Children as young as nine years are getting addicted to narcotic substances, especially cannabis, thus raising the bar on national efforts at reducing the use of narcotics in the country.
Information gathered by Weekend Finder indicate that these children whose preoccupation should be with their books at school, are frequently being admitted at the psychiatric hospitals due to their addiction to these substances.
“Normally you will see kids from around 15, and sometimes when they come, they tell us that they started the use of drugs six years back which means they started at the age of 9,” Chief Psychiatrist at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, Dr. Akwesi Osei, has revealed.
Data collected at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital in Accra indicate a steady rise in reported cases of substance abuse by patients who are in their teens.
Dr. Osei noted that while many of these children acquired the habits through peer pressure, misinformation about drugs and curiosity, many of them copied from their parents who indulge themselves with drugs at home
“Many of these kids copied the behavior from their homes. They copy from parents who are dealing in drugs, either they are trafficking or indulging themselves,” he said.
Figures available to Weekend Finder indicate a total of 725 young people under the age of 19 years ended up at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital in 2013.
Substance abuse among the youth, especially those living on the streets, have been found to be influenced by factors such as gender, age and peer influence.
Earlier studies conducted on drug use among young and older homeless youth found that younger participants under the ages of 20 years were more likely to be engaged in excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages while older participants were more likely to be involved in heroin, crack and injecting drug use.
But that trend seems to be changing as the younger ones are finding their way to the ‘top’ in the use of drugs.
Younger people who are unable to afford these high-class drugs are fast finding alternatives to get high.
According to the Chief Psychiatrist, many young people have resorted to sniffing petroleum products to get high.
“What they do is to wander about at the filling stations, and as the cars are being filled, they inhale the vapour that comes out to get high,” he noted.
Has expressed worry about the disturbing dimension that substance abuse is assuming in the country. He urged the government to commit more resources to the fight against drugs in the country.
He suggested that the Narcotics Control Board, the statutory body mandated to control drugs in the country, be given more resources and empowered to do their work.
He suggested that the Board be elevated into an independent Commission status.
“To have that independent status of a commission will give them the clout be to able to exercise all their powers.” Substance use also increases the likelihood that individuals will engage in risky sexual behaviors, for example, non-condom use and multiple sexual partner patterns which put them at risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STIs) and HIV/AIDS.
Ghana recorded a decline in HIV cases from 1.37 percent in 2012 to 1.30 percent for 2013.
It is estimated that 224,488 persons are living with the disease in Ghana. 7,812 persons were newly infected, out of which 2,407 were children under 14 years.
Drug abuse harms not only users but has rippling effect on the society and the country as a whole. Government, society, families, the individual drug user and the public – all suffer because it is a social problem.
It has been suggested that there may be a link between the marked decline in scholastic achievement of the youth of today and increase in illegal drug use among them.
It has been observed that these inhibit the development of logical thinking processes and a rational approach solving. Drugs also damage the physiological maturation of the young person’s brain, even in the short term.
Experts have indicated that any drug that interferes with alertness during working hours, or is used as a major way of coping with stress slows down normal development. Thus drugs used by adolescents to make themselves seen more mature will, over time, actually make them less mature then other people of their age.