We must prioritise fight against substance abuse

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BY MACHEL WAIKENDA

Author of ‘Note Found in a Bottle’ Susan Cheever, once wrote; “Addiction isn’t about substance-you aren’t addicted to the substance, you are addicted to the alteration of mood that the substance brings.” The book, a memoir of her own alcoholism and recovery, is one among many that she had written on addiction.

Alcohol and substance abuse is a problem affecting so many people, in Kenya and around the world. As American politician Patrick J. Kenney said; “No one is immune from addiction; it afflicts people of all ages, races, classes, and professions.”

The National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) released a report that screams out that alcohol remains the most abused item among high school students. The survey was conducted over a period of three months across 17 counties by the anti-drug agency.

While the list of abused substances includes cigarettes, miraa, bhang, prescription drugs and heroin, alcohol is the undisputed abuse substance of choice, according to 74 percent of the respondents. Within the same week, The Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014 by World Health Organization also indicted Kenya over consumption of toxic and lethal brews.

That the sheer volumes consumed by Kenyans even shocked a visiting UN task force is reason enough for concern. The UN team was shocked to discover that we Kenyans quench the equivalent of 4.3 litres of pure, unadulterated alcohol, per adult each year. This statistic is higher than the African average! Clearly, we should be very worried as alcohol represents a clear and significant danger tour society.

The widespread access to these alcoholic drinks, easily affordable, peer group pressure, lack of role models, hands-off parenting, weak school policing, guidance and counselling, coupled by impunity by brewers who have compromised law enforcement agents, are all factors that have conspired to consign generation of young people to a bleak future.

Many youths have failed to learn from the hundreds that have lost their sight or died from excessive consumption of brews or partaking in laced drinks sold by uncaring and unscrupulous operators. Not even concern from the highest office in the land seems to shake these millions of youth from their inebriated stupor.

Indeed, when President Uhuru Kenyatta opened the second national conference on alcohol and drug abuse at Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani, he categorically directed police officers to detain drug traffickers and deport foreigners corrupting our youth.

On top of empowering district alcoholic drinks regulation committees as contrived by the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act 2010, NACADA and county governments are required by the law to limit the availability of alcoholic beverages and enact any other measure to curb illicit brews.

In fact, laws already exist to jail and fine those that flout guidelines for responsible use of alcohol but trouble appears to be that enforcement has been weak. That is why there are women who have taken it upon themselves to raid brewing dens, make citizen arrests and even name and shame administrators who inadvertently encourage this over-indulgence.

The National Treasury has also been directed by Executive fiat, to channel more resources for prevention and control of alcohol and drug abuse. As the line ministry enforces the regulations on substance abuse, so too must NACADA expand its resource base to fight all forms of substance abuse.

Much of this has been captured in the drug agency’s blueprint unveiled in Mombasa that was themed: “The Youth and Drugs: A call for Action”.

Even as government waives school fees, re-focuses the role of the National youth Service, empowers young people to start income-generation by way of reserving tenders and making loan acquisition easier and a raft of other measures, we need to ask questions like: What became of the regulations restricting sale of alcohol to young people, shutting down or relocation of drinking dens from residential areas and those in close proximity to schools? What about prosecution of administrators and police officers known to offer ‘protection” to brewers and transporters of illicit drinks? What is our role as teachers and parents?

NACADA estimates that half of all alcohol and drug abusers in Kenya are between 10 and 19 years old. We all recall that in July, a form one student from Uasin Gishu County died while a form two student was admitted to Hospital in Nyeri County after taking illicit brew.

We must prioritise the fight against substance abuse in all our policies and ensure there are activities that keep young people off the vice. This would help create more awareness and would also make it an issue of national concern.

These policies must also address issues relating to the economy as we live at an age where alcohol is becoming cheaper than food. We must address this disparity by creating jobs for young people, if only to safeguard the leaders of tomorrow. We can re-ignite hope in our youth.

(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)

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