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The need for Scientific Research in the fight against Drug and Substance abuse in Zimbabwe

11 Jan 2018 at 16:02hrs | Views
The war on drugs has been a failure worldwide with detrimental effects on individuals and societies at large. There exists a policy gap to making drug dependence treatment, rehabilitation, care and support a constitutional issue in Zimbabwe through evidence based scientific research. The lack of effective advocacy and lobbying mechanisms for effective, workable appropriate science-based drug laws, policies and consistent with best international practices on the subject of drug use and misuse in a modern open democratic society which upholds the civil liberties of persons is a major cause for concern.
A report produced by the Zimbabwe Republic Police to mark the 2017 International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking revealed that Harare had the highest rate of drug abuse in the country between 2013 and 2017 with over 100 cases being recorded monthly. More than 200,000 people worldwide die every year from drug overdoses and drug-related illnesses, such as HIV, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. With such statistics, it is imperative that a key focus of drug scientific research be to generate more evidence on how criminal justice-led approaches to drugs is doing more harm than good and hence the need to shift the focus to the grassroots provision of support services especially aimed at young people to deal with substance abuse namely prevention, counselling, rehabilitation, re-integration into the family and community. Globally scientists are challenging the view that it's a moral failing and researching treatments that could offer an exit from the cycle of desire, bingeing, and withdrawal that traps tens of millions of people. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report reaffirms what the scientific establishment has been saying for years: Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. It's characterized not necessarily by physical dependence or withdrawal but by compulsive repetition of an activity despite life-damaging consequences. This view has led many scientists to accept the once heretical idea that addiction is medical condition requiring treatment, not incarceration.

There is need to carry out research aimed at providing evidence to specifically open up social spaces for dialogue on the Zimbabwe illicit drug situation at both local and national levels so as to come out with Draft Zimbabwe National Illicit Drug Control Master Plan. Scientific research should be used to validate and discuss the implications of illicit drug research findings, and to develop next steps for advocacy, policy and services provision for Zimbabwe. Science communication is essential to open up social spaces for dialogue and collaboration on social engagement synergies for a full-throttle media campaign on the adoption and implementation of appropriate harm reduction interventions. There exists a scientific research communication gap to validate with research findings the implications of illicit drug misuse to make counselling, treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration a constitutional issue to guide evidence informed interventions that strengthen a curative approach in Zimbabwe since addiction to hard drugs is a medical condition requiring treatment, not incarceration.

For example, despite the increased commitment and attention, as well as measures to institutionalize, legalize and mainstream efforts towards the protection of women and children the increased threat of terrorism and organized crime poses new threats for the protection of women and children. Recent media reports point that women are being used as illicit drug couriers around the world. This program will present research and case studies that demonstrate the gender-specific impact of the drug war, outlining challenges and strategies for protecting and promoting the human rights of women and families to a wide range of community groups and partners. This is an opportunity to explain why women's rights organizations should join efforts to challenge the drug control system as an assault on gender equality. These research finding should call on relevant stakeholders to recognize that the war on drugs destabilizes families, harm children, and have particularly harsh consequences for women because of their marginalized social status since potential drug policy solutions remain focused on men's experiences. Such findings will support the implementation of outreach programs with harm reduction interventions, with particular attention to gender based services; and ensure attention to women's perspectives and priorities.

We must be deeply concerned by the fact that, according to the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study supported by National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 7 of the top 11 most commonly abused drugs by high school seniors are either prescribed or purchased over-the-counter (see figure), but this challenge must also recognize the fundamental and unassailable role played by these medications in healing and reducing human suffering when properly used. Therefore, how we address the problem of abuse of drugs that have legitimate medical use must necessarily differ from how we address illicit drug abuse. The world over, the field of prevention science is beginning to address the important research questions associated with taking evidence-based drug abuse prevention programs and policies to scale in the prevention practice system at the state and community level. And Zimbabwe must not be left behind.

However, numerous barriers to the continued advance of drug abuse prevention science need to be addressed and resolved. Research indicates that the majority of the Zimbabwean mental health field use un-evaluated drug abuse prevention programs or use prevention programs that do not have strong research evidence to support their efficacy. In addition, it is clear from the research that current evidence-based drug abuse prevention programs are not targeting the youth and adolescents at high risk to drug use onset and progression to abuse.

To address this problem and to substantially increase the effectiveness (effect sizes) of prevention intervention programs, it is recommended by several national research reports that a new generation of prevention interventions to address a number of behavioral health problems need to be designed and tested and that these interventions integrate our scientific knowledge across multiple disciplines to include neurobiological, behavioral, and prevention sciences.

Alfred Towo is a young leader, youth advocate, social entrepreneur and human rights champion. I write in my personal capacity as a freelance journalist.

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