Drug addiction is a public health issue - Woyongo
Government is preparing to put before parliament a new Narcotic Commission bill aimed at promoting, rehabilitation and harm reduction programmes for drug disorders, the Minister of Interior, Mark Woyongo has disclosed.
He said the bill, if passed by the house into law, will ensure that drug addiction is viewed not only as criminal justice issue but public health order. The new narcotic commission bill to be put before parliament for approval was in line with the National Integration Programme (NIP), he mentioned.
“The new Commission Bill, which will soon be put before parliament, proposes that drug addiction will be regarded as a public health issue and not only a criminal justice issue,” Woyongo divulged. He revealed this in his speech during the celebration of the World Drug Day in Accra Last Week, under the theme: ‘Lets Develop Our Lives, Our Communities and Our Identities without Drugs.’
The Bill, Mr. Woyongo noted, if approved, would see to it that appropriate measures are instituted to lessen the demand for narcotic drugs through rigorous education, treatment and promotion of “rehabilitation and harm reduction” schemes for drug use disorders, so that addicts could be “reintegrated” effortlessly back into society.
He said to win the fight against illicit drug usage and trafficking, there must be a greater commitment to allocate more resources into the prevention, treatment and harm reduction programmes, so that “our drug policies become more integrated rather than forcing prohibition and demand reduction as mutually exclusive.”
He congratulated NACOB, particularly its Executive Secretary, Yaw Akrasi Sarpong for the tremendous progress in its drug reduction activities in the face of scarce resources. Government, Woyongo reiterated, is collaborating with its international partners to place health at the centre of drug control, so as to put addicts in the hands of doctors rather than policemen, in the bid to curb the global narcotic scourge in its minutest form.
Continuing, he asked local farmers whose resolve are cultivating large plantations of marijuana to reconsider their decision to harvesting cash crops. “Today, the challenges we face in our communities as a result of drug abuse are real. The effects are as cancerous as the disease itself. It is, therefore, my hope that we come together as a nation to develop our communities, our lives and identity without drugs,” he pleaded.
The current law governing the operations of the Narcotic Control Board (NACOB) diverts valuable resources away from addressing drug related health problems, said Maria-Goretti Anne, the West African Consultant for the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).
She said this diversion had caused drug dependence treatment and public health services to be massively underfunded. Ms Anne called for a review of the existing drug policy which views drug use order more of a criminal justice issue with a minimal sentence of five years.
She proposed that the new policy in the offing should focus attention on the well being of the individual and society arguing that “criminalizing and incarcerating” these addicts only serves to exacerbate the “poverty and insecurity” that are the root cause of their involvement with drugs.
Ms Anne also called for the review of the existing sentencing frameworks for drug offences by considering the removal of criminal sanctions.
“We must explore the options, learn from our mistakes and successes of other countries, have an honest and open discussion about ‘what works and what does not,’ and commit to better drug policies for our citizens and society here in Ghana,” she demanded.
Nii Laryea Afotey Agbo, the Greater Accra Regional Minister in a speech said the theme brought to the fore the need to develop cutting edge strategies to combat the menace.
Ghana, West Africa and Africa as a continent he mentione, is losing the fight against the menace due to a combination of factors including the geopolitics of the region which made it quite susceptible to the drug menace which is intrinsically linked to organized crime in its various forms.
Afotey Agbo who was represented by the Municipal Chief Executive (MCE) of Ga West Municipality, Ebenezer Nii Armah Tackie therefore called for more collective efforts to institute “plausible and pragmatic” mechanism to tackle the phenomenon head on.