GOVERNMENT’s recent reaction to the endemic drug abuse menace scaling pandemic proportions mainly among youths — following sustained media coverage of the problem, especially by The NewsHawks — is creditable, but not enough.
It is good the authorities have woken up to the harsh reality of this growing societal scourge and are now seriously tackling it, yet grappling with symptoms of the problem while ignoring the root causes is not and can’t be the solution.
It is common cause that the number of youths engaging in drug abuse in Zimbabwe, particularly in high-density suburbs, is increasing yearly. This is clearly connected to economic and social problems engulfing the nation, which are linked to governance failures in the Zimbabwean context.
As media we don’t just report the problem, but also investigate its causes and analyse responses, and efforts made by the officials, stakeholders, civil society and communities to address the issue.
There are strategies for drug abuse rehabilitation, and prevention in Zimbabwe; however, the problem is recurring and exacerbating among the youth population. To effectively combat the problem, there is need for a study to understand the width and depth of the crisis, to widen training and intervention programmes.
A multi-faceted approach which holistically addresses the causes, impact and consequences is critical. Some of the causes of drug abuse include socio-economic factors such as economic malaise, unemployment, media influence, escapism and peer pressure.
Possession of illegal drugs ultimately land youths in trouble and thus create further problems. Besides dealing with the root causes, there is need for a coordinated response and plan of action, proper rehabilitation models for youth drug abusers to support them in their recovery and quitting journeys. It is also important to ensure there is no relapse in the process.
Following the setting up of an inter-ministerial committee on addressing the issue, cabinet on Tuesday considered and approved a report presented by minister of Public Service Paul Mavima.
The report said a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach has been adopted to arrest the situation. This includes intensification of prevention, harm reduction, treatment, rehabilitation, reduction of demand and elimination of supply and availability of illicit and over the counter substances and drugs on the market.
The capacities, efficiencies and activities of the police, justice and customs department will also be enhanced and strengthened to combat drug abuse, it said. Cabinet said it noted with “satisfaction” the swift response by security forces which has resulted in the arrest of over 200 culprits involved in the trade in illicit substances and druglords. “These will face the full wrath of the law,” it said.
Ministers said, in the short term, the following measures are being taken to deal with the scourge of substance abuse, among others:
- Operationalisation of the Zimbabwe national drug master plan and treatment and rehabilitation guidelines of alcohol and substance use disorder of Zimbabwe;
- Identifying and upgrading existing mental health institutions that can admit affected children, youths and adults including a dedicated child psychiatric hospital in each province until they have recovered; and
- Intensifying Operation Clean Ghetto which will now be codenamed Operation Clean Up Zimbabwe and extended to every part of the country with a focus to frustrating the activities of the criminal groups and neutralise drug and substance abuse. Government said it would also identify and improve community-based activities, including establishment of parent support groups and patient support groups.
In the medium term, the following strategies will be implemented:
- Review of the national policy on drug and substance abuse and amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act which is up to date with the current illicit drug being abused in the country to increase penalties on drug and substance abuse sentencing;
- Establish a national call centre for drug and substance abuse which will provide online psychosocial support and related information;
- Opening of youth centres and increasing empowerment opportunities for the youth and strengthening their vocational training programmes;
- Establishment of family support structures and facilities to address the negative impacts of substance and drug addiction on the immediate and extended family, for example, family clubs, churches and faithbased organisations. All local authorities to revive and expand the provision of youth clubs and other positive recreational facilities, and
- Training workshops for supervisors and other relevant personnel to prevent and deal with substance abuse in the workplace.
Cabinet rightly said the media can play a critical role in increasing outreach and awareness raising through theatre, arts, edutainment, music and other multimedia platforms.
These measures are significant, but they need to go deeper and be sustained, not only activated for electioneering purposes and other opportunistic agendas. Society can’t just watch as drugs destroy a whole generation of youths — the current and future leaders.
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