Bana Gana Wakil (right), Resident Representative of the Economic Community of West African States, and Kenneth Adu-Amanfoh, Director-General of NACOC, interacting with some of the participants
Bana Gana Wakil (right), Resident Representative of the Economic Community of West African States, and Kenneth Adu-Amanfoh, Director-General of NACOC, interacting with some of the participants
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ECOWAS advocates rehabilitation over jail time for drug addicts

The Narcotics Control Commission (NACOC), in collaboration with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), is advocating rehabilitation over incarceration of people struggling with substance use disorders.

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In line with that, ECOWAS has launched a pilot project in Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal which is offering alternative sentencing options for drug-related offences as part of efforts to address the growing drug addiction crisis in the sub-region.

A five-day technical workshop and training is underway in Accra for selected stakeholders ahead of the establishment of a pilot of a specialised court docket programme, also known as a recovery court, which targets treatment and recovery of persons. The pilot is the first of its kind in West Africa.

The project is under the initiative of Enhancing Africa's Response to Transnational Organised Crime (ENACT), which provides treatment and rehabilitation services to individuals with substance use disorders.

Significance

The Director-General of NACOC, Kenneth Adu-Amanfoh, described the initiative as relevant, and cited limitations of traditional approach in addressing the root causes of addiction.

"Substance use disorders continue to plague our society, exacting a toll not only on individuals but on families, communities and the nation as a whole,” he said. Mr Adu-Amanfoh expressed the government's commitment in placing health and human rights at the heart of the national drug policy, evidenced by the enactment of the Narcotics Control Commission Act 2020 (ACT 1019).

"This pilot project represents a significant step forward in our collective efforts to confront substance use disorders with empathy, innovation and evidence-based strategies. “By focusing on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, rather than punishment, we have the opportunity to transform lives, strengthen families and build safer and healthier communities," he added.

Addressing root cause

The Resident Representative of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Baba Gana Wakil, also said that the criminal justice system alone could not solve the drug problem.

"We need to address the root causes of addiction and provide support for recovery." According to the 2023 World Drug Report, about 296 million people used drugs at least once in 2021, and about 39.5 million of them had substance use disorders (SUDs), with only 15 people with SUDs having access to any form of treatment.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that about 3.1 million people were arrested in 2020 for drug-related offences at the global level, among which 61 per cent were arrested for drug possession for personal use.

"Several studies have indicated that putting people who have substance use disorders (SUDs) in jail or prison is futile. There is, therefore, a gradual shift from incarceration to the provision of treatment and care for people with SUDs worldwide," he said.

The ECOWAS Commission, the representative added, had supported more than 20 drug treatment and rehabilitation centers in five member states to improve access to treatment and rehabilitation.

Additionally, he said more than 200 trained healthcare personnel across the region had been trained to provide care for people with SUDs.

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A senior researcher and project coordinator of ENACT, Dr Christian Ani, also said that "at least 500,000 people die each year globally due to substance abuse, while many more face chronic diseases”.

“This calls for a new response. We must not look at it as a crime and address societal factors; we need to change mindsets," he said. A principal programme officer at the ECOWAS drug control and prevention division, Dr Dan Akwasi Amankwah, said the workshop would come up with a roadmap on how to roll out the pilot project. In Ghana, he said the Pantang Hospital had received a $90,000 support to renovate a drug rehabilitation center to enhance access to treatment for drug addicts.

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