|The devastating effects of alcohol and drugs on young people in Kenya can be laid bare today.
Experts are sounding alarm bells after two new studies revealed that school children as young as 11 are falling prey to drug abuse.
|A woman carries a placard during a past demonstration against drug abuse. Photo/FILE
They are warning of major economic costs and loss of the country’s workforce if urgent measures are not taken to reverse the trend.
In what may come as a shock to middle class families, the studies show that children whose parents are highly educated were most at risk.
About 43 per cent of students whose parents had completed university education abused alcohol compared to 23.6 per cent whose parents had just a high school education.
The researchers concluded that highly educated parents were too busy with their careers to give attention to their children. They also give them a lot of pocket money and allow them to go out without supervision.
Hospitals are also swamped with youths who have mental illnesses resulting from alcohol and drug abuse.
These youths were also at a higher risk contracting HIV and Hepatitis C Viral and have a tendency to drop out of school and get unwanted pregnancies. Researchers at the Africa Mental Health Foundation say that in the past four years, the use of alcohol and other drugs among young people had increased by a staggering 71 per cent. Alcohol and cigarette use, they say, is a gate way to abuse of stronger drugs like cocaine and heroin.
The experts are now calling for renewed efforts by parents, the Government and players in the alcohol industry to tackle the worrying trend.
Among the measures they have proposed are introducing alcohol and drug abuse studies as a compulsory subject from primary school, restricting sale of alcohol to children and raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21.
“Many of the children who abuse drugs come from families where one of the parents or any other member of the family is abusing drugs,” said Prof David Ndetei, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi and lead researcher in the two studies.
The studies show young women were increasingly abusing alcohol and other hard drugs compared to a few years ago. Hospitals like Mathari National are dealing with the aftermath of this abuse.
Dr Nelly Kitazi, the medical superintendent at Mathari hospital, said the institution had set up a female rehabilitation centre in response to the rising numbers of young women abusing alcohol and other drugs.
The 30-bed capacity male rehabilitation centre is full with scores of others on the waiting list. Dr Kitazi said: “The average age of those in our rehabilitation centre for alcohol, tobacco and cannabis is 24 years”.
The cost of treatment is weighing heavily on parents and the economy.
At Mathari, a two-week rehabilitation programme costs Sh5,600, while a three-month one costs Sh36,000.
The research findings, to be published soon in two leading scientific journals, say the affected youths are having enormous problems with teachers and parents and at work for those in employment.
Psychiatric disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorders are also reported among the students, with girls being more affected than the boys.
According to two studies — Drug Use Screening Inventory-Revised (DUSI-R) and School Toolkit — conducted among school going children in 17 public secondary schools in Nairobi, a significant number of the students admitted taking beer, wine, spirits and cigarettes, among other drugs.
In the first study that has been accepted for publication by the International Society for Addiction Medicine in the 2008 Substance Abuse Journal, 18.1 per cent of the 1,328 students interviewed said they were taking alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
The School Toolkit study, to be published in the same Journal, surveyed 1,296 students. It found that 3.6 per cent admitted to smoking between one and 20 cigarettes a day.
Close to 30 per cent of those aged between 13 and 14 years abused alcohol, drugs (10.1 per cent), and tobacco (21.7 per cent). The abuse was higher among those aged 19 to 20 years, with 49.5 per cent admitting to be using alcohol, 25 per cent drugs, and 39.8 per cent tobacco, according to findings released by African Mental Health Foundation.
Day scholars were also affected, with 12.7 per cent of them reporting use of illicit drugs compared to 8.7 per cent among boarders. Unlike boarders, day scholars were found to be under less supervision by teachers and parents when they moved between school and home, making it easy for them to access and abuse drugs.
When considered on class basis, about 91.7 per cent of the students in Form Four found accessing cigarettes easier compared to 85.7 per cent in Form One.
“Access to alcohol or cigarettes was particularly easier because the students can afford single sticks or small amounts. This requires a policy that prohibits the selling of these commodities in such amounts,” said Prof David Ndetei.
The number of those taking alcohol and other drugs increased as they advanced in their studies, with students in Form Four reporting major problems related with alcohol (45.3 percent) and drugs (15.9 percent) compared to their counterparts in Form One who recorded 28.6 per cent for alcohol use and 11.5 per cent for drugs.
When asked why they were taking drugs, students said they did so to get high, for emotional relief, peer pressure and curiosity. Others turned to drugs to deal with anxiety or as an adjustment tactic to the new environment in school.