50,000 GHANAIANS ABUSE DRUGS
Statistics from the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB) show that about 50,000 people in Ghana, particularly the youth, abuse drugs. These drug users can be found in the 275 administrative districts in all the 10 regions in the country, and about 35,000 of this figure are students from junior/senior high schools and tertiary institutions aged between 12 and 35 years while the remaining 15,000 are adults, with 9,000 being males and 6,000 females. Despite Ghana’s current stringent laws that sanction severe punishment on users in the country, the above evidence demonstrates that drug use is on the increase in the country. In view of these challenges, including threats and damaging effects posed by decriminalising drugs in West African countries such as Ghana, the West African Commission on Drugs (WACD) is calling on West African states to treat drug use as a public health problem and invest in treatment services as well as the reduction of drug-related harm. WACD further strongly recommends they reform laws and policies on drugs, including the decriminalisation of minor and non-violent offenses, as well as more capacity development of effective penal systems. Therefore, the West African states, especially Ghana, need to tackle the impact of drugs through informed, humane, and co-ordinated policy. And it is within this context that the Ghana Chapter of the West Africa Drug Policy Network and the West Africa Behavioural Health Addiction and Recovery Management Foundation (WABHARM-Ghana), in collaboration with the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), with support from the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), organised a multi-stakeholder public dialogue to generate awareness with a campaign dubbed ‘Support, Don’t Punish’. The ‘Support, Don’t Punish’ campaign was to raise public awareness on the harm being caused by the criminalisation of people who use drugs. It also aims to change laws and policies which impede access to harm reduction interventions and to promote the respect for the human rights of people who use drugs. The main objective of the forum is to trigger discussions aimed at ensuring that the current Narcotics Control Bill in the country addresses vital issues of promoting the rights of drug users and supporting rehabilitation into society and to provoke critical reflections aimed at shaping better policies that will facilitate the process of tackling the impact of drugs through informed, humane, and co-ordinated policy. Criminal Law lawyer at the forum, Mr Martin Kpebu stated that the usage of drugs has armed many people but its policies have rather worsened their case. He advised that convicting drug users should be the last measure a government considers since rehabilitation systems in Ghana are not designed to properly take care of narcotics users. Timothy Bentum, a Ghanaian actor, at the forum revealed that he was a drug addict for almost 15 years, and added that rejection is the biggest challenge drug addicts face. He urged everyone to play a role in curbing the issues relating to drugs in the country, adding that to deal with it effectively, the monies invested in the solution should also be focused on prevention.