As part of activities marking International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking, the National Drug Enforcement Agency (NDEA) hold a daylong symposium on the “Drug Abuse Situation in The Gambia”.
Held at the Kanifing Municipal Council Hall along Jimpex Road, the Symposium brought together securities, students, teachers, youth organizations, journalists, and civil society to share ideas and work together to make The Gambia a “drug free nation”.
In his presentation, the Public Relation Officer of the NDEA, Mr Abdoulie Ceesay, reiterated that the Narcotic Court in Banjul is overburdened with drug cases, while the prison is filled-up with drug inmates and trial prisoners.
He noted that statistics on drug seizures in The Gambia show 323 cases of Cannabis Sativa from January-December 2010, forming 90 percent of the overall seizure of drugs registered for the year.
Out of the 323 cases, 36 percent involves youths between the ages of 13-25 years.
Thus, Mr. Ceesay note that the number of young people arrested in connection with cannabis abuse is increasing at an “alarming rate” which raises grave concerns.
According to him, 371 people were arrested last year in connection to dealing in cannabis, 352 of them are Gambians, while others include Senegalese, Malians, a Nigerian, and Guineans (Conakry).
37 people, nine of them Gambians were also arrested for allegedly dealing in Cocaine; others are Nigerians, a Cameroonian, an Estonian, a Bissau Guinean, a Ghanaian, Deutsch nationals, a Mexican, a Swedish, and Venezuelans.
Mr Ceesay also noted that on June 4, 2010, the Drug Agency registered its biggest drug seizure of cocaine, amounting to more than two tons (worth more than 1 billion US dollars) at a warehouse at Bonto village in the West Coast Region of The Gambia.
Seven South Americans, a European and an African have since been arrested in connection to this catch and are currently being tried at the Court.
He said another significant seizure of more than one ton of Cannabis Sativa was also seized at Seewol Village, West Coast Region near Cassamance, the Southern Region of neighboring Senegal on August 25, 2010.
“The cannabis was destined to the most densely populated area in the country, the Greater Banjul, and the seizure drastically reduced the supply trend in this region, automatically reducing the demand in the market for both whole sale and retail,” he claimed.
Mr Ceesay said The Gambia Government has taken bold steps in the fight against the “drug menace” and drug-related crimes, by strengthening its drug laws in other to make it more stringent and stiff to discourage drug cartels who intend to abuse the hospitality, peace and tranquility of The Gambia.
During a presentation on the Health Implications of Illicit Drugs, Ana Marie Mendy, Departmental Matron of the Tanka-Tanka Psychiatric Hospital, said health wellbeing is not merely the absence of disease but the harmonious functioning of the three pillars of health: physical, mental and social wellbeing.
She said drugs are substances when taken into the human system are able to modify perception, mood and cognitive senses. And that addicts cannot function in the absence of a particular drug and needs repeated doses of the drug to feel high or to avoid the distressing physical and psychological effects of its absence.
According to her, the most commonly abuse drug in the country is marijuana which is locally grown in the Gambia and sometimes smuggled into the country from neighboring countries.
She quoted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to have said “alcohol accounts for 2.5 million deaths every year, 15.3 million people suffer from drug abuse disorders and quite a proportion of this population reported HIV infection.”
“Of recent, this West African region is being used as a transit point in illicit drug trafficking especially cocaine and heroin. Without proper intervention it will destroy our youths, affect the country’s socio-economic and human development,” she noted.
She adds that in The Gambia, 75 percent of the patients in the only Psychiatric Hospital had their illness cause or precipitated by drugs and 80 percent of relapsed cases are due to drugs (cannabis and alcohol).
The negative effects of drug abuse, she said is the altering of one’s performance academically, depression, elation (depending on the individual), and loss of motivation. It also affects the limbic and autonomic part of the nervous system resulting in paranoia, anorexia and sleeplessness.
She also noted that drugs causes economic breakdown, corruption, violence and acts as a tool in spreading diseases, causing misery for the abusers, their families and the community.
She stressed that “there is a need to avert a situation she described as a “catastrophic menace” in The Gambia.