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Drug menace needs multi-sectoral response

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ZIMBABWE’S fight against endemic drug abuse requires all hands on deck, as substance abuse continues to sweep across the country’s townships, analysts have said.

NYASHA CHINGONO

 Substance abuse, which has been described as a silent pandemic, has turned heads in government, prompting cabinet action through an inter-ministerial committee.

While government leads the fight through policies that seeks to flush out drugs from the streets, the involvement of the community, churches, and the media, among other stakeholders, is crucial if the thrust is to bear fruit.

Amid revelations that drugs like crystal meth, commonly known as mutoriro and cannabis cakes, are now sold in schools, it is apparent that a holistic approach is now required to deal with the growing problem.

It is no longer business as usual and paying lip service will only aggravate an already dire situation.

Communities, who are also culpable for the growing problem, should now work with other critical stakeholders in society like parents, churches, teachers and even traditional leaders.

Owning the fight will unshackle many youths gripped by the vice, especially if communities refuse to tolerate or harbour druglords embedded in society.

With churches now gradually opening, they should incorporate religious activities with drug campaigns to save many youths from the menace.

The government must be applauded for announcing that it plans to work with other participants in society in the war on drugs.

A multi-faceted approach which holistically addresses the causes, impacts 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.

This requires many actors to speak out and take action on the growing problem.

Families should not be left out as they are the legal guardians of drug users. They have borne the brunt of drug abuse.

The NewsHawks has interviewed families that are failing to deal with drug addicts, who have either turned violent or are now petty thieves.

Going through the pain of taking care of children hooked on drugs makes parents the right candidates to lead initiatives against substance abuse.

With training from health officials, parents would be better placed to deal with such situations at household level.

Laudable is the fact that the government pledged to work with the community. The authorities should walk the talk on this, as showboating and grandstanding would not help in successfully fighting drug abuse.

Mubatirapamwe, a local non-governmental organisation working with communities, believes society is a crucial stakeholder in the drug war.

“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 faith-based organisations,” Mupatirapamwe co-founder Savannah Madamombe said.

Drug activist and politician Linda Masarira said while the government response to the growing drug problem has been slow, citizens should be more active in dealing with menace.

She said members of the community should speak out against druglords causing untold suffering to families.

“The government’s response time is slow and indeed they are late to the party and the little we can do is to appreciate that they have come on board. Citizens should be the community watchdog and speak out against all shady activities in their communities and report all drug dealers in their jurisdiction,” she said.

“We all have a responsibility to protect, and it is time we stop shaming those with children who are struggling with addiction, but to be our neighbour’s keeper. Churches should have awareness programmes on the dangers of drug and substance abuse. Schools should have modules on teaching students about drugs and preventing use of drugs and substances and how it affects their livelihoods and future,” Masarira added.

Adopting the drug problem as a community vice would help raise more awareness on the menace with the hope of eventually winning the bruising battle.

Wilson Box, director of the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties Drug Network, said citizens will play an important role in the fight against drug abuse.

“Citizens can contribute to this crisis by naming and shaming those in drug trafficking and pushing on the government to act on this menace,” Box said.

Following the setting up of an inter-ministerial committee on addressing the issue, cabinet on Tuesday last week considered and approved a report presented by Public Service minister 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.

While it is commendable that authorities arrested 200 druglords, it is however a futile attempt because most of them are roaming the streets pushing dangerous contraband.

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. It is incumbent upon the communicators to raise public awareness by running the story more consistently.

These measures are significant, but they need to go deeper and be sustained, not only activated for electioneering purposes and other opportunistic agendas. Society cannot just watch as drugs destroy a whole generation of youths — the current and future leaders.

 

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