WACSI) et le soutien financier de Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) pour les réformes des lois en matière de drogues.

Parmi les activités inscrites dans le plan de plaidoyer, il faut noter des ateliers de plaidoyer pour la prévention, l’accès aux soins et le respect des droits humains au profit des consommateurs de drogues auprès des institutions clés de l’Etat, leaders religieux et les hommes en uniforme.

C’est dans cet élan que le RNSD a organisé ce 30 Juillet 2016 à Dakar, l’atelier de plaidoyer auprès des leaders religieux de tous bords dans le but de partager avec ces dernier, les dernières informations relatives aux drogues afin de renforcer leurs capacités et engagement dans le plaidoyer pour les reformes politiques en matière de Drogue.

Sous la facilitation de deux spécialistes sur les questions de drogues, de techniques de communication adaptée au Plaidoyer, l’atelier a utilisé une approche participative et interactive basée sur un dialogue ouvert, le partage des expériences et des discussions ciblées en groupe suivi de séance plénière et de travaux de groupes.

Dans son discours officiel d’ouverture de cérémonie, le vice-président de (RNSD) Mr Bamar Gueye a, en présence des représentants d’ONUSIDA, du CILD, des Imams, des leaders religieux, remercié WACSI et OSIWA pour leur appui constant ainsi que tous les acteurs impliqués dans la réalisation et la réussite de l’atelier.

Il a aussi ajouté que Le RNSD veut faire des religieux ses alliés naturels qui doivent s’engager à accompagner le RNSD du fait de leur charisme, leurs capacités à convaincre, leur sens de l’écoute et la crédibilité de leur message.
Massamba Sarr représentant le Commissaire Mactar Diop, Coordonnateur National du CILD a, à son tour, insisté sur le rôle des religieux au sein de la communauté car s’il appartient à l’autorité politique de définir et coordonner les politiques de drogues, les leaders religieux restent ceux qui maitrisent mieux l’environnement social et qui peuvent agir aussi bien sur le psychique que le spirituel de l’Homme’’.

Pour terminer, il a exhorté les leaders religieux à être des ambassadeurs de la lutte contre la drogue et à assurer la pérennité du processus au cours de leurs activités quotidiennes.
Le Représentant de l’ONUSIDA, Mr Demba Koné a, quant à lui, remercié les organisateurs pour cette belle initiative. Il a insisté sur la relation drogue et VIH et a fait remarquer que cette relation est l’un des défis majeurs du programme national de lutte contre le VIH. Et il attend beaucoup du RNSD et de sa collaboration avec les religieux qui, à coup sûr, peut contribuer à l’atteinte des indicateurs nationaux.

En communiquant sur le thème : « La situation de la drogue au Sénégal : Typologie et caractéristiques » Mme Fatou Fall Dia, Assistante Sociale Chargée du Plaidoyer et de la Communication du RNSD, a partagé les résultats de l’enquête UDSEN chez les usagers d’héroïne et/ou de cocaïne de la région de Dakar. Elle a également  parlé de la vulnérabilité des injecteurs face au VIH, à l’hépatite B et C et à la tuberculose.
Elle a illustré la présentation par des images et photos pour mieux édifier les religieux sur la sensibilité de la problématique mais également sur la nécessité d’accompagner les consommateurs de drogues afin de protéger les jeunes et les femmes qui sont les plus vulnérables. Elle a également insisté sur les comportements à moindre risque qu’adoptent actuellement la plupart des consommateurs de drogues qui sont suivis dans le cadre de ce programme.

Sur le thème : « Les Aspects de réduction des risques » Mme Fatou Fall Dia est partie du constat que l’Afrique de l’ouest est une zone de transit et de consommation de drogues injectables. Elle a parlé du contexte mondial qui montre qu’il y’a 27 millions de consommateurs de drogues dont  environ 50% utilisant la voie injectable  et 1,65 millions atteints du VIH. Elle a ensuite parlé du contexte africain qui montre qu’environ un million de personnes consomment des drogues injectables dont 5 à 10% sont considérées comme vivant avec le VIH.

Lors de son expose sur le thème : « Introduction aux concepts de plaidoyer suivant l’approche santé publique dans le respect des droits humains », Mr Bamar Gueye Directeur Exécutif ONG Jamra, spécialiste en plaidoyer, a donné quelques définitions après un brainstorming qui montre que le plaidoyer est une démarche pour influencer et/ou défendre une idée, une cause, un intérêt pour un changement. Il a ajouté qu’en général l’objectif de plaidoyer est CE QUE vous voulez changer, de COMBIEN et QUAND.

Par la suite, Mr Bamar a développé le thème : Conception des messages à vulgariser, Rôle et responsabilité des leaders Religieux sur la Réduction des risques.

Il a décrit le contexte qui montre que le Sénégal est un pays de croyants où les leaders religieux jouissent d’une autorité incontestable et sont très écoutés par les populations. Les pratiques et comportements des populations sont fortement influencés par les valeurs religieuses chrétiennes ou musulmanes. Il a donc de manière claire et précise, exhorté les leaders religieux à continuer à jouer leur important rôle dans la société en matière de plaidoyer en soulignant que le Leader Religieux doit être discret, serein clément et établir une relation de confiance avec le consommateur de drogues, et savoir pardonner à son prochain quel que soit ses tares et manquements car « Dieu ne change jamais l’état d’un peuple tant que ce peuple n’a pas changé en lui-même son comportement ».  

Le Leader Religieux doit avoir un rôle de veille et d’alerte tenant compte des écritures saintes car « Dieu a créé l’homme à son image » donc il faut protéger l’Homme (haïssez le mal et faire aimer le bien) chap5 V15. Le Leader Religieux doit prier pour le Consommateur de drogues et l’accompagner jusqu’à ce qu’il abandonne la drogue.

 Les activités ont pris fin avec des travaux de groupe pour  impliquer encore plus les participants dans la mise en pratique des acquis de l’atelier.
Pour clôturer, Mr Gueye, après avoir souhaité un bon retour des participants, a remercié WACSI et OSIWA pour ce partenariat, le CILD, l’ONUSIDA et les leaders religieux pour leur disponibilité, leur engagement et leur détermination, les facilitateurs pour avoir bien managé l’atelier et les organisateurs pour la disponibilité de la logistique.


Par la Sécrétariat du Réseau Ouest Africain des Politiques en Matière de Drogue

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The War on Drugs, a Total Disregard for Human Right


Marijuana has been used as a substance for achieving euphoria since ancient times. It was described in a Chinese medical abstract where it was traditionally considered to date from 2737 B.C. It also has a long history of use as a medicinal herb. Its use spread from China to India and then to North Africa and reached Europe at least as early as A.D. 500.

A major crop in colonial North America, marijuana (Indian hemp) was grown as a source of fiber. It was extensively cultivated during World War II when Asian sources of hemp were cut off. Marijuana was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1850 until 1942 and was prescribed for various conditions including labor pains, nausea and rheumatism.
Somehow the world has somewhat treated marijuana particularly with disdain and in 1961, the UN Single Convention on Narcotics created a very strict and prohibitive control system with zero-tolerance for plant-based narcotic substances such as marijuana with the Don Quixotic ambitious goal of eliminating marijuana within 25 years.

The UN Convention was established as a universal system for limiting the cultivation, production, distribution, trade, possession and use of controlled psychoactive substances strictly to medical and scientific purposes. Special attention was given to substances derived from plants: opium/heroin, coca/cocaine and marijuana, also known as cannabis and the war continue to hang around.

The cannabis plant is not indigenous to Ghana. It is believed that soldiers returning from India and Burma after World War II brought seeds of the plant to Ghana. Given the tropical climatic conditions of the country, the plant found a favorable ground, thus in Ghana, the cannabis plant can be grown anywhere, particularly in the forest zone.

Ghanaian marijuana has been described by some experts in the field and users alike, as the most potent compared to other cannabis grown in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, its long-standing nature on the Ghanaian soil has not given it any wide acceptance in Ghana and by extension the African continent.

Controversy over the cultivation and/or use of marijuana have been somehow hushed and muted. However, recently it has become topical as well as heightened with both hardliners and liberals taking entrenched positions on the very controversial subject of this contentious substance. After about 59 years of independence, Ghana and the world as a whole is still divided as far as the need to amend the law on narcotics, especially as far as marijuana is concerned.

People have assumed and taken entrenched positions and there is an ever yawning gap between the hardliners and liberals on what to do with marijuana, which for now remains a prohibited substance to possess and use. Interestingly, the wide gulf between the two doesn’t look like bridging easily.

The excessively punitive nature of the law against narcotics in Ghana doesn’t deter growers of marijuana from daring to expand their territories by converting fallow lands into marijuana farms. Maybe they are taking advantage of the disagreements. But what really drives them are the market forces; the profits are huge if you should know. 
The existing and ever-growing black market continues to attract energetic young men and women who have found in it, a well-paid source of livelihood. Apart from the fact that growing marijuana has provided a source of livelihood, there is also the widely publicized medicinal value of marijuana.
There are those who argue that a criminal market always thrives when a substance that has some economic and recreational value is banned. That is why the illegal regime does not stop daring criminals from engaging in the illegality.

The basis for the wide acceptance to grow marijuana is NOT MORALITY; IT IS ECONOMICS; being a source of livelihood for a good number of people. As for its use, it is consequential to its cultivation.
Production of marijuana is rife in a number of regions in Ghana especially in the Eastern, Volta and Brong Ahafo Regions with the frustrated users as well as the producers are anxiously waiting on the fringes for the substance to either be decriminalized or legalized.
The fear, though, and the argument put forward by conservatives is that once it is decriminalized or legalized, a bulk of the population will join the cue of producers and users thus pushing the nation into the abyss. But studies in Portugal have proven otherwise.

The country decriminalized cannabis in July 2001 and so far, research has shown that the use of cannabis and the attendant problems associated with it has since reduced.
The West African Drug Policy Network has therefore drawn inspiration from the Portugal example and wants Ghana to emulate the Portugal example, with appropriate cultural settings borne in mind to contextualize.

With the consumption of cannabis on the ascendency, the Africa representative of Consortium for Drug Policy, Maria Goretti Loglo,  a lawyer  by profession, and a passionate campaigner for decriminalization of cannabis says, ‘’There should be an amendment of the current prohibitive law and use other alternatives that are clearly stated in Article 3 of the 1988 UN Convention. We are not doing any justice to the people of this country, we deserve much better. People who are using drugs are suffering’’.


The former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan recently jumped into the fray and fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your bias, added more weight to the pro-campaigners call for a more liberal legislation on marijuana; legalization. In an article published in February 2016, Kofi Annan said:
‘’studies have consistently failed to establish the existence of a link between the harshness of a country’s drug laws and its levels of drug use. The widespread criminalization and punishment of people who use drugs, the overcrowding prisons means that the war on drugs is to a significant degree a war on drug users, a war on people.’’

And one man who knows the ins and outs of the war on drugs in Ghana is the Executive Secretary of the Narcotics Control Board, Yaw Akrasi-Sarpong. According to him, it is in the interest of the country to openly and continually debate the decriminalization of marijuana in the public space.
‘’If you are arrested and investigations reveal that suspects are part of an international network you shouldn’t be allowed to go free. But for first timers who try or experiment with one joint, they shouldn’t be put behind bars but be warned. Don’t punish them,’’ he said.

Under section 3 of the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) law 236 of the narcotic drugs act of 1990:  "A person who without lawful authority has in his possession or under his control any machine, equipment, tool, utensils or any other material or article for the manufacture, production, distribution, administration or use of narcotic drug commits an offence, and Any person who commits an offence under this section and is found guilty is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than ten years." 
Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Defence and Interior, Fritz Baffour, describes the current legislation as archaic.
"It is a confused drug policy because it is outdated. The thing is that the statute date back to the colonial era where when there was any problem then it was a matter of prohibition. I think we should have reform because the policies are archaic," he said.

A High Court judge, His Lordship Francis Obiri, in open court in May 2015, expressed his frustration with the current drug regime.

"Someone can embezzle so many funds and can be bailed but somebody who commits a narcotic offence cannot be bailed. It does not make sense, " he said.

The 2015 report by the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime shows that the growing and consumption of marijuana is on the increase in Ghana. Despite the relentless war, the report puts Ghana at an unenviable third position on the African continent as far as usage of the narcotic substance is concerned.

Perhaps it is time Ghana and by extension the African continent takes a second look at the current laws on narcotics particularly marijuana or maintain the powers given to law enforcement agencies to keep on with the relentless war. 
Moreover, disregarding concerns that drug use is more of public health issue rather than the current prohibition led approach that has only brought unintended consequences onto the world’s population disregarding the rights of people who use drugs.


By Latif Iddrisu (Member of the West Africa Drug Policy Network - Ghana Chapter), originally published on http://www.myjoyonline.com/

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Rethinking Drug Control Policy in West Africa

June 26th marked the International Day against Drug abuse and illicit trafficking. It gave us the opportunity to reevaluate Drug Policy in West Africa, where the current realities of the illicit drug problem show that drugs are not just passing through to the burgeoning market in Europe, North America, and Asia, but also a growing local demand for consumption while production is increasing. Prior to 2010, West Africa was not known for its methamphetamine production, only that drug couriers were frequently detected on flights between West Africa and Asia .



In a period of five years, from 2010 to 2015, we saw the large-scale production of 1.5 tonnes of methamphetamine annually. Furthermore, drug trafficking in West Africa impacts negatively on governance, public health, security, and human rights as clearly stated in the 2014 report of the West Africa Commission on Drugs, Not Just in Transit: Drugs, State and Society in West Africa . The report exposed the lucrative nature of the drug trade, so much so that high profile state and political officials have become active players in the trade. Related cases have been reported in The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Liberia, and Sierra Leone . Hence, democratic institutions are under threat from corrupt practices fuelled by drug money.
The impact on public health also poses a challenge, especially among the younger demographic of people who inject drugs (PWID) in the region. Nigeria has the second largest number of people living with HIV and PWID contribute about 9% of annual new HIV infections . In 2013, HIV prevalence among PWID in Liberia was3.9% and 4.2% in Benin in 2009 . Unfortunately, Harm reduction services are non-existent except in Senegal which has a harm reduction centre that implements small-scale opioid substitution therapy and a needle and syringe program .
Despite these realities, counter-narcotic measures in the region have remained unchanged. According to Kofi Annan, the war on drugs in West Africa is misguided . There is an over emphasis on illicit crop eradication, supply control, and punitive measures. For most countries in the region, successes are measured on the amount of seizures and number of drug offenders who have been arrested or prosecuted and June 26th is a day where several drug law enforcement agencies even showcase their arrests and seizures. While we can’t discount all the meaningful efforts that have been put into securing borders to control the flow of illicit drugs and the prosecution of traffickers, it is time to place more emphasis on health, socioeconomic development, citizen security, good governance, human rights protection and access to justice. We are calling for a balance and the prioritisation of development-oriented drug control policy.
The current West African war on drugs is also a war on people who use drugs. High-level traffickers often go unpunished whereas the small scale peddlers and users are those who bear the brunt. For example, 2014 data from Sierra Leone Police suggests that over 100 people were arrested for marijuana possession and use and many of them were given the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison under the National Drug Controlled Act, 2008. The country has also witnessed cases of mentally ill young men and women who got imprisoned after been arrested on the streets and ghettos of Freetown for marijuana possession and use . In Nigeria, young men and women who use drugs have reported how their human rights and access to health services have been violated by law enforcement agents through arbitrary arrest, as well as prolonged detention, extortion, and sexual assault . These punitive and harmful measures have shown that it is nearly impossible for any country to arrest its way out of the drug problem. Instead, there should be an investment on evidence-based drug prevention and treatment strategies, harm reduction and socioeconomic solutions for people who use drugs.
As West Africa becomes a hub for drug production and consumption, there will also be a need for corresponding changes in drug policies across the region which reflect these realities. What is most important is to focus on what works, and encourage open discussions on drug policy reform across the region. More so, we are counting on political leaders to be courageous enough to make the necessary policy change.

By Adeolu Ogunrombi . He is the Regional Director of West Africa Drug Policy Network and also a commissioner of the West Africa Commission on Drugs
Originally Published on http://www.osiwa.org/

Friday, 12 August 2016

‘Wee’ Users Should Not Be Arrested - The Executive Secretary of Ghana Narcotics Control Board (NACOB)

The Executive Secretary of the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB), Yaw Akrasi Sarpong believes a lenient paradigm shift is needed in the approach of law enforcement to crimes involving marijuana. Mr. Sarpong described as a waste of money and an “onslaught on conscience” the fact that people are arrested for possession of marijuana. The NACOB boss is not stranger to more left-field approaches to the substance as he previously called for a national debate on the legalization of marijuana in Ghana.

Addressing the media on Friday, he acknowledged that marijuana was a major problem in Africa but held that the response to this scourge by society was “completely misunderstood.” The NACOB boss bemoaned the stigmatization of marijuana asking: “What is so sinful about a young man who is unfortunately involved in problematic substance use… what is the difference between him and someone who is an alcoholic?” 

He was adamant the laws concerning Marijuana enforcement had to change and called for a reform and national debate in Ghana’s approach to the substance. “Why is that we are spending so much money on people who smoke one roll and remanding them in prison. That is an onslaught on conscience… Sometimes they don’t do it because they are bad. They do it because of peer pressure.” Emphasis on rehabilitation A more tailored approach to dealing with drug addicts because according to Mr. Sarpong because “addiction is a disease. 

It is not a sin and if it is disease, it must be treated like malaria. It is not the criminal justice system that deals with it. That is our view.” He also shared the way forward as far as his vision in the enforcement of marijuana was concerned. “When we engaged the MPs, our position was this; first time user, warn the person, an administrative warning. 

It must be recorded. You must sit him down and let him understand the consequences. What is the essence of arresting him if you don’t let him know the consequences?” “The second time, warn him again. The third time fine him, an administrative fine, very meagre – GHc50. But the fourth time, it means that there is likely to be a problem, divert him to a drug treatment centre.”


First published on http://citifmonline.com/

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

How the ‘War on Drugs’ Entrenches Patterns of Drug Addiction

Since Richard Nixon famously called for an ‘all-out offensive’ on the war on drugs in 1971, the US government has funnelled a trillion dollars into the effort. What does the nation have to show for the spoils of this war? Addiction rates have remained stable for the past decade, while over half the population in its federal prisons are entered for drug-related offences. Perhaps the US war on drugs has failed because it fundamentally fails to understand addiction itself. Rethinking our approach requires that we understand the experience of drug reward – the stimulus that gives one the appetite for the drug, and the role that context plays in the cycle of use.
What exactly does context have to do with drug reward? The incredible high experienced in the use of drugs is boosted by the entire series of events and places that accompany such use: it is the feel and texture of the environment; it is the people who gave you the drugs; it is the feeling of ecstasy and jubilation that runs through you in their company.
The drugs and the context merge in the brain. Opioids, alcohol and stimulants cause decidedly distinct patterns in the brain – except for one thing: they all activate the dopaminergic midbrain, a structure that plays a vital role in enhanced learning through reward. It is from here – when the alcohol hits, when the stimulant lands, when the opioid kicks in – that dopamine floods neural terminals into several key structures of the brain, signalling that whatever has just happened merits incredible importance. This reinforces that our previous actions must be repeated.
Research in modern neuroscience and psychology supports this view. The cues and contexts associated with drugs of abuse can trigger relapse in abstinent animals. And it all happens in the brain. The prefrontal cortex converts our internal goals into dynamic plans of action. From the moment the dopamine is released, the goal and the plan are rewarded. Addicts are addicted not just to the drug, but to the people they got it from and interacted with when taking it; they are addicted to the sensations provided by the environment, addicted to the plan.
Indeed, studies show that among young people, interactions with peers who encourage use constitute a substantial risk factor for relapse, a problem made all the more difficult in the age of ubiquitous online sociality.
One region of the brain to receive that flood of dopamine is the amygdala, a centre for the experience of emotional valence and arousal. The moment dopamine pours in, the emotional state present when taking the drug is reinforced, and the memory of the amazing high persists. Worse, research indicates that cells in the amygdala become even more active during abstinence and withdrawal, causing pangs of longing and distress for the pathological reward. What was initially the desire to get high can rapidly devolve into compulsive desperation – into a habitual state of behaviour to avoid the misery of abstinence.
New insights into drug cravings illuminate just how profound the sensation is. The most susceptible animals will go through numerous shocks to obtain the drug. The pain that deters most of us from ruining our lives translates into an entirely suitable context for drug abuse to the particularly susceptible individual.
What this finding, and others like it, make clear is that lawmakers are not neuroscientists. By way of proof, they have designed a war on drugs that fundamentally neglects our new insights into how the brain orchestrates addiction at its very core. Since addicts will go to incredible lengths to reinforce the contexts in which they consume drugs, we literally could not have devised a worse system, which reliably produces awful contexts to become addicted to. Taken together, what our new findings make clear is that the war on drugs reinforces the very criminal context it nominally aims to prevent.
When we criminalise drugs and drug users, we ensure that the context of drug use habitually turns the brain toward shame, illegality, secrecy and depravity. Do you know what else drives relapse to drugs of abuse? Stress and social isolation. We reinforce jails. We reinforce drug dealers. We reinforce violence. We reinforce the associated contexts of every other criminal enterprise that accommodates drug use. We habitually recreate a tragedy where the so-called solution causes the problem.
Yet we can’t seem to kick the habit, no matter how much evidence of harm science reveals. It is time for us to take the first step and admit we need help, admit we have a problem. We are addicted to the war on drugs.
It could be that the best solutions come from countries like Portugal and the Netherlands, which have decriminalised drugs and legally administer them in treatment centres. From diminished drug abuse levels to fewer jail sentences and reduction in HIV transmission, such programs, in combination with humane treatment centres, have proven effective. But why? Perhaps because they accord with the psychological and neurological basis of context learning in addiction.
While the US declares a war on drugs to prevent an environment of addiction, these countries instead cleverly seek to use the context of addiction to wage their fight. In a form of social and scientific ju-jitsu, decriminalisation and humane treatment create a context of addiction that maximises the chances of breaking that addiction. The plan that got you there becomes the treatment centre’s plan to monitor drug use for your transition to a drug-free life. If you use drugs in such a context, then this has a chance of becoming the new plan that the dopamine will reinforce.
The power of a humane, enriched and highly social environment stands out as one of the most proven preventatives for drug abuse in scientific literature. Animals in enriched social environments refrain from drug-seeking and drug relapse with astonishing consistency. Treatment based on these insights aligns most closely with our modern understanding of addiction.
By Joel Finkelstein, originally published on https://aeon.co/