Experts Advocate Shifting Focus from Drug Abusers to Facilitators in New Narcotic Drugs Bill

Experts are urging members of parliament to shift their attention from drug abusers to the individuals who facilitate drug availability as the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Bill returns to parliament.

During a press conference organized to commemorate World Drug Day, Rogers Kasirye, the Executive Director of Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL), emphasized that laws have proven ineffective in stopping drug abuse among users. He suggests that countering the availability of drugs should be the primary focus.

Dr. David Basangwa, a psychiatrist and former Executive Director of Butabika Hospital, stresses the importance of providing treatment to drug users. However, he notes that there is still limited awareness in the community, which prevents drug abusers from seeking care.

Dr. Basangwa suggests that policymakers and law enforcers should focus on tightening regulations to reduce accessibility to drugs like cannabis, which is widely abused and readily available, even in urban areas where people are growing it using flower pots.

Despite these concerns, the government reintroduced the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Bill in May 2023, shortly after the Constitutional Court nullified the previous Act due to a lack of quorum during its passing.

The court’s decision came after a successful challenge by the Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association (WMGDA) in a 2017 petition that sought to overturn a parliamentary decision regarding the sale and use of Khat. The new Bill proposes harsh penalties for drug-related offenses.

Offenders convicted of possessing narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances could face a fine of 500 currency points (equivalent to about 10 million Shillings) or imprisonment for a period of two to ten years. Additionally, any form of drug use, such as smoking, inhaling, sniffing, or chewing, carries a penalty ranging from 480,000 to 2.4 million Shillings, or a custodial sentence of twelve months to five years.

Experts argue that focusing on punishing mentally ill or addicted users will not effectively address drug abuse, which contributes to the high burden of mental illnesses in the country.

Dr. Hellen Ndagijje, who heads Product Safety at the National Drug Authority (NDA), highlights the effectiveness of behavioral change approaches over punitive measures.

The NDA has initiated a campaign against drug abuse in schools, providing counseling and engaging with young people. Many individuals have opened up about their abuse, and those in need of therapy are enrolled in treatment programs.

Dr. Basangwa points out that drug abuse is a growing global crisis, with the World Drug Report 2023 revealing the emergence of eighty-seven new substances being abused. He cites the misuse of legitimate pharmaceutical drugs, such as tramadol, which is being used recreationally by young people to achieve a high.

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