The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Mental Health Authority, Dr Akwasi Osei, has called on the government to resist all forms of pressure to legalise the use of cannabis in the country.
“I know that there is a lot of pressure from people with vested interests, both within and outside the country, to liberalise the use of cannabis, but I want to caution that if we dare do such a thing, we will pay the cost in multiples of the money which people will get from farming and exporting the substance,” he cautioned.
Inaugurating an alcohol rehabilitation centre at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital on Wednesday, Dr Osei warned that the consequences of legalising the substance were dire and could destroy the country’s human resource.
Dubbed: “Serenity Place”, the 24-bed facility will provide services such as detoxification, group and individual counselling, family counselling and therapy, vocational skills assessment and training, after care services and physiotherapy for patients.
Narcotics Control Bill
Dr Osei also called on Parliament to, as a matter of urgency, pass the Narcotics Control Bill into law and said its passage would address the weaknesses in the existing law and strengthen the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB), to confiscate the properties of drug barons to deter others from trading in illicit drugs.
He underscored the need for addiction to be decriminalised and for it to be seen as a disease that must be treated rather than a crime.
“What we are advocating is that addiction must not be seen as a crime but a disease that can be treated. We want people to know that addiction is not a taboo or a sin, so we appeal to our pastors not to see the patients as sinners. The patients should rather be taken to approved facilities for treatment,” he advised.
Dr Osei said the Mental Health Authority would collaborate with other regulators to ensure that only certified professionals were made to render services to patients.
For her part, the Director of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, Dr Pinaman Appau, said substance use disorders were of grave concern to the hospital.
Between 2016 and 2018, she said, as many as 5,849 substance abuse cases were recorded at the hospital.
“About 78 per cent of the patients were between 20 and 49. Of the 1,882 substance use disorders that were seen at the hospital last year, 135 cases, constituting 7.1 per cent, were admitted.
“With these statistics, it became necessary to create a place that will facilitate our drive to comprehensively address substance use disorders that are reported to us. This became possible through the support of the Mental Health Authority and the UK Department for International Development (DFID),” she said.
The inauguration of the Serenity Place, Dr Pinaman said, would be a major boost for the rehabilitation of patients who would now receive treatment under improved conditions.
Already, 19 members of staff, made up of 18 nurses and a medical doctor, had been trained to manage the facility, she said.
Dr Pinaman appealed to the government to release funds meant for the hospital early enough because delays had negatively affected the operation of the hospital.
She also called on the government and other stakeholders to help the hospital refurbish its facilities to boost healthcare delivery.