A CASE FOR DRUG AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE
PREVENTION EDUCATION IN KENYA
By Dr. Bilhah O. N. Hagembe Medical Advisor¹, NACADA
& Sosio Simiyu Programme Coordinator Public Awareness NACADA
In Kenya, the drug abuse scourge has taken its toll on the society largely
out of the fact that not many people treated the various substances as the
source of the serious health afflictions.
Evident lack of awareness, fanned by unavailability of accurate
information on the adverse consequences of indulgence habits left the
problem of drugs and substance abuse to permeate communities throughout
To a large extent, supply of drugs and demand complement each other, with
the result being a vicious circle of drug abuse leading to compulsive use and
tolerance. The various types of drugs and substances commonly abused in the
country by the different communities have evolved in a cultural and social
environment that tolerates and accepts consumption as a normal life style.
The government initiated action by enforcing measures to control supply
reduction way back in 1983 with the formation of a specialised Anti Narcotic
Unit under the police force.
NATIONAL AGENCY FOR THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST DRUG ABUSE
In a resolve to reign in on the problem of drug abuse, the government
created the office of the National Coordinator for the Campaign Against Drug
Abuse effective from March 27, 2001 headed by veteran administrator Mr.
The office has a mission of coordinating and harmonising drug abuse
prevention education activities to create awareness with an aim of achieving
behavior and attitude change and eventually contribute to significant
reduction on demand and abuse of chemical substances.
SPECIFIC ACTIVITIES OF FOCUS
The strategy encompasses;
- Coordination of activities of individuals and organisations relevant to
the campaign against drug abuse.
- Initiation of public education campaign against drug abuse.
- Development of action plans to curb drug abuse among the youth and
- Development of action plans to curb drug abuse in schools and other
institutions of learning.
- Sensitize the parents on the abuse of drugs and the effects and their
functions as role models.
- Initiation of treatment and rehabilitation programmes to counter
The damage caused by both licit and illicit drugs and substances of abuse
to the society, labour force and the entire economy has been of much concern
to the Government. Government action on the problem is evidenced by
promulgation of various Acts such as Traditional Liquor Licensing Act, and
the recent Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act of 1994.
The Government resolve to combat the menace is further seen in the formation
of NACADA with a clear mandate that complements these Acts.
NACADA has adopted an intervention line that encompasses comprehensive
education for long-term empowerment of youth and general public to counter
drug abuse. There is close collaboration in the fight against drug abuse
with key actors including relevant government departments, the media, Non
Governmental Organisations (NGOS) relevant professionals, spiritual leaders,
parents associations and institutional leaderships. The agency thus
advocates and multi-sector and disciplines approach.
While recognising the measures currently being instituted to combat drug
abuse at the International scene, NACADA has chosen to lay more emphasis on
homegrown solutions that are conscious of the societal, cultural and economic
influences and environments.
The intervention measures underway or in the plan aim at achieving
positive change of behavior and attitudes particularly among the youth and
young adults in such situations.
In the one-year period the National Agency for the Campaign Against Drug
Abuse has been in operation, it has identified the following:
The need for comprehensive drug abuse prevention and demand reduction
Lack of reliable data on prevalence of drug abuse.
The need for intensification and co-ordination of anti-drug abuse
- Inadequate information materials on drugs and substances of abuse
targeting the youth in particular.
- Need to increase knowledge and awareness on harmful effects of drugs.
- Need to tackle stigmatization of drug addicts.
- Lack of adequate and appropriate treatment and rehabilitation services.
- Denial of the existence of the problem by individuals and parts of
- Needs for measures to enhance behavior change for abusers with adequate
knowledge on harmful effects of drug abuse.
DRUG AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE COLLABORATIVE ROLES
Indeed the trend and magnitude is such that drug abuse has to be tackled
from all fronts for NACADA to register perceivable success in its mission of
preventing destruction of the health and productive life of individuals,
families and communities in this country.
Kenyan youth face the greatest risk, being targets for recruitment into
the abuse of drugs and substances by drug barons and firms engaged in the
production of various brands of unsafe products.
It is increasingly clear that nearly 92% of the youth experiment with both
licit and illicit alcohol, tobacco, bhang, miraa, inhalants (glue, petrol)
and heroin among others during the growing up process.
Alcohol, tobacco and bhang are the most favoured in the trial process as
well as the most abused by communities in Kenya.
Alcohol beverages are similarly readily available with powerful
advertisements in the electronic and print media fueling the driving force.
NARCOTIC DRUGS AND PSYCHOTROPIC SUBSTANCES, THEIR EFFECTS ON HEALTH AND
A drug is any chemical substance which when taken into the body can affect
one or more of the body’s functions. For instance, when one feels pain and
is given aspirin, the pain reduces or disappears. The aspirin modifies how
the body works so that pain is tolerated or not felt at all. Similarly, when
one smokes bhang, he experiences changes in the mind for example he may see
or hear things that are not there.
The term drug therefore, includes those substances useful to the body and
also those substances that harm the body. They may be legal or they may be
The abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances that harm or
threaten the physical, mental or social and economic well being of the user,
his or her family and society at large is a global phenomena.
In Kenya drug and substance abuse is a silent disaster that claims many
lives ever year since there is a strong linkage between drugs/substance abuse
and violence, criminality and currently the HIV/AIDS scourge.
Most commonly abused drugs and substances include:
- Cannabis (bhang)
- Khat (miraa)
- Inhalants/Solvents, petrol, glue, paint thinners etc.
- Prescription and non-prescription drugs
Effects of Drugs/Substances Abuse on health ad Social Life
People indulge in drug/substance abuse due to many factors. Some of these
factors are personal while some are due to external forces. It should,
however, be known that for whatever reason one puts himself in this
situation, drugs of abuse do not solve a problem. You never win.
It may be important to point out here that the effects of drug abuse are
vast. Many as they are, these effects also depend on other factors,. Some
of these factors are listed below:-
- The physical and chemical properties of the substance of abuse
- The user’s personality
- The mode of the drug usage
- The environment or the area where the victim uses it
- The aim, goal or purpose for the use
- The cultural attitudes and feelings of the community where the user is
- The law and the rules of the land
- The genetic factors
- The public control mechanisms
Going by the above, we find that the effects of drugs/substance abuse
- The individual
- The family
- The community and
- The Nationa as a whole
- Community of nations
Effects of Drugs/Substance abuse on the individual
When one indulges in drug abuse, let us see how he loses in the following
Different drugs of abuse affect different parts of the human body, when two
or more of these drugs are taken together, they tend to have a combined
effect (synergism). Ost drugs of abuse affect the main organs of the body
- The liver
- The kidneys
- The heart
- The lungs
- The central nervous system with the brain as the center
- The reproductive organs
The effects can be gradual or sudden depending on the individual, the
amount taken, the duration and the environment. All these generate poor
Drugs of abuse are not accepted by society. One of the reasons is that
users become anti-social. They behave differently fron non-users. The
following may be detected: -
- Being solitary
- Irresponsible and erratic attitudes and behavior (sometimes moron-like,
sometimes violent, suicidal tendencies, etc.)
- Personality deterioration
- Prone to accidents
Drug users therefore are detested by society and become social misfits.
Economic and Security
The issue of drug abuse is not cheap to sustain. Because the drugs are
illegal and difficult to obtain, they are costly. One therefore has to look
for extra ways of getting money. This promotes theft and other criminal
activities, which lead to insecurity.
Effects of the family, community and the nation
Similarly, we shall look at the effects of drug/substance abuse in the
same three spheres they affect the family, community and the nation as a
With one member of the family or community getting sick gradually or
constantly, other members have to care for their kin. Sometimes diseases are
passed from one member to another due to drug/substance abuse. Examples of
such infections include:- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Hepatitis B.
Sustained stress will lead to mental problems. A sick family or community
will mean reduced nutritional status, increased mortality and reduced life
expectancy. The family of the abuser becomes the victim.
There is neglect of the family. This is followed by disintegration of the
family or social set-up. Institutions like schools get disrupted. Those
dropping out of school will increase. Violence or crime in general will
equally increase. Since the social fabric is affected, social norms will
also be affected. Hence, an increase in incest, homosexuality, etc. will be
noticed. There will be moral and spiritual erosion.
Economy and Security
The general economy of the family or community will suffer due to the
- Reduced family earnings
- Decline in economic production
- Increased cost of running and maintaining health care
- Increased cost of running and maintaining schools and other institutions
- Crime increases and general insecurity increases rapidly
- Rebels are led by substance of abuse
- Political equation changes
A few individuals have ill-gotten money from trafficking become arrogant
and have great influence on political decisions
ONGOING INTERVENTIONS TO PREVENT AND REDUCE DRUG AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE
Given the harmful effects of drugs and substances in the destruction of
lives, families and communities, there is a felt need to find a common ground
in the mission towards making Kenya a drug/substances of abuse free country.
Tackling the problem, therefore, demands effective networking of all
interested parties, from a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach.
The group that is at greater risk is the youth who have often indulged in
drug/substance abuse activities whose consequences they least understand.
The problem of drub/substance abuse has pervaded the education and training
system, hence the need to institute viable prevention measures and also
encourage stoppage of experimentation. The measures undertaken should
empower the youth to say NO to drugs and substances of abuse, by choice, as a
consequence of acquiring the necessary knowledge and life skills. This then
will have enabled them to change their perceptions, expectations, beliefs and
intentions pertaining to the use and abuse of rugs and other substances. The
custodians of the youth, who include the parents, the institutions,
management, and religious bodies, must be key players in the interventions
undertaken to prevent durg/substance abuse for the problem to be tackled
The Education sector is critical in the fight against drug/substance abuse
and therefore effective linkages have already been established between the
Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, and NACADA
Plans are underway to collaborate with Kenya Institute of Education to
develop life skills packages for the youth including training manuals. A
comprehensive information booklet which is youth friendly will also be
developed to disseminate information on drugs and substances abuse. The
target groups include the youth, per educators, teacher counselors, parents
and relevant NGOs
The Kenya Education Staff Institute will also incorporate drug/substance
abuse preventive education in the education managers training curriculum and
will train a core team of trainers.
A major expected outcome of these activities is an educated and empowered
youth, with changed attitudes and perceptions on drug abuse. The education
managers as custodians of the youth will be sensitised and helped to acquire
knowledge that enables them to prevent and control drug/substance abuse in
their respective institutions.
The Kenya Music festival organised by the Ministry of Education Science
and Technology will introduce new classes on drug/substance abuse preventive
educaiton, starting 2002. This is aimed to create awareness among the youth
in and out of school, teachers and even the general public who are attracted
to this festival. At the same time, the national Drama Festival for schools
and colleges will also incorporate drug/substance abuse preventive education
in their competitions.
Programmed meetings with religious leaders representing key religious
organisations have been held, with the aim of establishing networks with
NACADA, and help intensify the awareness campaign amongst their captive
audience. Consequently a meeting with the Imams in Nairobi in October, 2001
came up with tangible strategies of raising awareness of drug/substance abuse
among the Muslims. Another meeting held with the Catholic Secretariat mapped
out strategies of collaboration to disseminate drug/substance abuse
preventive education and raise awareness in the Catholic Church. The role of
the spiritual leaders is considered vital in the fight against drug/substance
abuse hence the need to enhance networking.
In collaboration with the media Sector, public awareness programs have been
launched in print and electronic media. The print-media has already come up
with informative and educative articles on drugs and substances of abuse
which have excited interest. Similarly, discussions on drugs/substances have
taken place on Television and radio between officers of the media, NACADA
and medical professionals.
In addition, development of radio programmes on prevention and control of
drug/substance abuse, in local dialects is underway.
The office of the National Coordinator has already reached a working
programme and memorandum of understanding with the Kenya Union of
Journalists. Key features of the memorandum are identification and awards for
the best journalists addressing the issue of drugs, role model identification
and expressions by students on the issue.
Various NGOs have taken keen interest on drug/substances of abuse issues and
even initiated activities towards reduction of drug/substance abuse.
Development of strong networks with these NGOs has commenced following a
meeting with the NGO Council. Plans are therefore underway to meet and
establish areas of collaboration.
Through the NGOs and religious organisations, Community based
organisations will be reached targeting particularly the parents. The
communities have a pivotal role given their resources, material and human,
that can be utilised and enable them to be focal points in tackling
Treatment and Rehabilitation
There will be need to expand the treatment and rehabilitation facilities, so
as to make them accessible and affordable to the general public.
Consultations with the Ministry of health in this respect are in the process.
An area of priority is to hold a seminar for the staff in the public health
sector, on drugs and substance abuse, and thus empower them with adequate
knowledge required to handle drug issues.
In line with the demands of the international conventions and Declarations,
the country maintains close liaison with other regional and international
organisations concerned with drug/substances issues such as UNDCP and WO.
The office of the National Coordinator plans to play its role in
strengthening the existing networks through active interaction and sharing of
information and ideas with the relevant organisations.
THE CHALLENGE TO THE MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS
In a nutshell, individual medics and medical organisations in particular face
a challenging role where they have to respond to the public concern through
taking over high profile preventive education and information provision to
Simply put, drug abuse in Kenya as it is elsewhere is a health problem.
Experts in the medical profession face the challenge of demystifying
drug/substance abuse problems by providing scientifically supported evidence
on the relationship between drug/substance abuse and various ill health
The public concern cannot be wild misgivings when the uniformed children
of this country are entitled to protection from an environment likely to
encourage indulgence into non-medical use of drugs and substances that cause
serious injury to them. Neither is it misplaced when women in Murang’a
demand to know the reproductive health effects suffered by their husbands
after regular consumption of some of the local brews, spirits wines from
It is a professional and social responsibility that firms and medical
professionals in the country adequately enlighten the public on the hazards
of glue sniffing which may no longer be a practice of the street children in
the major urban centers along.
The intention of NACADA lies with implementing measures intend to increase
knowledge levels of the harm to the health and social welfare of drug
abusers, as well as sensitizes and mobilises the parents to undertake their
lifelong parental responsibilities. It is in the process of harnessing
efforts of families, community and the society to come up with intervention
and prevention programmes beneficial to the young Kenyans.
Individuals and organisations involved in the campaign against drug abuse
require an environment where information is quickly and easily accessed and
clear delineation of roles and responsibilities undertaken in an all out war
to combat the menace effectively.
¹> Dr Bilha Hagembe is currently back at Minsitry of Health after serving as the first Medical Advisor to NACADA
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