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Illegal Drugs Ravage West Africa


Illegal drugs coming from South America to rich European markets increasingly are going through West Africa because of its porous borders and vast unpoliced areas. The growing illicit traffic seems to be feeding local drug networks, creating more addicts in Africa. According to a recent study, out of some15 million cocaine addicts in the world, about one million are Africans -- most of them in West Africa. But doctors say they don't have the means to help them.

Drug Abuse in Ghana

Accra-based health consultant and retired chief hospital psychiatrist, J.B. Asare, says there is no doubt that drug abuse is on the rise in Ghana. He blames the residual effects of international drug trafficking.

"You hear about tons of cocaine being shipped into your country or within your vicinity -- women traveling to places and coming with something in their bags and all that. But tons are coming to your country. And you know quite well not all of these tons will leave your country. Some will remain on your shores and you do not have that much of an efficient police force or intelligence service that would go and capture it or get all of these drugs and then destroy them -- then you must be worried," says Dr. Asare.

Drug addicts leave a counseling session at the Korle Bu teaching hospital. One of them is a 31-year-old welder who says drugs are being made and sold out in the open, including by one of his friends.

"He cooks this crack cocaine and he does it even with our eyes there seeing it. He does not use it, but he has the chemicals to come out with this crack cocaine something. He mixes the chemicals, boils it. We all see how it is being done, cooked, and then he brings it out to sell for us," says one of the addicts.

Lack of Treatment

The head of the addictive diseases unit, Logosu Amegashie, says his hospital struggles with helping the growing number of addicts. "We are doing our best, but this unit is not up to standards because there are a lot of things that we need in order to call it a rehab center. And, you know, even after a year, there is a need for teachers to create midway or halfway houses for the very hard drug users who will not be able to get immediately very well integrated into their communities."

"Chris is my name, and I am a serious addict of cocaine and heroin," says a professional driver in his 40s, who is being treated at the addictive diseases unit. He adds that drug addiction is getting worse. "This thing has become a very serious problem in the country because the young ones are learning and there are more new ones coming into the drug usage. And it is creating a problem in the ghetto. The guys who are selling these drugs for us also come out to tell us that they get some of these drugs from the police force."

The police recently have opened an investigation into a case of seized cocaine that went missing. Whoever is to blame, Chris agrees that health services in Ghana are insufficient. "We do not have wards here that will keep us on admission. We do not have recreational places that will keep us, you know, busy."

Few Resources

Addicts can leave at night and often do -- looking for more drugs -- only to return in the morning for treatment. Addicts gather to hold an evening prayer session at a special ward of the Accra psychiatric hospital. But chief psychiatrist, Dr. Akwasi Asare, says treatment here is inadequate as well.

"At the hospital, we only detoxify you. In other words, we get it out of the bloodstream. But the addiction itself would be best treated elsewhere, so that you do not associate it with mental illness. But the point is if you have treatment of cocaine [or] heroin in the psychiatric hospital itself, it presents a problem," says Dr. Asare.

But addicts cannot leave here. The ward is like a prison with chains on the doors. Some addicts are brought here by police, some are ordered by judges to receive treatment, while others are brought by concerned relatives, like 29 year-old Frederick.

"My folks kept telling me that they are not as young as they used to be and I am going to have to do something for myself. I just gave the thought that in the future, if I had my own house, am I going to sell everything in the house just to take drugs and end up on the street? So I talked to my dad about it. He was very disappointed when I told him that I was a multiple drug user and he brought me to the hospital," says Frederick. "He thought that maybe they could rehabilitate me."

There are a few success stories of Ghanaians able to kick their drug habit. "My name is Michael. I am also a multiple user, but now recovered and realize that there is recovery and recovery is possible."

But doctors warn that with more people becoming addicted to powerful illicit drugs, local production may increase -- creating a drug problem of even bigger proportions in Ghana.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

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