Drug usage among teenagers is a growing trend in Ethiopia. By some estimates, as many as 64Pct of secondary school students have experimented with cannabis or khat, two of the most popular drugs used in the country. This trend is concerning, in part because of its long-term health effects but also because of the economic implications of drug usage for teens and the country as a whole. EBR’s Meseret Mamo explores the issue further and offers this report.
Daniel Sisay (name changed to protect his privacy) is a 21-year-old fifth-year student at Addis Ababa University. When EBR met with him, he seemed emaciated, with downcast eyes and a sluggish demeanour.
He says substance abuse is the reason for his physical and behavioural deterioration. “I smoke marijuana at least once a day,” Daniel told EBR. “I use drugs repeatedly, especially when I drink.”
In recent years, the use of illicit drugs among young people has grown in Ethiopia. According to a report in the African Journal of Drug and Alcohol Studies, “Substance misuse is a growing problem in Ethiopia…. The recent past of the country has been tumultuous, characterised by war, political unrest, mass-migration and famine, all factors likely to increase the risk mental distress and substance misuse within the population.”
The trend of drug abuse is particularly strong among youth, especially those who are homeless, living in poverty or unemployed, according to the report: “In a sample of 248 high school students in south-western Ethiopia, the prevalence of khat-chewing was 64.9Pct. In a survey of three high schools, one private and one government school in Addis Ababa and one government school in Butajira, 35.6Pct, 9.2Pct and 31.0Pct, respectively,” reported khat-chewing.”
Furthermore, “[f]or cannabis, the prevalence of lifetime use was 31.1Pct for the private school students while it was 1.0Pct for the Addis Ababa and 2.7Pct for the Butajira government school students.”
For Daniel, who smokes cannabis, the reason for beginning marijuana use had largely to do with peer pressure. “The first time I used drugs I was in a bar drinking with friends who had been using them for years,” he recalls. “First, I thought it was fun and later I found it exciting so I continued to use them.”
Daniel says his desire to fit in cost him greatly. He says that he was a good student in elementary and secondary school, “but now I am struggling to finish my studies at the University.” He also says this is in addition to problems he is encountering both physically and behaviourally due to the use of drugs other than cannabis.
In addition to peer pressure, curiosity contributes to the trend of drug experimentation among youngsters. A report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), indicates that young people turn to drugs for a number of reasons, including stress reduction and wanting to feel the effects of psychotropic drugs.
In medical science, major illicit drugs include cocaine, heroin and cannabis, which are illegal to make, sell, or use without a prescription, which is key to monitoring how a particular substance affects a person’s well being.
The report by the UNODC indicates that cannabis smoking may bring problems such as decreased drive and ambition, shortened attention span, poor judgment, high distractibility, impaired communication skills and diminished effectiveness in interpersonal situations.
Additionally, illicit drugs may cause addiction, in which the user feels he or she needs a particular substance in order to function. This creates a dangerous dependency that is often difficult to break.
Daniel’s experience supports this argument. “At first, it was fun, but later I found it difficult to get out from my addiction,” he says. “There are times I tried to stop and stay clean for three weeks but I always go back to the drugs.”
According to a teaching manual prepared by the Ethiopian Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration and Control Authority (EFMHACA) in May 2016, illusion, delusion, confusion, memory impairment, depersonalisation, lung cancer and decreased mental capacity are potential health complications that result from smoking cannabis.
Yet, studies conducted in Ethiopia prove that students use drugs despite their health risks. For instance, a master’s thesis by Henok Assefa in 2015 entitled ‘Exploring the Trends and Challenges of Substance Abuse Among Ayer Tena Secondary School Students in Addis Ababa’, reveals that the prevalence of hard drug usage among high school students in the capital is significant. Of the 114 sample students taken from Ayer Tena High School, 29 of them were found to be using different drugs. Of the drugs, khat and cannabis were commonly used.
The prevalence of drug use knows no demographic barriers. Another a study carried out by the Addis Ababa Women, Children and Youth Affairs Office, which was published in 2012, shows that of the 2,529 people taken from the ten districts of the city with different religions and social backgrounds, 717 (28.4Pct) of the respondents were found to be using addictive drugs and those who use cannabis and cocaine comprised 7.1Pct and 2Pct of the sample, respectively. The study also found out that the number of drug users in terms of gender is comparable, with 407 men to 310 women.
Last year, administrators at one of the biggest schools in the country, Minilik II Preparatory School, also found 37 students using hard drugs. The School accommodates 2,237 students. Its Vice Principal, Kidanemariam Aregay, told EBR that administrators have observed the problem of illegal drug abuse in the school for years but have not caught any students using drugs red-handed.
“We know the students at the school are very much exposed to illegal drugs, which can cause addiction and another health-related problems,” Kidanemariam explains. “The fact that location of the school, which is in the centre of the city near Addis Ababa University and other schools, creates different opportunities for students to learn harmful things.”
These harmful substances don’t just have adverse health effects; they also contribute to personal development challenges, especially in educational attainment and employment. According to the United States-based National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, continued drug and alcohol use can result in tardiness, loss of efficiency and production, absenteeism and accidents.
These effects, while detrimental to someone’s ability to complete their education, are also problematic vis-à-vis one’s employment prospects. According to a longitudinal study by the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Research on Poverty, “a clear negative impact of past substance use on a person’s employment probability…[and] negative impacts are associated with the interaction between substance use measures and human capital variables.”
Drug abuse that affects the employability and efficiency of young people is especially concerning in developing countries like Ethiopia, whose economies are fragile and reliant on youth to fill the labour market with well-trained, efficient human resources.
According to another study by the UNODC, drug abuse can hinder the ability of developing young professionals and overall economic development: “The links between low productivity, accidents and drug-taking behaviour are well established. Drug abusers in the workforce impose significant extra costs on the business sector, thus reducing its competitiveness. Irrespective of the current level of development, societies will find it difficult to advance if they have to rely on a workforce that is impaired by large-scale drug abuse.”
In order to quell these negative effects, the government has tasked certain agencies with the regulation of drugs in the country. The EFMHACA has the power to monitor and control manufacturing, import and export, distribution, prescription, usage and dispensing of narcotic and psychotropic substances by a proclamation that the Parliament ratified in 2010. The Authority also has a mandate to prevent drug abuse and report to the International Narcotics Control Board.
“The Authority discharges its responsibility of reducing narcotic and psychotropic substances by issuing a special license for importers, ordering the renewal of the license every three months and creating awareness among the society and school communities about the harmful impact of these drugs,” says Teshte Shute, an expert in the Legal Department of the EFMHACA. “The legal use of these drugs requires a special prescription by a specialist” because they can monitor any adverse effects from these substances.
According to Teshte, under the community mobilisation programme of the Authority, seven big cities throughout the country were chosen and areas with higher the risk were identified. “Using different media outlets, the Authority is working to educate the society about the harmful effects of these drugs,” he said. “We’ve reached out to 28 universities (public and private) in the country and succeeded in establishing anti-drug clubs in 16 of them.”
The Authority also helped to establish four addiction rehabilitation centres in four government hospitals. Three facilities, which include Amanuel Hospital, St. Paul Hospital and Zewditu Hospital, are located in Addis Ababa; while the other is Hayder Hospital in Mekelle, the capital of the State of Tigray.
“In collaboration with the United Nations Organisation for Drug Control we were able to provide training for health professionals in 28 hospitals and these hospitals have started accepting outgoing patients,” says Teshte. “But compared to the seriousness of the problem, we have a long way to go.”
In the past, the rehabilitation programmes were incorporated to the task lists of the Authority. But the Ministry of Health has received the mandate since August 2016. “This programme is an important measure for any stakeholder who wishes to see a drug-free society,” says Teshte.
The administrators of Minilik II Preparatory School have also tried to rehabilitate students that use drugs. “As a rule when a student is found using drugs, expulsion is required for the safety of addiction-free students,” argues Kidanemariam. “But together with students’ parents, we take the risk and work hard in counselling and following these students and they are showing great progress.”
The Federal Police have the role of controlling the distribution as well as use of these narcotic and psychotropic substances. They have a directorate that works with regional state police bureaus to effectively control the illegal distribution and use of drugs and takes legal measures on offenders.
Under the new criminal law, the manufacturing, selling, buying, importing, exporting and distributing of these drugs without a license is punishable and those who allow their house to be used for the same purpose will be punished with five or more years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of up to ETB100,000. However, depending on the aggravating circumstances the punishment might be 10 or more years of rigorous imprisonment and a ETB200,000 fine.
However, all stakeholders agree that government alone cannot solve the problem unless the society cooperates in the process. “It is the society who stays quiet while seeing students in school uniforms spend time in inappropriate places. It is the society who rent their homes for the distribution and use of illegal drugs, but it is also the society that will be affected,” Kidanemariam told EBR. “According to our investigation, our students use a rented house for using drugs and to our surprise it is located near the School.” EBR
5th Year • November 16 2016 – December 15 2016 • No. 45