The data I have obtained from the latest Africa illicit drug data research 2016 provides mounting evidence that crystal meth is becoming a large-scale problem for law enforcement and health authorities in African cities. Methamphetamine hydrochloride, better known as crystal meth or ice, first became a factor in Africa’s illicit drug scene five years ago when South African and Nigerian authorities and security agencies warned of the dangers posed by use of ice. Several countries in Sub Saharan Africa currently classes crystal meth as an “existing threat” due to increased seizures in African ports, particularly in West and Southern Africa. The price of the drug ice has plummeted by up to 30 per cent, fuelling West Africa’s methamphetamine problem, with vital chemical ingredients legally flooding the region from China and other Far East Asian countries.The researchers in West Africa found that because certain chemicals aren’t restricted like other chemicals import restrictions as the precursors they collectively help make, they are sailing through the region’s ports, leaving criminals to obtain drug ingredients.Several senior intelligence sources told the researchers that the rise of underground labs and opportunists using internet recipes was also contributing to a crisis they cannot contain especially in Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Street level ice was being sold for between $15,000 and $20,000 an ounce in 2014 but now authorities say it is available for as little as $5000 in cities across West Africa.One of the researchers told your blogger that addicts, only need a single hit of ice which keeps a user awake for up to three days and it is now selling for as little as $20 in towns, such as Accra, Lago, Abuja and Abidjan. Drug cooks in the region are in this for the money, they could not care about the damage they cause as they try and fit into the market wherever they can to make their money.
According to the researchers, Ice in Africa is predominantly made from three ingredients namely iodine, pseudoephedrine and hypophosphorous acid. In addition to methamphetamine that is imported or made domestically, the problem for Africa law enforcement agencies is that the chemicals used to make those precursors are being imported with ease because they aren’t illegal with Asian criminals taking advantage. The researchers described crystal meth in their report as a “dangerous concern” likening it to the crack marijuana scourge in Jamaica or Cocaine in United States and Europe in the 1980s. Rates of use and detection are rising significantly.Crystal meth is just one of a number of amphetamine-type stimulants that are competing for market share against more traditional illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Their study also shows that the use of crystal meth in Africa has increased by 29% since 2013. And while the use of some other amphetamine-type stimulants has declined, the use of crystal meth remains at a high level and continues to increase.The report also provides sombre reading. In the year 2015, the number and weight of amphetamine-type stimulants including ecstasy detections at the African ports of entry increased and are the highest ever recorded with 2016 statistics expected to dwarf them.The researchers estimates that some 87% of amphetamine-type stimulants are manufactured in South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana. However, for crystal meth, the situation is different as a higher proportion is imported from China, Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia. Africa’s drug trafficking market is characterised by a high level of free enterprise and in some respects it does not suffer from the constraints of legitimate markets.To be successful in the drug business, mules focuses on elements such as access to working capital, availability of raw materials, manufacturing facilities, reliable shipping, wholesale distributors and a marketing arm and retail.
Recently, law enforcement efforts have moved from focusing on the ends that is, drug users to the means which are raw materials and manufacturing facilities. The efforts are aimed at undermining the business models of drug traffickers. Evidence of this can be seen in the number of detections of precursor chemicals at the African borders increasing by 36% in 2015.The number of clandestine labs detected in African countries over the last five years has doubled. In 2015, over 2,900 clandestine labs were discovered in Southern and Eastern Africa regions which accounted for 23% of the African total but apart from South Africa, no other country saw any drug dealers arraigned in court due to corruption with Kenya worst affected.The number of amphetamine-type stimulants arrests also continued to increase according to the report. 2015 was the highest on record and represents an increase of almost 42% from the previous year.The evidence in relation to the effect of heavy crystal meth use is cause for concern. Heavy use can lead to addictive behaviour, which includes tolerance, dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Short-term effects can include irritability, sleeplessness, increased heart rate, depression and a number of other impacts.Dependence on crystal meth can be both physiological and psychological. Long-term heavy use is linked to paranoia and psychosis. The anecdotal evidence is that use can lead to episodes of violence. South African Police Service has linked crystal meth use to several murders in past two years. At the same, researchers have warned that overdose deaths were increasing and second only to Nyaope.The risks of blood-borne diseases were also likely to increase.In my view, the solution to dealing with Africa’s ice problem will not be simple, nor short-term. It will need to be a sustained, long-term strategy, utilising education, harm-reduction strategies, healthcare responses and aggressive law enforcement strategies.