‘Severe sanctions against drug users increases criminality’

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The use of force and severe punishment against drug users have not reduced the growing problems associated with the consumption of illicit substances but has increased criminality and recidivism, a report put together at the end of the 12th biennial international conference on drugs, alcohol and society in Africa has revealed.

Recidivism refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behaviour, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime.

The report compiled by the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse, and made available to our correspondent in Abuja on Sunday, noted that over 100 international participants and representatives from different organisations like the European Union, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, etc presented evidence on the growing problematic use of various licit and illicit substances.

It, however, stated that there was the need to adapt and implement comprehensive, integrated and evidence-based policies to address drug abuse problems in African countries.

It said, “There is increasing evidence that enforcement of the current drug laws which relies heavily on supply reduction and punishment of drug users has not led to significant reduction in the availability and consumption of illicit drugs.

“For example, scientific evidence shows that the use of criminal sanctions against drug users increases recidivism while the provision of treatment is associated with reduction in drug use. We are experiencing increasing drug and alcohol related morbidity and mortality arising from the toxicity of the drugs and other health conditions such as mental health disorder, and the spread of HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis.”

The report, which was co-signed by the Director, CRISA, Prof. Isidore Obot, stated that there was limited or no sustainable public health response (prevention, treatment and rehabilitation) to drug and alcohol use disorders in African countries.

It said stable funding for drug demand reduction activities was lacking in all countries in the region, hampering the work of civil society and research organisations.

It noted that although alcohol imposes a heavy burden on the health and social welfare of many Africans, few countries in the region had control on the marketing and promotion of alcohol by the industry.

In their recommendations, participants at the conference stated that harm reduction programmes should be implemented as part of a comprehensive response to drug problems, taking into account the issues of poverty, stigma and discrimination against drug users.

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