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Drug users increase in ghettos

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The West Africa Commission on Drugs or WACD says there are large number of young people in ghettos here, including both men and pregnant women … in a very dire situation.

“There are large number of young people if you go into the ghettos, you’ll see them both men and women including those who are pregnant and everything … in a very dire situation, WACD commissioner Dr. Mary Chinery-Hesse told journalists in the Foyer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Monrovia.

Dr. Hesse, who is from Ghana along with her Nigerian counterpart, Mr. Adeolu Ogunrombi, have been on official visit here since 29 February, working with government and relevant sectors after briefing President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on WACD’s findings and recommendation contained in a report on drugs.

During discussions with Liberia’s drug agency, the Health Ministry, police, Justice Ministry and civil society organizations, Dr. Hesse recalled that the delegation suggested to government that though drugs have destroyed many lives, current policies had not helped.

“The punitive methods used to contain the drug menace have led to unintended consequences: a huge black market has emerged and is fuelling corruption in the sub-region,” she said. She added that domestic drug consumption is on the rise, as many young people find themselves in prison and come out more hardened than they went in.

“… There are established cases of HIV infections as a result of injection drug practices,” she said further, while expressing observation that drug users who need help are driven underground because of  tigmatization and criminalization of drug use.

She therefore says this draws attention to the obvious need for reform, calling on government to invest in evidence-based prevention programs, harm-reduction, treatment and rehabilitation of drug users. According to her, WACD finds that a lot of drugs are staying here in the West African region and being consumed, and what the commission is pushing for is rehabilitation.

For his part, Mr. Adeolu Ogunrombi suggested that in addressing the issue of drugs, the underlying factors which are unemployment and access to education must also be addressed. He says the commission’s objectives are raising public awareness, getting political commitment to the issues on the dangers of drug trafficking in the region and developing evidence based policy recommendations for governments to be able to implement.

He also says the commission seeks to promote regional capacity … to manage the challenge in the region. An official from the Ministry of Health, who deputized for Minister Bernice Dahn, Joseph Sumo, said  overnment is quite concerned about the illicit use of drugs here.

He told journalists that it’s capital intensive to manage people who are drug addicts on grounds that there are lot of mental illnesses that are associated with the substance. He says the Health Ministry now wants to look at the public health implication of the illegal use of drugs, noting that mental health department at the ministry has drawn up an agenda to be able to take care of the issue about drug users.

He concluded that the target this time will have to be inter-agency collaboration due to the public health implication, with plans to begin to work on two different fronts including the security aspect which will address those who traffic drugs, while the health aspect will address those who are victims.

By Winston W. Parley-Edited by Jonathan Browne

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