On the back of the West African Commission on Drugs (WACD) report, which acknowledges that West Africa experiences drug use as well as the transit of drugs, debates on treatment and demand reduction have gained renewed urgency. This focus is not new – the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse (CRISA) has been discussing these issues in Nigeria since 1991.
The 11th Biennial international conference on ‘Drugs, Alcohol and Society in Africa’ held in Lagos on 20-22 August had renewed momentum. Governments in West Africa are starting to take notice and seeking new approaches.
During the conference, many options were put on the table, from treatment in line with other chronic diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes and asthma, identifying determinants, to reducing harm among drug users.
While useful, all of these proposals assume that drugs are bad and need to be eradicated. Yet, as one speaker contended, drugs have always been with us, and eradication is an impossible task. This suggests that the focus should be management rather than eradication.
As raised by the WACD report, while harm reduction, demand reduction and treatment are important at lower levels, this needs to be paired with more sophisticated strategies at higher levels to target those involved in the organised criminal aspects of the drugs trade.