Until recently, the West Africa region has been perceived as only a transit zone of drugs from Latin America to European Countries Markets. This general perception started changing since June 2014 with the release of WACD flagship reports titled ‘’Not just in transit, drugs, the States and Society in West Africa’’.
Early 2013, former UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, convened the West Africa Commission on Drugs (WACD) chaired by the former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo. The Commission comprised of commissioners from a diverse background in West Africa such as politics, civil society, health, security and the judiciary.
After 18 months of research, looking at the evidence, consulting experts from the region and visiting some of the most affected countries and communities in the region, WACD in June 2014, released its flagship report, including a series of evidence-based recommendations for drug policies across the region.
The report shed lights on the impact of the drug market in West Africa. According to the report, drug trafficking is a new threat to the development of West Africa. West Africa region is not only a transit zone of drugs from Latin America to Europe but also local production and consumption are on the rise which continues to be a major issue.
Organised crime syndicates exist at all levels of society in West Africa and pose a threat to good governance, peace and stability, economic growth and public health in West Africa, a region that has only recently emerged from decades of violent conflict.
A pervasive situation that is corroborated with statics from the United Nations (UN) and the United Nations Organisation on Drug and Crime (UNODC). According to the UNODC, the yearly reports on the world drug problem, the prevalence rate of cannabis uses in West and Central Africa combined (12.4%) is higher than Africa and the global average, 7.5% and 3.9% respectively.
In the above statistics, the youth mostly formed the majority of the affected population. Per the Narcotics Control Board Statistics, the youth in Ghana make up the majority of the drug user community particularly youth in the Junior/ Senior High Schools and tertiary institutions.
It is in light of this worrying situations and also, recognizing the specific needs of young people, and that they are more vulnerable to drug-related harms, that the Ghana chapter of the West Africa Drug Policy Network (WADPN) sets to increase the level of youth awareness and engagement on drug policy debates and calls for decriminalization and support for harm reduction measures in the region. The initiative by WADPN-Ghana is also to strengthen youth advocacy in the area of Human Rights and Drug Policy Reform.
In view of these challenges, the West Africa Drug Policy Network, Ghana Chapter (WADPN-Gh) with support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and in collaboration with civil society activist in the country recognized the need to bring together youth, particularly, students, and other stakeholders who are the most vulnerable to the dangers of drugs and the need for drug policy reform to trigger drug and policy reform debates and processes.
The forum focused on various approaches to effectively respond to the drug challenges with possible commitments to educating them on the need to contribute to playing advocacy role, building their capacity on understanding Ghana’s drug policy and how to engage with their institutions to develop effective campus-based strategies and not the usual 'Just say No" to drugs and also engaging policymakers and lobbying for drug policy reforms and finally sensitizing the public and communities about the impacts of drugs on democracy, governance and the society.
Present at the forum was the African consultant for the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) who sensitized the groups about the current state of global drug policy as well as Ghana; and called on them to engender interest in advocacy and research among them. She further explained that, the youth forum was part of an advocacy within the region for evidence-based drug policy that is grounded on public health and human rights and to promote the active participation of young people in drug policy development by building the capacity of youth organizations to advocate for the rights of vulnerable people who use drugs.
Mrs Loglo further called on the youth to join the advocacy platform for Humane Drug Policy for people suffering from problematic drug use and the need to engage in Smart Drug Prevention programmes.
At the end of the program, the participants committed to a series of actions within their own communities including raising awareness of the rights of people who use drugs, involving community leaders, organizing social and health campaigns on drug use and facilitating activities in schools with teachers and students.
Leaders from the various youth groups pledged to call on the relevant authorities to promote the rights and inclusion of people who use drugs including establishing links between prisons, health services and civil society to ensure follow-ups and continuation of services for people who use drugs after release from prison.
The day also saw the inauguration and birth of Youth Rise for Drug Policy Reform Ghana, a youth movement whose aim is to mobilize young people concerned with the impact of drugs and drug policies on individuals, families and communities in Ghana.
Drug policies around the world and Ghana focus mainly on prevention but failed to address the issues that confront some young people who are into drugs for a variety of reasons. The initiative through projects will engage all stakeholders including high schools and universities students to identify and address challenges such as rejection by both family and society of these young people. The coalition indicated that they are committed to creating a platform for young people to be engaged in the policies that affect their lives.
Speaking to Mr. Timothy Pritchard Debrah, a Psychiatric Nurse and Clinical Supervisor of the University of Cape Coast, College of Health and Allied Sciences, School of Nursing, Department of Mental Health and also doubles as coordinator of Youth RISE Ghana for Drug Policy Reform and an executive member of WADPN-Gh envisions healthy communities in which young people are of sound mind, free from harm and where drug use is seen as a public health issues, and policies are evidence-based.