Continental experts say reducing consumption of drugs may end trafficking in Africa

African Union experts have suggested that the fight against drug trafficking on the continental may not be successful if the demand and consumption of the illicit products is still high.

According to Angela Martins, Acting Director for Social Development, Culture and Sport of the African Union Commission, it is important to put more emphasis on creating more healthier and resilient communities in Africa.

She was speaking during the AU Commission Department of Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development’s continental technical experts’ consultation on drug demand reduction that ended on November 7, 2023.

 “While efforts to combat drug trafficking and supply are undeniably important, we acknowledge that addressing the demand side of the equation is equally critical. By focusing on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and reintegration, we can break the vicious cycle of drug use and dependency, and create healthier and more resilient communities,” said Martins.

According to a press release issued by the AU Commission, Martins also underscored the significance of the consultation as a platform for dialogue, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration among experts, policymakers, civil society, and stakeholders.

Martins told the experts at the consultative meeting that no single country can effectively tackle the drug menace alone adding that what is needed is developing comprehensive strategies that address the root causes and consequences of drug use through collective action and international cooperation.

The consultation on drug demand reduction was strategically formulated to delve into the 2023 Pan-African Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (PAENDU) report which aims to improve health security, and socio-economic well-being of Africans by addressing substance use and treatment.

While opening the experts consultative meeting in Zambian Capital Lusaka, Nason Banda, Director General of the Zambian Drug Enforcement Commission revealed that there were worrying findings locally.

Banda noted that findings by the Zambia Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (ZENDU) are a testament to the dedicated efforts of the Zambia Drug Enforcement Commission and its various stakeholders.

The ZENDU study gathered data from multiple sources, including records from drug and alcohol treatment demand centers, psychiatric and mental health hospital records, etc.

‘’We are collectively failing in our efforts to prevent drug use and provide treatment. It is only by working together that we can find practical solutions and forge partnerships, leverage resources, and mobilize the necessary political will to make a tangible difference in the lives of our youth, women, and children. If we do not address the drug problem, we will not reap the demographic dividend that Africa aspires through the AU Agenda 2063,” said Banda.

While delivering his speech, Brian Morales, Branch Chief in charge of Counternarcotic, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau (INL), US Department of State indicated that that most of the drug addicts get into the vice due to many reasons that vary from one person to another.

‘’ Maybe they are with the wrong group of friends; maybe they experience some trauma and find this is one way to forget; maybe they grow up in a family where there is neglect or parents use drugs. The three most common reasons. Illicit drug trafficking, substance dependency, and related criminal activities have far-reaching consequences that undermine our efforts towards achievement of sustainable peace, security, and prosperity” he said.

Morales added that stakeholders need strong families, safe schools, and healthy communities in order to end drug trafficking in the whole world.

“And it begins with us – your ministries and the AU support.  The U.S. is proud to support your efforts and partner on Drug Demand Reduction initiatives because when it comes to children, we care about your children as we care for our own,’’ said the Branch Chief,” added Morales. 

The experts’ consultation was marked with presentations of member states reports on treatment, illicit drug seizures, drug control legislation, policies and strategies as well as awareness of emerging threats in new psychoactive substances, opioids, and related synthetic drugs; among others, which led the course of the sessions bringing up productive interventions from all participants.

AU member states, AUC staff, development partners and representatives of international organizations expressed their commitment to identifying new responses to jointly work towards drug demand reduction in Africa.

The consultation was attended by nominated focal points from law enforcement agencies of AU member states, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Office of Global Programs and Policy (INL/GPP) and traditional leaders.

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