HealthcareNarcotics in Uganda

Joyce ObuyaJune 25, 202233510 min
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Narcotics is a substance used to treat moderate to severe pain. It is a drug that produces analgesia (pain relief) narcosis (state of stupor or sleep), and addiction (physical dependence on the drug). Some people also experience euphoria- a feeling of great elation when they use the substance. The main therapeutic use of narcotics is for pain relief, and hence they are often called narcotic analgesics. The best-known narcotics are the opiates which are compounds found in or derived from opium.

The naturally occurring opiates (plant alkaloids derived from the opium poppy) as well as synthetic (man-made) and semisynthetic opioids are considered to be narcotic drugs, which include both legally prescribed and illicit varieties. Opioids not only diminish the perception of pain signaling in the central nervous system but also produce rewarding, euphoric effects, making them targets for abuse and highly addictive.

Commonly abused narcotics and drugs include: opium, heroin, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, tramadol, morphine, hydromorphone, fentanyl and carfentanil. Until the end of the 19th century, trade-in narcotics was considered a legitimate business. Abuse of addiction-producing substances was thought to be the consequence of established habits in particular areas of the world. The issue was considered a domestic one. Nevertheless, the advancement in technology and the expansion of transport and world trade introduced a new dimension. An increasing number of alkaloids and derivatives were being produced from opium and coca leaves and easily distributed. In addition, a large number of psychotropic substances were developed and their consumption increased enormously; hence, problems once considered local became global.

According to the National Drug Authority website , In Uganda there is a government owned organization called National Drug Authority (NDA) which is mandated to regulate drugs in the country, including their manufacture, importation, distribution, and licensing. NDA was created by the Ugandan Legislature in 1993 and began operations in 1994. At that time its mission was to regulate, manufacture, importation, and use of human and veterinary drugs in the country. In 2014, the country’s cabinet approved plans to expand the NDA into the NFDA by adding food, food additives, food supplements, cosmetics, and commercial animal feeds to the items under the organization’s supervision. Despite the government’s effort to put these measures into place, Uganda still has a problem of narcotic drugs trafficking.

According to the Mental Health Innovation Network, In 2016,Uganda started criminalizing drug use following this international trend and with the enactment of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act (NDPSA) has made strides towards being part of this global movement to suppress the use of drugs. The NDPSA also came into force the same year.

The NDPSA, has a decided penal focus and does not prioritize the welfare of persons who use illicit drugs. One of the primary aims of the Act is to give effect to disciplinary international conventions, also with the criminalization of trafficking in narcotics drugs and psychotropic substances. The Act also criminalizes the possession of these drugs and prescribes heavy penalties such as a fine of UGX 10,000,000 (approx. USD 3,000) or three times the market value of the drug, whichever is greater, or imprisonment of a minimum of ten years or both such a fine and imprisonment. The Act also criminalizes acts associated with narcotic drugs such as being in possession of any pipe or utensil for the illicit use of such drugs; ‘recruiting’ or ‘promoting’ the smoking, inhaling, sniffing or other use of such substances and owning, occupying or being ‘concerned in the management’ of any premises used for the cultivation, sale or manufacture of such substances.

The Act makes a measure of provision for the welfare of  People Who Use and Inject Drugs (PWUIDs) by empowering the Minister of Health to establish ‘rehabilitation centers’ aimed at providing ‘care, treatment and rehabilitation of persons addicted to narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances’

The criminalization of drug use has had the result of restricting the range of medical  intervention available and accessible to PWUIDs (People Who Use and Inject Drugs)  in both private and public facilities. There is no comprehensive facility for the provision of public health services to PWUIDs. There is also no proven treatment available within the country for people who are on drugs and need critical and urgent medical attention like Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST). The stress on criminal approaches to drug use has discouraged many PWUIDs from seeking even those medical services which might be available in the public and private health systems. This is because of the way they are treated by medical professionals and the threat of being taken to court to answer charges related to their drug use upon their recovery.

There is a direct link between the criminalization of drug use and HIV/AIDS as well as mental health challenges. This is because people living with health conditions are the most frequent users of the different types of medicines that can treat or calm their illnesses. Others just do the drugs to get high. Criminalization of drug use makes it less likely for PWUIDs to be offered relevant information on needle-sharing, which increases transmission of HIV among injecting drug users in particular.

The government should increase awareness on the harmful effects of using narcotic drugs and come up with programs to provide alternative livelihoods for farmers growing illicit crops like marijuana. Alternatively, introduce alternative cash crops to the marijuana growing communities. Also they can try to upgrade its security systems to ease coordination and exchange of information amongst its law enforcement agencies and cooperation with other countries around the world. Provide the financial resources for training and building the capacity of its narcotic control personnel to enable them confirm the legitimacy of relevant transactions and prevent diversions of narcotic drugs for illicit trade.

Joyce Obuya

Relevant experience as a content writer. Highly proficient in Keyword Research and its tools. Experienced writer in both short-form and long-form blogs as well as Business Publications

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