When advocates talk about evidence-based drug policy reform in Africa, what do they really mean?
Updated: Jan 13, 2022
Evidence-based drug policy simply refers to the use of evidence (data, proofs) to guide our response to drug control. It is simply ensuring that current best evidence is being used in making decisions. This means the quality of our outcome will improve or become better if our response is influenced by science, data or evidence. This also means that for us to use current best evidence, we have to be ready to systematically evaluate our laws, policies and practices to determine whether they are actually fit for purpose.
If we take a look at drug laws and policies that exist today, we will realize that most of them were developed based on opinions, sentiments and not really by critically examining what the situation was, what they intend to achieve and how best to achieve them. For example, in West Africa, Nigeria inclusive, most of the drug laws are reactive. They were developed just to respond to the outcry against drug trafficking and illicit drugs transiting through the region to the thriving markets in North America and Europe. So, the laws were developed based on the idea that we need to just stop the flow of drugs through the region. This further influenced the metrics or indicators that were being used to measure the success in the drug control effort. That’s why you hear about the number of arrests, seizures, people jailed or criminalized and so forth.
Unfortunately, the drug laws do not reflect the realities of what the drug situation is in the countries across the region. This was part of what prompted the efforts of the West Africa Commission on Drugs (WACD) to embark on a fact finding mission, which released an outstanding report in 2014 titled “Not Just in Transit: Drugs, The State and Society in West Africa” . This report brought to the fore front that illicit drugs are not just transiting through the region but are also being consumed and produced in West Africa. Therefore, a drug control effort that has majorly focused on cutting drug supply is not only inadequate but cannot solve the health, security and development challenges posed by drugs.
Furthermore, evidence-based drug policy is simply setting up or promoting a system that continuously interrogates how we respond to drugs. Emphasis is put on the word “continuous interrogation”. So, it is not a fixed end. We must always, be it as policy makers, professionals, practitioners or academics, question our interventions and outcomes when it comes to drugs use. For so many years, “Say No To Drugs” has been the standard drug prevention message, but we have come to realize that there is so much more to drug prevention than just asking young people to “say No”.
It is interesting to see how countries make attempt to frequently evaluate their economic, social, and education policies and the likes but you rarely see countries making effort to evaluate their drug control response and scoring themselves to see if what they are doing and the outcomes are really what they should be.
In conclusion, when advocates for policy reform speak about evidence, they are simply saying the current practice has failed and we need to bring on board what works in all the spectrum of the drug control response.
Adeolu Adebiyi, West Africa Commission on Drugs