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Lockdown exposed more youths to drug and substance abuse – Counsellors

Drug abuse among the youths is reported to be on the rise, leaving hundreds of teenagers struggling with substance use disorders,

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT  |  Drug abuse among the youths is reported to be on the rise, leaving hundreds of teenagers struggling with substance use disorders, some of which affect their mental and physical abilities.

According to rehabilitation expert, Richard Muhangi of Recovery Solutions Treatment and Counseling Centre in Kampala, many teenagers are struggling with substance use in communities, homes and schools. He said that 53 per cent of admissions at the centre are persons aged between 17 and 22 who are addicted to substances.

The counsellors have indicated that more youth including students from the age of 16 – 22 were more exposed to drugs and other substances during the lockdown which was announced in March 2020, as a measure to control the spread of coronavirus disease.  During the time, schools were closed and more than 15 million learners were sent home.

Out of boredom and lengthy hours of idling many were introduced to either one or more drugs that include inhalant substances, synthetic drugs, cocaine, tik, tobacco and alcohol. The counsellors also found that glue, detergent, nail polish, chalk, fumes, and marijuana, among others, were used by some youths to concoct substances that helped them to become ‘high’. Muhangi acknowledges that many of the youths got used to the drugs after frequent use.

Muhangi says that the inhalants can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, brain, liver, born marrow, and other organs of the body. Research shows that inhalants, also known as laughing gas, or boppers, starve the body of oxygen and force the heart to beat irregularly and more rapidly, sometimes resulting in nosebleeds, damage to the lungs and immune system. 

Muhangi says that a number of the admitted youths reported emotional, physical and internal body damages

Joram Mugalu, another counsellor who is currently working with youths at Recovery Solutions, told URN that the lockdown changed the category of people visiting the centre from adults who were struggling with alcohol abuse, to an overwhelming number of youths, struggling to deal with drug and substance abuse. 

Paul Waluya, a counsellor says that he has personally handled 18 cases of people battling substance abuse, since June last year. Of these 11 are teenagers, seven of whom have successfully returned to school after being handled therapeutically while two of their colleagues relapsed in abusing the same substance and another two did not complete the therapy before losing contact with the counselling team.

Josephine Afaayo, the Executive Director of Fight Drug Abuse (FDA), an organization that rehabilitates victims of drug abuse says that hundreds of young people, especially boys are suffering from persistent use of inhalants because they are accessible to them. She said some teens as young as 11 are taking inhalants stuffed in their neckties or marker pens and could be consumed covertly even in safe environments such as schools, where rules and regulations don’t permit consumed drug abuse.

‘Teenagers, even in schools out of a need to find the unknown, try to taste or use these drugs mainly inhalants. Once they continue, abusing the drug they become dependent and sometimes addicted to it. They take them in any environment such as toilets or dark corners but sometimes they covert inhalants inside their ties or marker pens as a cover-up,’ Afaayo told URN.

According to a report by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 25 per cent of mental cases in Uganda are due to drug abuse. It is said to be responsible for more accidents, crime, health problems and violence. A male youth who spoke on condition of anonymity but recovered from drug use said he used to take substances to ‘feel good and relax.’



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