Maria-Goretti Ane -Loglo Speaks On Drug Abuse Policy and IDPC’s ‘Support. Don’t Punish’ Campaign

In Africa, the issue of Drug Abuse is addressed with contempt and drug abusers are treated as criminals who have nothing to contribute to society other than perpetuate crimes. Governments are on the fore front of this criminalization of drug abuse offenders, and treat the victims with the firm arm of the law; yet there are no improvements on the issue despite the increasing number of arrests and incarceration.

In an interview with Mrs Maria-Goretti Ane -Loglo, the African Consultant for the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC); we discuss the current Drug policies and what can be done to win the war against Drug Abuse in Africa. She analyzes Government approach on Drug Abuse in relation to Human Rights and the activities of IDPC in creating awareness and influencing these Government policies to suit both the victims and society at large.

Below are excerpts of the interview conducted by Sebastiane Ebatamehi.

Enjoy your read……and be informed!

 

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: Good day ma, how are you?

Maria-Goretti: Good day to you and your cherished readers. I am doing well and I’m glad to be here.

 

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: Please ma, may we meet you?

Maria-Goretti: My name is Mrs Maria-Goretti Ane -Loglo, a Lawyer by profession and a civil society advocate for humane Drug policies in Africa. I also serve as the African consultant for the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC); I oversee their work in Africa and serve as their focal point in the region.

    

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: Why are you so passionate about Drug Policies in Africa and the World in general?

Maria-Goretti: Over the years we have seen the destruction of lives by drug policies in Africa. Our policies have mainly been on prohibitionism – they are all about deterrence, no room to give people who use drugs to choose other alternatives that can better their lives. A number of these policies have destroyed many lives than even the drugs themselves. I am passionate about these policies because I believe we need to change these policies and focus more on evidence-based policies that have worked and brought better results in the lives of people who use drugs in other places like Portugal and Switzerland.

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: Tell us about IDPC, her mission and vision.

 

Maria-Goretti: IDPC’s vision is that national and international drug policies should be grounded in the principles of human rights and human security, social inclusion, public health, development and civil society engagement. Our mission is to intervene at two levels in the decision making process: We facilitate networking and collaboration between civil society stakeholders and empower our civil society members to better engage with and influence policy-making processes.

 

Participants at the Executive Course on Human Rights and Drug Policies in West Africa

 

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: From your experience over the years, Will you say IDPC is making progress in sensitizing people, organizations and government on drug policies in Africa?

Maria-Goretti: From where I sit, I can confidently say that we are making great inroads in Africa with regards to advocacy for Drug Policy reform, if you can recall, about five years ago, hardly will you hear an open discussion around Drugs, and it was treated as a sacred topic. Even instances where it is even discussed the focus has always been on the security aspect and not the public health, human rights or development.  But today as we speak, through intense advocacy in the region, we have some countries like Senegal running harm Reduction as a life saving service to help reduce the harmful effects associated with drug use like hepatitis B, C and HIV/AIDS. Senegal currently runs the Needle and string Exchange as well as methadone for people who use drugs.

A number of countries are also beginning to review their drug legislations and even considering some of the proposals being made by civil society; countries like Ghana will soon be passing a drug law that can be described as humane in nature and taking into account all the reform messages that are being preached by civil society. We also have countries like Guinea, The Gambia, Benin, Senegal and a lot more following Ghana’s footsteps. I believe Governments in the region are listening and I am optimistic that some few years to come there will be a lot more changes regarding drug policies. You will agree with me that Change is systematic, it may not be an overnight change, but it’s a step by step thing and I believe we will soon get there.

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: In Africa, Drug Abusers are seen as lunatics and ‘no good’ in society; do you think this perception will change anytime soon?

Maria-Goretti: It’s unfortunate our society sees these young men and woman as morally week and bad nuts in society, but let me say that, people who use drugs are just like any of us. They can be your brother, sister, father or mother. Problematic users are having a health challenge and so we need to treat them like any other person with a health condition, they can be liken to people suffering from diabetes or hypertension, they are not necessary bad or criminals as a number of people perceive them. All they need is our support and help to seek treatment or counseling for their condition. Many people in our society stigmatize them and give them all sought of bad names, but I will like to encourage anyone reading this to understand that problematic drug use is a health condition that needs sound health policies to help address the problem. People who use drugs do not need a police officer or jail term to help them recover, what that does is to worsen their situation.

To change the mindset of society about people who use drugs, there is the need to sensitize communities and our society to understand that, these people need help and support, they are not bad people but some of them are sick and need support rather than treating them as lunatics or bad people.

 

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: We learnt that IDPC just participated and helped facilitate an Executive Course on Human Rights and Drug Policies in West Africa that took place in Ghana which attracted participants from various countries in Anglophone West Africa, please tell us more about this program.

Maria-Goretti: The course was funded by the Open Society Foundation (OSF) and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and the course was aimed at developing the competencies of the participants to support their home governments in adopting drug policies which are underpinned by public health and citizen security, anchored in evidence-based harm reduction approaches and backed by laws or practices that are human rights-compliant. One key characteristic of the course is its inter-disciplinary focus, both of learning and problem solving. It was designed for high-achieving individuals who are engaged, or are interested, in policy formulation relating to drug control generally.

Participants at the Executive Course on Human Rights and Drug Policies in West Africa

 

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: Can you please share with us the names of some of the Instructors and Faculty who facilitated the Executive Course in Ghana?

Maria-Goretti: Facilitators were drawn from Public Health, Security, Legal, Academic, Psychology, Civil Society, etc. We had facilitators like Professor Kofi Quashigah of the School of Law, University of Ghana who is also the Dean of the School of Law, Dr Kwadwo Appiagyei-Atua, Senior Fellow of the School of Law, Dr Kwesi Anning, a Security Specialist with the Kofi Annan Peace Keeping Centre based in Ghana, MR Yaw-Akrasi Sarpong, a Lawyer, Pharmacist, Chemist and former executive secretary to the Narcotics Control Board ( NACOB) , MR Adeolu Ogunrombi of YouthRISE Nigeria and regional coordinator of the West Africa Drug Policy Network, Mrs Maria-Goretti Ane, a Lawyer and Civil Society activist and regional focal person for IDPC , Jonathan Osei Owusu , Executive Director of the Justice for All program in Ghana aiming to de-congest Ghana prisons , MR Kofi Krafona,  a Psychologist, Richard Amenyah, a  Public Health and Harm Reduction Specialist. The program drew from a wide pool of experts with rich knowledge on the various topics for the course.

 

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: IDPC has been in the forefront of Drug Policy and Human Rights Advocacy in Africa, earlier this year; you partnered with YouthRISE Nigeria to organize the Drug Policy Academy in Abuja, Nigeria; and just recently concluded an Executive Course as mentioned before, what are the positives from these efforts?

Maria-Goretti: We have been able to build a strong network of civil society activists in the region through our capacity building workshops and training. We keep supporting civil society organizations in the region and this has helped built the confidence of our members to engage with their national governments. Through the work of IDPC , we have supported the West Africa Commission on Drugs in the dissemination of  its flagship report titled :Not just in Transit : Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa, especially calling on governments in the region to consider the evidence based recommendations. We have also been very instrumental in supporting national laws review; and an example our support to the Drug review process in Ghana which started in 2016. We have continued to support youth groups in the region to enable us broaden the discourse.

Image result for support dont punish

 

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: Tell us about the ‘Support, Don’t Punish Campaign’.

Maria-Goretti: ‘Support. Don’t Punish’ is a global advocacy campaign calling for better drug policies that priorities public health and human rights. The campaign aims to promote drug policy reform, and to change laws and policies which impede access to harm reduction interventions. The ‘Support. Don’t Punish’ campaign aligns with the following key messages:

* The drug control system is broken and in need of reforms.

* People who use drugs should no longer be criminalized.

* People involved in the drug trade at low levels, especially those involved for reasons of subsistence or coercion, should not face harsh or disproportionate punishments.

* The death penalty should never be imposed for drug offences.

* Drug policy in the next decade should focus on health and harm reduction.

* By 2020, 10% of global resources expended on drug policies should be invested in public health and harm reduction.

 

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: In your Opinion, what is the biggest problem facing Drug Abuse in Africa?

Maria-Goretti: The biggest problems in Africa right now are not the drugs themselves but the kind of policies we have. Right now, we are stacked to the traditional tactics, with law enforcement measuring success with indicators like number of arrests, the number of drug seizures, etc. Whereas our progress should be measured by the number of people in need of drug treatment who are able to access it without fear of arrest or coercion, drug use is more about a health issue than a criminal justice issue. Currently, the biggest challenge is lack of political to put in place services to address the needs of people who use drugs. So much money is wasted on law enforcement against people who are at the lowest chain of drug use and trade. This has created all sorts of problems, including an increase in the number of people who have substance use disorders and the number of injecting drug users.

We need to invest and channel funds in providing health services for those who need them.

Mrs. Maria Goretti at the just concluded Executive Course on Human Rights and Drug Policies in West Africa

 

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: What is your message for any Drug Abuser of friend/family of a Drug Abuser who is reading this right now?

Maria-Goretti: My advice is that, do not see people who use drugs as morally weak people, they are like any of us, what they need is our support to overcome their challenges, no amount of coercion or punishment can help a problematic drug user to come out of his situation, they need our love and support and to people who use drugs or problematic drug users, we need a society that is compassionate , a family that understands their needs and supports, with that, we can support them to overcome their drug use habits. To parents whose children are on drugs, do not despise them, share your problem with a specialist in the area of drug addiction, and they will help you find a solution to the problem; do not keep it to yourselves. There is a saying that a problem shared is half solved.

 

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: What are the official online and social media handles of the IDPC?

Maria-Goretti: You can visit our web page at www.idpc.net or follow us on Twitter @IDPC.net; you can also follow us on Facebook with the name International Drug Policy Consortium.

 

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: Any last words for our esteemed readers?

Maria-Goretti: I will like to use this opportunity to call on governments to prioritize Drug Use and make it a front burner issue. It’s important governments invest in the welfare and well being of its citizens, health is a fundamental human right and everyone is entitled to this right. Criminalization over the years has not worked but has exacerbated the situation. I will like our governments to understand that the laws themselves are what are causing the problems all over the world. When you are driving the drug user community underground by making their habit illegal and putting the trade completely in the hands of criminal gangs, the social harms produced are much greater than the harms of the drugs themselves. As Kofi Annan said “Drugs have harmed many but bad government policies have harmed many more”.

 

Sebastiane Ebatamehi: Thank you so much ma, it was a pleasure to have you.

Maria-Goretti: Thank you too for the opportunity.

 

Thank you so much for your time, please drop your comments in the section below. If you have questions or need help and information with Drug Abuse for yourself or a family/friend. Please send me an email at [email protected] and we will get back to you within 12 hours.

Sebastiane Ebatamehi

I am a Writer and Online Publicist, destined to give a voice to the silent echoes and hush whispers that are seldom heard