The number of young people in Kenya abusing drugs is increasing at a worrying rate.
When the world will be marking International Day against drug abuse and Illicit Trafficking on the 26th of June, concerned authorities will be paying keen attention as the realities of drug abuse become more evident.
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Kenya continues to witness an upsurge in international narcotic drug trafficking according to the Director of Mental Health, Dr Simon Njuguna.
It is the reason behind the increasing number of injecting drug users (IDU)s. Dr Njuguna notes
‘’The increase in Substance Drug Abuse in Kenya is alarming. Statistics show more than half of drug users are youth aged (10-19 years)’’
Even more alarming is that youth aged between 15 and 24 years are contributing to the highest number of new infections according to the National Aids Control Council.
In 2016, 26,000 youth tested positive for the virus.
Experts caution that, substance abuse has a hand in the rate of new HIV infections.
International Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is marked on 26th of June which is a public holiday in Kenya.
Kenya will be commemorating the day on the 28th 2017 with a launch of the National Substance Disorders Treatment Protocol which is aimed at controlling the rising cases of drug use.
With various activities scheduled to create awareness on drug abuse and mobilisation of resources, the impact of drug abuse on the populace remain dire.
It is told through the lives of teenagers crawling the streets of Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru and other smaller towns too dazed to comprehend the risks they pose not just to themselves, but others as well.
35 year old Imani Chaku (not his real name) sums up the struggles of young and vulnerable people who have experimented with drugs and watched as their lives fell apart.
Chaku begun smoking marijuana by the age of 13. When he was 17 years of age, he graduated to heroin thanks to his then girlfriend who introduced him to the habit.
Crime and substance abuse have a cosy relationship where criminality can range from driving under the influence, robbery, rape and even prostitution.
For Chaku, robbing with his girlfriend became the norm. The girlfriend was shot by police two years later during a robbery mission. In 2007, he was arrested and charged with possession of Marijuana and jailed for 8 months.
He knows prison walls so well because in 2010, he would return to jail for a year, this time for robbery.
As an injecting heroin user, he shared needles with anyone who could offer one to him.
His marriage of 2 years broke down and the wife took off with their two children. Chaku tested positive for HIV in 2011 and has been in and out of detox programs.
When Kenya marks the International Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking Day, it will be a sobering moment for a country that is witnessing more and more young people like Chaku engage in the practice.
The Ministry of Health says it is paying keen attention and will be launching the National Substance Disorders treatment Protocol that is aimed at controlling the rise in drug use across the country.
The protocol is based on international best practice to manage substance use disorders. “It will be a useful and practical guide for practitioners dealing with substance abuse problems in Kenya,” said Dr. Njuguna.
The protocol is a comprehensive document that informs policy and speaks to relevant authorities including parents and teachers.
According to the ministry, the protocol provides a humane and scientific approach delivered by skilled practitioners in order to assist the drug dependent person to attain the highest level of personal, professional, familial and social functioning.
The protocol will be circulated countrywide and will be the standard used by service providers to provide quality healthcare to drug users.
With the use of the protocol, it is hoped that management of substance use and the related health and social consequencies including communicable and non-communicable diseases will be much easier.
According to Dr Catherine Mutisya, a consultant psychiatrist at the Ministry of Health;
‘’When you treat substance use disorders you reduce demand and eventually, peer influence’’.
There have been different means used to tackle the drug abuse menace including pharmacological and pyschosocial approaches.
The introduction of methadone in the country for instance has been hailed as a step towards rehabilitation of heroin users.
Methadone is an analgesic drug that is used in the treatment of heroin addiction only.
Currently there are 6 methadone clinics in the country.
The government hopes that the multi-thronged approach in dealing with drug abuse will yield fruit.
Critics however argue that the battle has to be taken to the drug traffickers who have made Kenya a transit point of illicit drugs for decades.
For years, Kenya was not seen as a consumer country but as days go by, more and more of the drugs are finding their way into the local market.