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/

West Africa Drug Policy Network Trains CSO’s on Policy Advocacy and Communications Skills

The West African Drug Policy Network Sierra Leone Chapter (WADPN-SL) on Tuesday 19th July organized one-day training session for its members on ‘Policy Advocacy and Communication Skills’ at FORUT on Main Motor Road, Congo Cross, Freetown.

In his opening remarks, the Communications Officer, Saa Mathias Bendu, welcomed participants and said the session was organised to make civil society actors knowledgeable on what to talk about and also be grounded on issues they address so that they will not encounter any problems with the communities that will deter them from achieving their aims and objectives. He emphasized the importance of knowing what they intend doing as a network and how they go about it.

Head of Foundation for Democratic Initiatives and Development (FDID), Prince Bull, said the network is hoping for drastic changes in the country’s drug laws to enable them go after big time drug traffickers instead of petty drug users.

In his PowerPoint presentation, he highlighted talks on the meaning of advocacy, its goals, strategy, focus on the campaign, understanding the players and the playing field, understanding the decision-making process, definition of public policy and its categories, typologies of policy, public policy cycle and a gender setting.

Prince Bull disclosed that the network will interface with authorities concerned to see drug as a social issue and not a criminal one, which he said will be followed by a news conference and a float parade on 26th July.

By Donstance Koroma, First published on http://www.sierraexpressmedia.com/

West Africa Drug Policy Network Chapter Calls on Sierra Leone Government to Stop Imprisoning Minor Drug Users

The West Africa Drug Policy Network Sierra Leone Chapter (WADPN-SL) in a float parade from Lumley to Aberdeen Beach last weekend called on Government to review the current policy on drug.

Addressing over 150 participants including drug users and commercial sex workers from various parts in Freetown, the Director of Sierra Leone Youth Development and Child Link, (SLYDCL) Habib T. Kamara, said the aim of the float parade was to reach out to those hooked on drugs.

He disclosing that WADPN-SL is currently reaching out to Government to push against punishing minor drug users but to consider them as a public health issue and commence prosecuting and jailing drug producers.

Mr. Kamara added that that the current national drug law was enacted by a certificate of emergency with the social and health aspects completely left out. He called on Government to support the best practices the world is pushing towards targeting the supply chain and stop imprisonment of minor drug users.

The SLYDCL Director alerted the Pharmacy Board of Sierra Leone and Standards Bureau to regulate the circulation of Tramadol capsules and KADCO Bitter Kola (a locally distilled alcohol) as they are killing the youths, adding that both products are serious health hazards hence the reason why drug users are at risk of HIV/Aid and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).

He stressed that the Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA) cannot do it alone and therefore called on like-minded organisations to come onboard and support the initiative.
The National Coordinator WADPN-SL, Aiah Nabieu Mokuwah, said a pack of marijuana for three or six months’ imprisonment is not correct as the criminal justice system hinders youths on drug as majority of inmates in correctional centres are drug related crimes.

He pointed out that as a network, they are advocating for the decriminalisation of drug and the adoption of the use of condom. Free HIV test and the distribution of condoms climaxed the event.

By Donstance Koroma, first published on http://www.sierraexpressmedia.com/

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Need for Drug Policy Reform in Nigeria and West Africa

The 3rd Executive Course on Human Rights and Drug Policy in West Africa recently hosted (25 - 30 July, 2016) by the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana emphasised the need for Policy Review within the Sub-Region.

In an increasingly interconnected world, Nigeria and the entire West African sub region has become an attractive destination for transnational organized crimes. One of such is drug trafficking.

Drug cartels have always collaborated with local partners to turn the region and their individual nations into major transit routes for illicit drugs. The region has long produced cannabis mainly for local consumption which is the most abused drug. It is now fast becoming a producer and exporter of synthetic drugs such as amphetamine-type stimulant.

According to a report by the West Africa Commission on Drugs released in 2014, drug trade in the sub-region was valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. This justifies the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon’s claim during a UN Security Council debate in 2013 that the annual value of cocaine for example, transiting through West Africa was 1.25 billion US dollars. 

This is significantly more than the annual budget of some countries in the region. Ironically, while this may sound lucrative and attractive, it is disheartening to note that virtually all the countries in the region including Nigeria are still among the poorest in the world. The growth in drug trafficking comes as the region is emerging from years of political conflict and prolonged violence.

This instability has left a legacy of fragile state of institutions and weak criminal justice systems that are vulnerable to infiltration and corruption by organized crimes. While democracy has gained ground in the continent, the prevalence of this illicit trade appears to be an eminent threat to its sustenance.

The unwholesome trade has also led to increase in money laundering. Despite efforts in establishing effective anti money laundering regimes, the needs still outweigh the capacity, resources and political will in some instances. There is an urgent need for formidable policies at national and regional levels to contain the menace.

Therefore, nations of the region should move away from the traditional ceremonial burning of seizures of illicit drugs, arrest and torture of users to focus more on drug demand reduction measures which is preventive.

The tendency to focus on numbers of seizures and arrests masks the failure to counter drug related activities of individuals in positions of public trust who do more harm to the society. As a result, it is mostly the small dealers, users or couriers that are arrested. It is also commonplace to see drug addicts being arrested by law enforcement agents with little or no counseling for them to desist from the unholy act.

It can be argued that some get involved in drug use due to pressure and ignorance. Few cases of those who came out of it through counseling show that a policy direction in this regard can save more lives. This is why the World Health Organization, WHO regards drug addiction as a disease and should be treated as a public health issue. The arrest and imprisonment of addicts will certainly increase the burden of feeding and prison congestion on government rather than solve the problem. 

Criminalization of drug use and possession places significant pressure on the already over burdened criminal justice systems. More worrisome is the fact that it can cause major disease epidemics such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C especially among those who inject drugs with shared syringes.

Countries like Tanzania have adopted harm reduction methods such as providing syringes for drug user to reduce the spread of infections and deaths. In the light of these, the current practice of criminalizing every aspect of the drug trade should be discouraged.

Through regional partnerships such as ECOWAS and the AU, which constitute solid inter-governmental platforms, the authorities can respond to drug trafficking and use effectively. With the external bilateral and multilateral partners as well as the United Nations support, benefiting nations cannot afford to fail in drug policy review in the sub region. Leaders in the area should take advantage of world donors’ advocacy to decriminalize drug policies.

However, given the multi-faceted nature of drug problem, future progress will require enhanced cooperation between governments, specialized services and civil societies in the producing, transit and consumer countries.

This laudable campaign to restore the rights of drug users, anchored by the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana through the support of the Open of Society Initiative for West Africa(OSIWA).

By Terzoo Zamber, a fellow of the 3rd Executive Course on Human Rights and Drug Policy in West Africa

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Decriminalise Narcotics Use as Part of Drug War

A Senior Lecturer at the University of Ghana Law School, Dr Kwadwo Appiagyei-Atua, is advocating the decriminalisation of narcotics use as part of measures to end the drug war across the globe.
He contended that instead of drug traffickers being arrested and imprisoned, there was the need for countries such as Ghana to adopt approaches to drug policy that put public health, community safety, human rights and development at the centre.
According to him, that was the new paradigm approach that could be adopted to end illicit drug trafficking in Africa and the world at large. Currently, the Narcotic Drugs Control, Enforcement and Sanctions Act - 1990 (PNDCL 236) criminalises the possession and use of narcotics in Ghana.
Experience from elsewhere 

Dr Appiagyei-Atua was speaking at the opening ceremony of the third West Africa Executive Course on Human Rights and Drug Policy in Accra last Monday.
“Over the years, it appears the political will is not there. So our politicians don’t see the need to implement this paradigm,” he noted.
He mentioned the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain as some of the countries that were implementing the new shift and stated that it was time Ghana learnt from them.
“It is important that Ghana incorporates this new paradigm which has been adopted by a lot of countries into the new drug policy that is being drafted,” he stressed.
The situation where only punitive measures were taken against offenders was rather worsening situations in the country, he said, adding that such persons came out of jail as hardened criminals and a liability on society.
Drug policy course 
The six-day conference is being organised by the University of Ghana Law School and sponsored by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), a non-governmental organisation (NGO).
Over 30 participants including lawyers, psychologists, human rights advocates from various Anglophone West African countries are attending the conference.
They will be taken through topics such as the human rights dimension of drug trafficking, United Nations General Assembly’s Resolution on drug trafficking, the gender dimension and roles of civil societies in the fight against the menace. 
Earlier, Dr Appiagyei-Atua had explained that the purpose of the course was to give the participants the requisite knowledge that would make them better advocates for the new paradigm.
He said similar courses had been organised for judges and parliamentarians in view of the new drug policy.
By CHARLES ANDOH originally published on http://www.graphic.com.gh/