The Battle against Drug Abuse Can Succeed Only in the Presence of Strong and Relevant Laws, Treatment and Rehabilitation

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Last week, the Daily Observer reported two drug-related stories; one revealing a plan to establish a center for rehabilitating drug addicts, while the other was about Police arresting 20 persons in connection to drug trafficking in Bong and Nimba Counties. The second story, titled, “Police Arrest 20 for Illicit Drug in Nimba and Bong Counties” and authored by Franklin N. Kwenah, narrated that the arrest was driven by an effort to battle criminal activities in the two counties where the arrests were made. The cost of drugs including Italian White, Tramadol and Marijuana, was estimated at LD$400,000.

The other story highlighted an effort by an award-winning Lebanese non-profit organization, Oum el Nour, in conjunction with the World Lebanese Cultural Union and with the growing support of the Government of Liberia, to provide a space for drug addicts, popularly referred to in Liberia as “Zogos”, offering them a chance to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society as useful citizens.

Aside from the plan to build a rehabilitation center that is just emerging, many drug-related arrests have been made since our post-war governance began in 2006. Additionally, police and some other authorities including the presidential taskforce under the supervision of General Services Agency (GSA) Director, Mary Broh, had demolished several ghettos around Monrovia. The Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) has arrested drug and traffickers many times and sent them to the court, yet drug trafficking and abuse are still on the increase here in Liberia.

During the annual observance of International Drug Day, the LDEA burns bags of marijuana publicly, telling the public that drug trafficking and abuse are criminal offenses. Former LDEA Director, Anthony Souh on many occasions complained that his agency submitted a draft bill to the National Legislature for enactment into law, making drug trafficking and abuse a state crime. Yet, this bill is yet to be passed. Narcotic substances, as research and police observation have shown, are nowadays being added to food substances and sold to drug consumers.

For instance, in 2016 the Presidential Taskforce led by Mary Broh demolished ghettos on 25th Street in Sinkor and arrested several persons including a woman who was said to have allegedly added marijuana to a mixture of Gari, peanut and sugar referred to as “Kanyan.” Investigation has also shown that narcotic substances, marijuana mainly, are added to an alcoholic mixture known as “Egg nog” for consumption. Furthermore, it has been established that special goat soup consumed at some convivial gatherings nowadays is usually laced with marijuana.

Further, according to research, marijuana, a common drug of choice especially for young people is more widely consumed at all levels of society than what official reports suggest. According to a veteran Police official (name withheld), from his years of experience, marijuana has long been consumed in Liberia but the country had never before been faced with a drug addiction problem until the advent of such drugs like cocaine, heroin and now the pharmaceutical drug, Traumadol on the Liberian market.

He argues that good working conditions and attractive salaries for law enforcement in addition to strong anti-drug laws and the decriminalization of marijuana will go a long way in helping to address the rising problem of drug addiction in Liberia with all its negative consequences. Interestingly, investigation has also established that some of the very police officers arresting drug traffickers and abusers, and demolishing ghettos are users of the harmful substances as well. Based on information received from a number of sources, laws against the use and trafficking of hard drugs are not as vigorously enforced as compared to that of marijuana.

Traffickers of hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin, etc., according to sources, usually have their way with law enforcement officers because of the huge bribes which give them (traffickers) the leverage to avoid prosecution. In many cases, according to sources, when hard drugs are arrested, the drugs usually disappear by the time the culprits are processed and sent to court, thus leaving the court to decide a matter without the attending fruits of crime (FOC).

How then will the effort to curb drug-trafficking and abuse be realized when lowly paid law enforcement officers are tasked to track down criminals who do not hesitate to bribe their way out of trouble? The Daily Observer is one of the media institutions that have reported the highest number of stories about drug abuse and trafficking in this country. Two of our reporters whose bylines are reflected on drug related stories are CY Kwanue and Ishmael F. Menkor.

This indicates how conscious we are of this prevailing social problem and complementing government’s effort to constructively address it. Therefore, we urge government to reconsider its drug war strategy which, in our opinion, calls for a radical approach to a growing social problem. The passage of strong anti-drug laws, while necessary, is in itself insufficient. Drug addiction should be perceived more as a health problem than a criminal offense for, in our view drug addicts are themselves victims and need to be provided opportunities for rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

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