..... ….“The increasing exposure of Liberians to drug abuse if not immediately arrested, will have enormous health, social, economic, and security implications on the country,” Boakai said in his World Drug Day message yesterday.
Former Vice President Joseph Boakai has warned that Liberia's future looks dim if nothing is done to claw back the growing cases of drug abuse in the country.
Boakai noted that statistics have shown that two in ten youth in Liberia are users of narcotic substances, and roughly 13% of the population is affected by drug addiction. He added that if the issue is left unaddressed, the resulting problem would be long-term — leading to increased crime rates — and a loss of the country’s potential demographic dividend due to a high rate of school dropout among drug users.
“The increasing exposure of Liberians, particularly the youth, to drug abuse and addiction through ready access to banned substances, if not immediately arrested, will have enormous health, social, economic, and security implications on the country,” Boakai who is the leading opposition candidate for October 10 polls, said yesterday.
“I view it as a threat to our national security and must be elevated to a national emergency. It is a major cause of a lost future for many young people.
“And at this rate, the country’s potential demographic dividend stemming from a substantially young population, faces an existential threat, with Liberia at risk of losing its possible productive manpower base,” Boakai added.
The problem of drug abuse in Liberia is not new, but it has become more profound in recent years, according to reports, with young people being the most affected. For one, drug abuse is a leading cause of crime, such as burglary, theft, and robbery. It also fuels domestic violence and other forms of social deviance, such as prostitution and trafficking.
According to reports by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Liberia has one of the highest rates of drug use in West Africa, with cannabis and heroin being the most commonly used drugs.
The report also shows that drug abuse is more prevalent among young people between the ages of 15 to 35, with males being more likely to use drugs than their female counterparts.
The consequences of the abuse, according to the reports, are significant and far-reaching and include criminal activities, the degradation of social values, and the decline of the quality of life for individuals and communities, which can have a significant impact on the productivity of a nation's workforce.
Efforts by the government to fight this problem continue with President George Weah, who launched a US$13 million dollars program in collaboration with the United Nations and partners to provide rehabilitation, skills training, social integration, and employment opportunities for drug users across the country.
Launching the program last year, he observed that the growing cases of drug abuse pose an imminent danger to Liberia, which continues to grow in size and scope if “these potentially valuable human assets are not reclaimed, redeemed, and transformed into law-abiding citizens.”
However, since the program's launch last year, much is not being heard of implementation as many drug users want it to go beyond rehabilitation and reintegration to include the reform of Liberia’s drug laws to avoid criminalizing users harshly while drugs cater get away with little or no punishment.
Boakai however criticized the Weah government's response, which he argued is not enough to bring hope to the young victims of this epidemic, relief to hurting families, and assurances, to frankly, a shocked society.
According to him, Liberia under Weah is gradually losing its next generation to drug abuse, and if practical actions are not taken urgently, the prospect of future generations inheriting a more complex and challenging national situation looms large.
The country, Boakai said, stands to face a possible future of increased crime rate, unemployment, and increased sexual and gender-based violence, among other challenges.
“The correlation between substance abuse and crimes is equally worrying, with the police reporting an increase in drug-related crime. Currently, there are over 866 ghettos in Monrovia serving as homes to chronic drug users with dire consequences.
“The recent seizure of 100 million United States Dollars worth of drugs, the trial saga that ensued, and the mysterious and unexplained departure from the country of all those who stood trial and ‘acquitted,’ is an indication of the extent to which the country has been rapidly exposed in the last few years to the narco trade, and the vulnerability of Liberian society to the impact of such large-scale assault by international criminal enterprises,” Boakai noted.
“Significantly, it reveals the failure of national leadership, a weak criminal justice system, and crucially raises suspicion about the probable complicity of some higher-ups in this affair,” he said. “Clearly, it is now obvious that the Weah Administration is incapable, unwilling, complicit, and indifferent to this crisis.”
Boakai however noted that under his administration as president, he would declare it not just an emergency but would make the issues of drug abuse a national security crisis “so as to arrest it through a system-wide approach.”
The approach he said would look at this crisis and determine the extent to which the failure of the provision of public goods, social service delivery, weaknesses in the criminal justice system, and inadequacies of the public health system have all conspired to contribute to what may yet be the biggest threat to the society after the civil war.
“The scale of the drug problem shows the Weah government’s nonchalant attitude towards one of the most critical issues confronting Liberians today, as they have no plans to address it. They don’t see it as most Liberians see it – A NATIONAL EMERGENCY. This is why a change in national leadership is and should be now. We must see our votes as an opportunity to want to reverse this dangerous trend by saving our children and securing their future.
“I promise to declare war on drug trafficking and use it when elected, which is why the decision you make on October 10 would be one of the most consequential in your lifetime,” Boakai added. “I implore you to remain vigilant and know that help is on the way to salvage our young people and society from “kush” and the throes of this epidemic.”
Meanwhile, Boakai has said that if he becomes president, he would immediately establish rehabilitation and reintegration programs with the best professionals aimed at providing treatment for those who have become chemical-dependent on these substances.
It will develop an all-encompassing public health program focused on information, education, and research in combating drug and substance abuse, and strengthen law enforcement to disrupt the supply of drugs to the country through the enactment of strong laws that will severely punish traffickers and their middlemen.