Addiction is a Health Issue not a Criminal Justice Problem

Our global village gradually shifting from punitive measures, in tackling illegal drug problems, to evidence base approaches to minimize illegal trafficking and consumption.

The paradigm shift is as a result of abundant evidence gathered during the woefully failed drug war, which main strategy was punitive actions, using the criminal justice sector that has no human face in treating drug users and/or addicts.

In Sierra Leone, like everywhere else, failed war on drugs has an enormous cost to women.

Punitive drug laws and policies pose a heavy burden on women and on children.

Of course, women are often the principal caregivers as mostly their husbands languish in prisons across the country.

Families too have been devastated; and children dropping out of school thus the observed poverty entrenching homes countrywide.

Those who survived incarceration oftentimes come out as hard core criminals; full with hate for the society they strongly believe responsible for the calamity befallen them, their families too.

The children too are embittered that the status quo has not treated their fathers’ fairly.

This no doubt is another war now at hand, and the enemies are the very citizens of our land who revengefully are ready to use anybody to avenge hate on society with passion.

Our callous behavior against them has come as a result of selfishness’, self centered fear.

People sometime say they want to protect the children and so those who use the “evil weed” (Cannabis sativa) and other drugs are the criminals in communities able to influence up and coming children, therefore, the best way to prevent such is by incarcerating small time drug users in our communities, which to some of us is an error and must correct now.

Drug use must be regarded primarily as a public health problem, Drug users need help not punishment, consumption and possession for personal use of drugs should not be criminalized.

Evidence over the years have shown that criminalization worsen health and social problems and put enormous pressures on the criminal justice system.

That is why the Sierra Leone Chapter of the West Africa Drug Public Network applauds the establishment of the legal Aid Board, that has helped in the release of people arrested for drug related charges.

Decriminalising drug use is one of the most effective ways to reduce problematic drug use as it is likely to facilitate access to treatment for those who need it.

It can also help free up resources for law enforcement to focus on more selective deterrence and targeting of high-value traffickers, especially those whose behavior is more damaging to society in the long run.

We should go after the drug barons (the big fish) not the downtrodden youth.

The above statement is supported by President Obama at a Conference with Doctors in Atlanta in 2016, in which he quoted as saying “For too long we’ve viewed drug addiction through the lens of criminal justice, The most important thing to do is reduce demand.

And the only way to do that is to provide treatment — to see it as a public health problem and not a criminal problem.”

We can make them fulfilled their potential through compassion, therefore, the Sierra Leone Chapter of the West Africa Drug Policy Network is calling on the government and all relevant authorities to stand with us for drug policy grounded in Science, compassion, health and Human Rights.

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