THE Secretariat of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have presented the final draft of the first-ever West Africa Drug Report for validation by experts from the region.
According to the draft report, cannabis tops the list of most commonly used illicit drugs in West Africa with the majority of the users accessing treatment facilities doing so to tackle cannabis-related drug use disorders.
While 20-29-year-olds are most affected by drug use disorders, one in five drug users is younger than 19 years of age.
The use of opioids, in particular, the non-medical use of prescription opioids, such as tramadol, appears to be growing most rapidly compared to other illicit drugs.
The study further found a clear link between drug use disorder and unemployment across the region. While it remains unclear whether it is the difficulties of finding a job which makes many young people turn to drugs or taking drugs makes it more difficult to retain or to get a job.
Experts said the dramatic increase in tramadol seizures from 17 tonnes in 2014 to about 232 tonnes in 2017 calls for concerted efforts.
The fact that more than 60 tonnes of tramadol seized in 2017 were in transit to other countries emphasises the need for increased cooperation and intelligence-sharing among countries in the region.
Dr. Sintiki Tarfa Ube, Director Humanitarian and Social Affairs, ECOWAS Commission stated: “The report provides evidence-based information on emerging trends in drug use, treatment and trafficking to guide policymakers in EOCWAS member states and Mauritania to design and implement adequate responses that address both drugs supply and demand.”
Presenting some of the key findings of the report, Dr. Oliver Stolpe, Country Representative of UNODC Nigeria said: “Preparing this first-ever West Africa Drug Report is a major achievement.
The collective efforts of the ECOWAS Secretariat, the West African Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (WENDU), the EU and UNODC have contributed to a significant improvement of data collection capacities across ECOWAS on drug use prevalence, drug treatment and the trafficking of illicit drugs. For example, in 2017 thirteen countries were able to collect and report on data relating to persons in drug treatment, up from only five countries that were able to do so in 2014.
Moreover, data collection appears to have encouraged the spread of good practices: While only four countries reported administering HIV/AIDS tests to people who use drugs in 2014, ten countries reported doing so in 2017.”
While the findings of this report may help to shape policies and interventions regarding drug supply suppression, the data clearly calls for even greater efforts in the area of drug demand reduction in West Africa, including the establishment of drug treatment facilities, and capacity building for those who provide counsel and care to people who suffer from drug use disorders.
Against this background, Mr. Kurt Cornelis, Head of Cooperation, European Union Delegation to ECOWAS invited all stakeholders to look into ways and means to sustain the system and methodology implemented by the WENDU initiative over the past three to four years, both at national but also at the regional level.
The report highlights the crucial importance for ECOWAS Member States to step up their efforts towards the passing of the Supplementary Act to address the challenges of drug trafficking and drug use in the region as well as to commence the work on a new ECOWAS Regional Action Plan to sustain and build on the achievements under the current action plan which will expire in 2020.