at Centre for Social policy Studies ,University of Ghana Legon


By Dr Kofi Ohene-Konadu

At both international and national circles great concern had been expressed about drug abuse among the youth .It is in line with this that, West African leaders (Consisting of 13 Heads of State ) demonstrated their disdain for drug cultivation trafficking and usage in the sub region when they symbolically burnt a quantity of seized drug at a ceremony at the ECOWAS headquarters in Abuja (The Daily Graphic, Nov.2 1998). It is said that in West Africa, most countries are witnessing a veritable explosion in the cultivation of cannabis, which is sometimes capable of drying up national agricultural economies.

Drugs which are usually abused can be grouped under stimulants, depressants, inhalants, hallucinogens, narcotics and designer drugs.

Stimulants - Uppers:
These drugs make people more active and wide awake. They accelerate physiological activity. They minimize or eliminate the feeling of tiredness. Examples of stimulants are amphetamines(diet pills such as Dexedrine and Benzedrine) and cocaine. Amphetamines can make the user feel restless or worried and experience contrasting mood swings. Such drugs can cause physical and mental damage.

Depressants- Sedatives (Downers)
Depressants act as tranquilizers. In other words, sedatives have a calming or tranquilizing effect. It can make the user appear to be drunk and when addicted can cause Serious physical problems. Common brand names are Nembutal, Seconal and Amytal. Overdose can lead to coma and death. Other sedatives like Librium and Valium can also lead to addiction.
This category includes a variety of substances such as solvents, aerosol sprays and even gasoline and glue. All have a short-lived stimulising effect before depressing the central nervous system. Negative effects of inhalants include sneezing, coughing, nose-bleeding, fatigue lack of coordination, headaches and loss of appetite.

Hallucinogens (psychedelics)
Hallucinogens often distort the senses of the user, thus leading to hallucinations. LSD('acid') and mescaline are among the most common. These drugs have effects on perception and awareness .
Marijuana is a mild hallucinogen. PCP{. Another powerful hallucinogen, in small doses makes users feel 'high', it impairs speech and memory when used in larger doses.

Narcotics are pain relievers. The most abused narcotics are Morphine, Heroin, Darvon, Demerol and Methadone. Designer Drugs: 'Designer drugs' are a combination of various drugs that imitate the effect of the classical narcotics, stimulants and hallucinogens. They are manufactured in illegally operated laboratories from improved formulae thus making them more dangerous and powerful than the drugs they imitate.

The introduction of the Programme of Action Mitigate the Social Cost of Adjustment (PAMSCAD) did not have the desired impact on the marginalized groups in the society. The hardship was and still is, more severe lower down the high cost of living. In the rural areas farmers face a depressed economy with high cost of production following the withdrawal of subsidies on fertilizers , insecticides and other farm inputs. Under these circumstances, the rural youth migrate to urban areas in search of jobs and some farmers cultivate marijuana ( which involves no heavy capital outlay) as an attractive option. In many urban communities today, residents can identify people whose houses or cars were acquired through drugs trade. Currently is a strong factor which lures people into drugs. Another important factor is peer influence, it is said that every smoker has a friend who is a smoker, one who drinks has a friend or friends who also drink(s). A student stated " At times if you decide not to smoke, you will be pressurized to do so" (Senah:1990,Amponsah:1998). Thus peer influence at times becomes peer pressure. A student admitted that he got into drugs by yielding to the advice his friend gave him. He was advised that with the smoking of marijuana he could learn better.
Advertisements contribute to the problem of drug abuse. On our televisions, radios and in our newspapers, all sorts of drugs are advertised. Instead of consulting a physician, a patient may follow the advert. Some musicians and artists abuse drugs especially marijuana (wee0. They claim that wee smoking enhances their performance on stage. Another factor that cannot be ruled out is adults asking children to go on errands to buy alcoholic drinks, cigarettes and the like. Some even go to the extent of asking innocent children to light cigarettes for them.

Reasons offered for drug use include ,

  1. 1. high cost of living
  2. 2. peer pressure
  3. 3. poor parent-child relationship.
  4. 4. curiosity and the desire to work or study hard ( Mensah:1986), Nabaresh 1990.
Doku (19910 observes that among the youth of Okaikoi, a sub-district of Accra, marijuana smoking is regarded as 'colo'(ie those with colonial mentality). In a study on the attitude of students towards drug use, Essah (1991) observes that students see the use of drugs in positive terms. For them drugs give courage, and relief from pain and problems. Some negative effects of drugs mentioned by them are addiction, cancer, hypertension, mental illness, loss of appetite and crime. Essah observes that the desire to use drugs when given the opportunity. Evidence from research ( Senah 1980,Amponsah 1998 have identified the high cost of living in the country as Causes of drug abuse whereby those who cannot afford the high cost of hospital bills resort to drug abuse.

Drug abuse harms everybody and does good to none. Government, society, families, the individual drug user and the public - all suffer because it is a social problem. It has been suggested that there may be a link between the marked decline in scholastic achievement of the youth of today and increase in illegal drug use among them. It has been observed that these inhibit the development of logical thinking processes and a rational approach solving. Drugs also damage the physiological maturation of the young person's brain, even in the short term. Experts have indicated that any drug that interferes with alertness during working hours, or is used as a major way of coping with stress slows down normal development. Thus drugs used by adolescents to make themselves seen more mature will, over time, actually make them less mature then other people of their age. These health and psychological problems also affects the family. Tensions and arguments within the family become frequent when income required for the support of the family is spent on drug -related problems. It seems that our social structures and values are under constant invasion as a result of acculturation or diffusion of foreign ideas, technology and fashion. Our social control system is breaking down, our social norms are falling apart and the center cannot hold. We look on helpless as our future leaders destroy themselves through substance abuse. Now that a concerted movement is being made to conserve our natural resources, it is but natural to look upon our youth as a great resource to be protected. Appealing to people to change their attitude is good but not enough. There is the need to put appropriate structures in place to make this effective. Generally, the belief is that once the underlying factors of drug abuse are tackled the drug problem will be contained. Concerted efforts must be made to create job avenues to curb the tendency of the youth to engage in drug related businesses. There is also the need to intensify public education on drugs, equip the police and other law enforcement agencies and give stiffer punishment for drug -related offences. But our search for remedy should not end here. In our development efforts we place premium on economic factors and ignore the non-economic factors. The time has come for us to evaluate our social structure and social institutions to identify the factors that militate against their smooth functioning. Improvement in all the social institutions will help in our efforts to fight against drug abuse. We need to ask ourselves certain questions: Is the family system capable of performing adequately ts major functions of providing a congenial atmosphere and institutionalized means through which procr3ation takes place? Is the family a 'haven in this heartless world?. Is our marriage institution capable of coping with the exigencies of the time?
In fact, the family has to be strengthened to enable it perform its societal functions. Are the District Assemblies in general, and the Central Government in particular, worried about the drug menace? If yes, then it should be seen in action rather than in rhetoric. In the educational institutions, teachers are not motivated enough, so they do not seem to show much concern about the plight of their pupils or students, Class sizes are such that teachers cannot have effective interaction with individual pupils/students. At the tertiary institutions like the Universities, owing to student numbers, pressure of work on the part of the teaching staff and lack of adequate logistics coupled with students continual search for food and other provisions, the tutorial system has broken down and has become ineffectual. The students therefore do not get the desired counseling or advice .The Church has an important role to play in the socialization process. The Church should inculcate into the minds of the youth the harmful effects of narcotic drugs and the like.

Drugs may cause problems related to health (physical and mental), behaviour, family, work, money, and the law Persons dependent on drugs or alcohol fall sick more frequently than others. Their nourishment is often poor, so they are apt to contract various physical illness. A common problem is infection, especially of the skin, respiratory systems, or urinary tract. Various accidents are also associated with intoxication, including traffic accidents, falls, burns, drowning and work-related accidents which are often fatal (fiscian,1996). Social research (Fiscian,1996,Ampomah,1998) have revealed that drug misuse also causes emotional and psychological problems. Memory may be deteriorate. The person becomes difficult to live with, irritable erratic or withdrawn from social contact. Depression or nervousness may occur.

Dr Ohene -Konadu is a senior Lecturer at the department of Sociology. University of Ghana.