Drug Abuse: The Epidemic that is Threatening the Lives of Thousands of School going Children in Kenya

Drug and substance abuse is one of the top problems facing today’s society and Kenya as a nation especially among the youth.

Albeit it is a problem that is often overlooked and disregarded, only taken seriously when the adverse effects assume doomsday proportions.

In secondary schools for instance, there has been a significant upsurge of drug and alcohol abuse among students in recent years with the culture of smuggling these substances in schools becoming rampant and the new norm.

A survey conducted by the National Authority for the Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NACADA) in 2018 on the status of Alcohol and other substance abuse revealed that school going children begin to abuse drugs at the age of 11 years , some even at the tender age of four years .While another survey by the organization in 2016 also disclosed that 3.8 percent of secondary school students were using alcohol, 3.6 percent were using other prescription drugs and 2.6 percent were using bhang and khat popularly known as Miraa .

Photo of CECM Education,ICT &HCD John Awiti (second from left )at a past event

Numbers which have been tremendously increasing taking into account recent interferences of the school calendar for instance closure of all learning institutions for the most part of 2020 and early 2021. This followed the reporting of the first cases of Corona Virus in the country.

The surveys also reported that the major sources of these contraband are shops, bars, friends, schoolmates, school workers and drug peddlers or ‘mapedi’ as the streets have dubbed them.

“Parents are the first teachers of a child and it doesn’t matter whether one is a single parent or not because single parenting is a circumstance. What matters is that the parents should be willing to actively play a role in teaching, instructing and modeling of their children,” disclosed Wango. Adding that child neglect has driven many youths into substance abuse.

There are many contributing factors that have fueled this vice in schools. According to University of Nairobi’s senior lecturer and counselling psychologist Dr. Geoffrey Wango, parenting is a key factor that influences the behavior and habits of a child.

Dr Geoffrey Wango, Senior Lecturer, Counselling Psychologist, University of Nairobi

He also noted that it is this child neglect that has pushed many young people to be dependent on the internet and Social Media as their escape from reality and this is where they are exposed to movies and pornography which are highly connected to drug and substance abuse.

On another hand, Egerton University student counselor, Mr. Muthoka Peter Matata sighted availability of drugs and peer influence as some of the factors that have prompted the abuse among young adults.

Photo of Egerton University student counselor Mr.Peter Muthoka Matata

“Drug abuse is the ingestion of substances that alter the normal mental functions of an individual and it is quite unsettling that some unscrupulous individuals have normalized the selling of these substances to minors even in broad day light, lamented Matata.”

Alluding to the fact that peer influence is a key factor that must be considered and carefully handled when addressing abuse of substances among young people. Since most school going children struggle with the thought of being socially accepted and the need to belong among their peers.

Other causes of drug abuse include curiosity, the culture or setting in which the child was brought up in, genetic predisposition whereby children who are born of parents who are abusers of substances might abuse similar substances later in life because their genes were already predisposed to these substances, influence of the digital world and lack of parental monitoring.

However, let us shift the focus to the digital world, a phrase which encompasses the internet and other social media platforms plus lack of parental monitoring as we dissect this issue.

Simon Odhiambo, is in his sophomore year of study at Maseno School, and like many others is currently at home as he awaits the reopening of schools come late April this year.

At home, he has to find a way to keep himself occupied other than just doing house chores and other minor tasks and Social Media offers that escape from a monotonous routine oriented lifestyle. “I spend an average of six hours a day browsing through the internet and other Social Media platforms,” confessed Odhiambo with a toothy grin.

He adds that he spends the time listening to music, catching up with friends, watching movies and playing videogames.

Mary Wangeci, another student of Nakuru Girls High School also sang praises fervently akin to a pastor’s zeal for preaching about Social Media being her safe space where she can express herself and get her daily dose of inspiration from her idols, who in her perspective are her mentors.

“I cannot go a day without logging into my Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp accounts,” she disclosed

Despite the online media being a coping mechanism for many teenagers, it goes without saying that it can be quite detrimental to the development of certain traits and habits in an individual vis-à-vis the type of content the person is exposed to on a regular basis.

Studies showing that there is a correlation between time spent on Social Media and instances of boredom, depression and suicidal ideations.

“Most of the advertisements posted online bypass the normal regulated channels like television, for example an alcohol advertisement can be tagged on YouTube or Facebook therefore it can be viewed at any time by anyone.

Unlike on TV where such ads are aired late at night for adult audiences,’’ noted counselor Matata

Additionally, the ritzy lifestyles flaunted on Social Media by the so-called influencers can take a toll on young people who like to imitate anything that has been socially accepted to be good and worthy of praise.

For instance, artists of some genres of music have normalized the smoking of weed or bhang and tobacco which has definitely prompted their diehard fans to do the same.

Dr. Wango on his end however focused on the effect of too much freedom accorded to minors by their parents in terms of how they use their phones and the type of content they interact with as another negative aspect of Social Media.

This is because most parents do not dictate or even have the knowledge of what kind of information and people the children communicate with.

Therefore, there is urgent need for parents and guardians to step up their game in terms of maintaining close relationships with their children and watching them closely.

There is no doubt that parenting styles have indeed changed to accommodate the demands of a changing world. Years back the fear of the crack of the whip would strike obedience in the minds of children and make them avoid any form of deviant behavior.

That is not the case nowadays as the young generation of today have been ‘empowered’ that folks punishing their children is never the only solution to problems which has in turn affected their mindset on the same thanks to the effects of the western culture.

Albeit being a liberal parent is good, it does not dictate that you avoid an active presence in your child’s life.

Parents are advised not to assume anything in the name of my child is good and can never indulge in drugs or other substances.

“Parents must maintain an active presence in their children’s life from early childhood so that the children are able to trust them and open up to them in case of any challenges that might lead them to make bad decisions like abusing drugs,” counseling psychologist Wango revealed .

They must also keep close tabs on the company or type of friends that their children have .

The adage show me your friends and I will tell you who you are is very much applicable here .While also watching out for any suspicious behaviors or clues that might suggest the use of substances like burnt curtains in their rooms ,ability of the youth to take care of himself and the kind of idols the children have among others .

Schools must also remain vigilant and intentional in the fight against drug and substance abuse since school going children spend much more time in schools than they do to at home and that is where peer influence is very prevalent .

According to the County Executive Committee Member (CECM) for education and ICT in Kisumu County , John Awiti, there is need to strengthen the guidance and counselling departments in schools by training more teachers who are well equipped with knowledge and experience on this issue at hand and how to handle teenagers .

He also reiterated the need for collaboration among all the relevant stakeholders like parents, schools, county governments , the national government and NACADA in the fight against this scourge .

Adding that NACADA has no doubt done a commendable job in creating awareness about the dangers of drug and substance abuse but it needs to take a step further by extending its services through having a representative in every learning institution in Kenya .

“Drug abuse is a menace that occurs on a daily basis and it is important that the youths are frequently kept abreast on the side effects of drug abuse,” Awiti advised. He further urged that NACADA should ensure that the services of all the licensed rehabilitation centers in the country can be accessed through the use of the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) which is the health insurance that most Kenyans can afford to help save the lives of drug addicts and their future.

Supporting the sentiments of CECM John Awiti, Dr. Wango emphasized the role of multi-agency collaboration among the various stakeholders like parents, schools, the Ministry of education and referral agencies like hospitals in the fight against this substance abuse.

He also added that guidance and counselling should go beyond schools and to the greater society as a firm stand must be made to help cushion our children from bearing the brunt of deferred dreams and careers.

But in all these efforts, personal factors that go along way in the development of an individual should take the center stage in this fight.

Factors like self-discipline, self-control, watching out for the friends you keep, delaying the intake of substances motivated by curiosity can help an individual to shun the use of these substances.

“School life is transient and occurs within a limited time frame but the decisions a person makes like abusing substances can change the course of the person’s life forever, so students must individually make the right choices for their own benefit in the near future,” concluded counselor Matata. Dr Geoffrey Wango, Senior Lecturer, Counselling Psychologist, University of Nairobi

sponsored by the Media Council of Kenya

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