Tackling the scourge: a concerted approach

It would be a matter of serious concern in the matter of drug financing, importation, proliferation and consumption if political considerations were to override the necessity for more concrete reassurances in the public mind that strong and vigorous measures are indeed being taken

Few subjects have got parents, communities and societies more distressed than the spectacular rise in a scourge that erupted on the illicit substances market some three years ago: synthetic drugs. A quick scan of international media titles will rapidly confirm what our own field agents, NGOs, teachers, community officers and parents have been sadly reporting. A phenomenal rise since 2015 in the new, more vicious variety of mind-destroying substances can be attested across all countries and continents.

For instance, The Guardian reported lengthily on 6 August 2017 on that zombie family of drugs1, easy to manufacture and pepper onto a variety of carriers, cheap to avail and providing a rapid sense of high followed by a disastrous slump into a zombie stupor if not actual death.

A quote about the situation in Wrexham will suffice to indicate the gravity of the situation:

  • A former heroin addict, he pays £25 for a 7g bag of spice – also known as mamba – which will last him a day. “I beg, borrow or steal the money. I shoplift. I get my benefits as well. I can’t resist it. It’s got me hooked so much now. But if you want to come off it there’s no detox programme.”

Strains of the zombie drug have made their impact felt in most countries within the past two years, from the US, through Europe to Japan, with sudden rise of fatalities related to consumption overdose or botched kitchen preparations. This week’s issue of the same UK paper has documented the ravages being caused in New Zealand where high rates of urban homelessness and unemployment always left the Kiwis vulnerable; but, even then, the sudden impact of that new vicious scourge caught whole communities and authorities backfooted and scrambling for some effective response.

  • Despite the risks to users, New Zealand is struggling to contain a synthetic cannabis epidemic, with children as young as 11 using the drug and entire neighbourhoods collapsing under the strain of addiction.

What is more worrying is a common issue: how seriously authorities take the sudden quasi-epidemic, and how effective are the approaches, legal, repressive and sensitisation that are hastily being patched together. It must be alarming to read the following in the same Guardian piece:

  • The police minister Stuart Nash told Radio NZ that existing legislation was inadequate to deal with the volatile and amorphous nature of the crisis.

Or, again, highlighting the dramatic acuity of finding the effective strategies and responses:

  • …prime minister Jacinda Ardern said: “I am still in the process of considering, alongside cabinet, the options we have. We’re still in discussion regarding our response.”

This is not and should not be a political issue even allowing for the fact that eruption of the volatile scourge on the local scene has mostly occurred since around 2015, leaving us, as parents, NGOs, concerned citizens and communities, as in many other countries, praying for the authorities to rapidly come up with less “business as usual” and a more vigorous concerted pluri-disciplinary strategy and action plan.

The Lam Shan Leen Drug Enquiry Commission, set up in 2015, has, almost four months ago, submitted its Report which, while not specifically on the synthetic scourge, has highlighted the numerous avenues and mechanisms devious minds can and have used to infiltrate our country. From the port to the airport, from the prisons to the ADSU, from the honourable to the less honourable professions, from the occult funding to the disparate and uncoordinated investigative authorities, many hard questions have been raised or flagged and many earnest recommendations made.

Most noteworthy perhaps are the recommendations regarding the revamping of ADSU as a new magister-led National Drug Agency, rather than the current police division set-up, the recommendation for an in-depth inquiry into prison deficiencies whereby drug lords seem to operate their headquarters from behind porous bars, and an in-depth look at security systems at the most vulnerable entry point, the port area and its reported lackadaisical systems, controls, procedures and processes.

If these have indeed received the in-depth attention of the authorities, and on the basis of answers given in Parliament, an independent observer might well conclude that actions have been discrete, rather than on a par with public expectations. More insidious, the perception is rising that those who were closely involved with the 2014 electoral hustlings of the current regime, including through considerable financial outlays and other services, may be treated with more discretion than necessary at the ICAC-led follow-up enquiries and actions.

It is also reported that, several months after the Minister-Mentor condemned the CP’s most implausible explanations regarding the reported disappearance of some 17 kg of heroin from police custody, a long-announced enquiry will only start in the coming days and be conducted in camera. Its report to the PM or the Minister-Mentor, may, with some likelihood, be equally treated with discretion.

In an approaching election year, one may well feel that government is more keen than usual to hang on to its narrative, that of a having had the guts to appoint a Drug Enquiry Commission, of acting on all fronts to “kas lerin barons ladrog”, that of knowing where they are heading the country, whatever the Opposition’s clamours, in and outside Parliament. It would be a matter of serious concern in the matter of drug financing, importation, proliferation and consumption if political considerations, including image and spin-doctoring, were to override the necessity for more concrete reassurances in the public mind that strong and vigorous measures are indeed being taken, without fear or favour.

That being the background, one comes back to the necessity for evolving rapidly a concerted multi-sectoral strategy for tackling the more vicious proliferation of synthetics, which have risen alarmingly and are already causing ravages in townships and rural areas, even finding grounds in our schools and colleges. Many countries are groping for effective approaches and meaningful concertations for an action front that spans the legal and judiciary, the youth and leisure, the health providers, the police and investigative authorities, the education and social securities sectors. Spread and vulnerability factors in one national setting and lessons learned may not apply elsewhere where the socio-economic context is different.

But all recognise the urgency to effectively develop a concerted strategy and an effective action plan with the help and input of all knowledgeable, informed and concerned parties, including the NGO ground forces and perhaps even the socio-religious institutions. Our children, the greatest and perhaps only asset for the country’s future, are at risk. The recent full-day Radio-Plus broadcast clearly pitched the concern and quite usefully set the scene, impelling the authorities to forego pre-electoral narratives. Parents in different social communities around the countryside worry everyday about what could happen to their adolescent school-age kids. Research and prevalence studies by academics are certainly useful for the longer-term, but there is enough field evidence for organising an “Assises” specifically overseeing this alarming phenomenon within the shortest time-span.




* Published in print edition on 26 October 2018

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