By Violet Nabatanzi
Drugs are increasingly imported in the country in form of sweets, biscuits and chewing gum in small packets and consumed by schoolchildren, the National Drug Authority (NDA) has warned.
According to Dr Helen Ndagije, the director of product safety at NDA, the drugs are mainly imported from Asia.
“There is a network that is not easy to break, they do not just sell drugs to you directly. People who bring the drugs know it and there is a lot coming from Asia,’’ Ndagije said, revealing that the commonest types of drugs taken by school-going children are Kuber and Hashish.
Others are tobacco and alcohol.
Hashish, also known as hash, is a drug made by compressing and processing parts of the cannabis plant, typically focusing on flowering buds.
Ndagije disclosed that there are a number of drugs available on the market coming through various channels.
Dr Medard Bitekyerezo, the NDA chairman, also decried the fact many health workers are abusing alcohol.
“There are so many health workers who are also abusing drugs because they have access to them. Many pharmacists, nurses and doctors use drugs. I know so many drunkards who are doctors. I know of some nurses that used to come to the ward with sachets of waragi in their bags. These are the things I am talking about. I have seen them. As we are talking about students in schools, their fathers and mothers are also taking the drugs,’’ Bitekyerezo said.
In a study done in 2011 and 2012, 70% of secondary students in Kampala and Gulu districts said they had ever used alcohol or substances and 39% used them regularly.
Drug abuse is cited as the leading cause of mental illness in Uganda and the world over.
According to Uganda Participatory Poverty Assessment Process (UPPAP) reports, an initiative of the finance ministry, mental disorders are on the rise from 4,000 persons in 2012 to about 20,000 persons in 2015, with alcohol and drug consumption cited as the major causes because of poverty.
It is against this background that NDA and Church of Uganda have partnered to implement a school-based drug abuse prevention programme, whose ultimate objective is to help youths in secondary schools avoid initiation into the use of drugs, and if they have already started, help them to stop it.
This partnership with the Anglican Church, which has over 13 million believers, coincided with the visit of the Archbishop of Church of Uganda, Rev. Dr Samuel Stephen Kaziimba, who inspected NDA’s quality control laboratory at Mulago.
Kaziimba said in Uganda, children as young as 11 or 12 initiate or experiment with drugs, including harmful household products, tobacco and alcohol.
“When the subject of drug use comes up, it is often concerning young people. The earlier the initiation, the higher the chance of developing drug use problems, including dependency,” he said.
Kaziimba explained that alcohol and drug abuse in the community not only affects the individuals, but also the family, which is the heart of the society.
“Alcohol and drug abuse have contributed to the rising number of domestic violence cases. This was demonstrated during the COVID-19 lockdown, in crime and drug-related illnesses, accidents and deaths,’’ he said Kaziimba said they have established drug-free clubs in some schools.
“Church of Uganda is blessed with a rich multi-sectoral structure that includes 40% of Ugandan schools and has had vast experience in engaging communities,’’ he added.
According to the African Union report 2022, drug abuse is predominantly a male problem; males accounted for 90% of people seeking treatment in countries where such information was reported.
Research has shown a strong relationship between drug abuse and domestic violence and HIV/AIDS spread and management disruptions.