Accessibility links

Drug Addiction Strains Beleaguered Medical System in Ghana

  • Drew Hinshaw

Ghanaian drug-runners sitting in front of bales of cannabis seized by the anti-drug section of the Ivorian gendarmerie in Abidjan (File Photo)

Ghanaian drug-runners sitting in front of bales of cannabis seized by the anti-drug section of the Ivorian gendarmerie in Abidjan (File Photo)

At a rehabiliation clinic near Accra, Ghana, patients struggle with what the country's health professionals say is a growing problem: drug addiction.

There are not a lot of shelters like Hopeful Way Oxford House in the West African nation of Ghana - or at least there are not enough, health officials say, to confront the country's growing drug addiction problem taxing its already strained medical system.

On a December day at the rehabilitation clinic outside the capital, Accra, addicts recited their serenity prayers and sought refuge from the friends and social environment many said encouraged them to drink, shoot heroin, snort cocaine, or abuse any of a litany of hard drugs.

Fifi Sam is a guest at the rehab clinic, recovering from several addictions at once.

Before his arrival, he said his parents tried everything to force him into sobriety, including Okomfours, spiritual herbal brews offensive to their religious values.

"I had gone to a lot of places to seek help. My parents had taken me to pastors, prayer camps, even at a point though they were Christians, they were forced to take me to some herbals and okomfours, " said Sam. "I was given concoctions and although at a time I came out clean, I had to go back and this time it was worst."

Outside the clinic, Sam's story is all too familiar in this increasingly globalized and cosmopolitan capital, whose new night clubs and youth parties, Dr. Kwesi Anning says, are leaving a trail of alcoholics and drug abusers.

Anning, the Head of Research for the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Center, says Ghanaians are in denial about the severity of this underground crisis.

"If you look at instances of use for social reasons, at parties over the weekends, the few cases of drug related psychosis and problems in the hospitals, I think it's fair to say that we are beginning to experience a disturbing rise," said Aning. "We need a treatment approach, a national strategy that puts in place methods for identifying and weaning people off the use of these drugs""

Narcotics Control Board Director Dr. Francis Torkornoo agrees. He says that even based on the scant statistical studies researchers have conducted, it is clear that addiction-related clinical cases are rising.

"It is very disappointing to say that as a nation we do not have a national rehabilitation center where addicts can be properly managed and rehabilitated," he said.

Torkornoo says addicts desperate for treatment often check into mental hospitals as a last resort, risking the huge stigma attached to mental illness. They are seeking the help, he says, that the current health system is not structured to provide.

A man recovering from a 30-year alcohol addiction who asked to go by the name Kwabena was one of those people stuck outside the system.

"For me this place has been a blessing, big, big, big blessing because I had tried personally to get out of that terribly, I mean, awful situation, things were very bad," said Kwabena.

Kwabena said he never knew he could actually stop.

"But today I sit here, I can say that for the past two years, approximately two and a half years plus, I haven't taken a drink and find life to be far better; its been something like a miracle," he said.

But Amos, a financial analyst suffering an alcohol addiction, says that for every patient like him and Kwabena, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of addicts struggling, unaware of where to go, privately praying for a way out.