Crystal meth use rising in Africa
The 2015 African Illicit drug data report is out and undoubtedly provides mounting evidence that crystal meth is becoming a large scale problem for law enforcement and health authorities in Africa with South Africa being the most affected.Methamphetamine hydrochloride, better known as crystal meth or ice, first became a factor in Africa’s illicit drug scene in 2010 during the run up to the FIFA World Cup held in South Africa.Africa health experts currently classes crystal meth as an imminent threat due to increased seizures in the continent, particularly in East and Southern Africa.On releasing the report, an acting anti narcotic agent described crystal meth as a Africa concern, likening it to the crack cocaine scourge in Western Europe in the 1970s. 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. At least one study has shown that the use of crystal meth in Africa has increased by 18% since 2010. 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 which I have a copy provides sombre reading. In the year 2014 -15, the number and weight of amphetamine-type stimulants excluding MDMA and ecstasy, detections at the African ports and airports increased and are the highest on record.The study estimates that some 95% of amphetamine-type stimulants are manufactured in Asia and South Africa. However, for crystal meth, the situation is different as a higher proportion is imported from Europe and Latin America.Significant border detections of crystal meth in 2014 -15 included 197 kilograms of crystal meth in February 2015, declared as metabisulphite, via sea cargo from India to Durban and 905 kilograms of crystal meth in July 2014, concealed in 3200 terracotta pots, via sea cargo from Malaysia to Mombasa. This trend matches the previous year, when crystal meth accounted for some of the biggest seizures at the African borders.Drug trafficking is characterised by a high level of free enterprise and in some respects it does not suffer from the constraints of legitimate markets.
Success in the drug business 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 the 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 8% in 2014 -15.The number of clandestine labs detected in Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt and Angola over the last five years has doubled. In 2010 -11, 28 clandestine labs were discovered in West Africa, 44% of the African total.The number of national amphetamine-type stimulants arrests also continued to increase to 19,805 in 2014 -15, according to the report. This was the highest on record and represents an increase of almost 39% 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. African countries police have linked crystal meth use to a number of murders in last few years.Health services in South Africa have warned that overdose deaths were increasing. The risks of blood-borne diseases were also likely to increase.The responses of South African governments have been many and varied.Many African countries have introduced legislative amendments. For example, Kenya has amended its drugs act and created a new offence for trafficking in precursor chemicals used in the production of dangerous drugs.The solution to dealing with the ice problem in African countries 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 and cooperation among the security agencies from different African countries.