Marijuana is the most commonly consumed drug in Sub Saharan Africa because of its affordability and availability. When you think about substance use and teens in western world, drugs like Ecstasy might come to mind.However, African youngsters are catching up and recreational prescription drug use is now a significant problem. It is well known that more than 30% of high school students have used prescription drugs without a prescription in their school lifetime in Africa and studies shows that more than 10% of them have done so at least six times. The most common prescription drugs adolescents misuse are narcotics like marijuana, vicodin and stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall with South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya the most affected.Prescription drug misuse has been shown to increase the risk for further drug abuse, addiction and death by overdose. In 2016,20 million young people initiated non medical use of pain relievers, which was second only to marijuana. Also, between 2010 and 2015, the number of people, both adolescents and adults, dependent on pain relievers rose from 9 to 11.6 million according to estimates for Sub Saharan Africa. To the put that in perspective, in South Africa, overdoses outnumber age related deaths. A recent research has found that previous use of other illegal substances can be a risk factor because it could be related to a desire to experiment or the perception that drug use in general is not a big issue. Young Africans who do not think that using prescription drugs is harmful are more likely to use them for non-medical reasons than those who view them as harmful. Many young Nigerians are said to believe that prescription drugs are safer than other drugs because they are legal and prescribed by a doctor.Greater access to prescription drugs also increases the chances of use as has been the case in South Africa thanks to doctors who are prescribing an increasing number of prescription drugs in the country. Over the past four years, there has been a six-fold increase in opioid prescriptions and a major increase in stimulant prescriptions given out by pharmacies in South Africa. This means teens are more likely to know someone with a prescription for these drugs, or are more likely to have them in their home.
Overall, the high school students in South Africa who report recreational prescription drug use tend to have worse grades and are more likely to drop out of school than their non-using peers. This is also the case for university and college students.Taking these drugs without a prescription or medical need may be due, in part, to students wanting to perform better in a competitive academic environment.Unfortunately, African countries aren’t making strides in reducing substance misuse, especially among teenagers. Over the last three years, there has been an increase in alcohol, cigarette and illicit drug use among high school students, and the misuse of prescription drugs was up too.Because many different factors can influence whether adolescents misuse prescription drugs, prevention and intervention programs need to address this problem from various angles. Reducing access to prescription drugs among adolescents and working with parents, paediatricians, teachers and coaches are good places to start. African countries should also encourage parents to discuss the harms of recreational drug use with their kids to help change adolescents’ social norms and perceptions that prescription drugs are safer than other illegal drugs.Clearly, those who play an important role in young people’s lives can be influential when it comes to substance use. Having friends who use substances or approve of substance use can increase the chances that adolescents will misuse prescription drugs. In fact, this is one of strongest and most consistent risk factors for prescription drug misuse.Various studies have found a number of factors that seems to protect teens from prescription drug misuse. Parents who disapprove of substance use and play an active role in their children’s lives can reduce the risk of their children using prescription drugs and other substances recreationally. Many colleges and high schools in Africa have very sensible education programs encouraging young people to take care of their health and plenty of people cling to the view that as drugs are illegal, everything should be fixed by the police arresting all users. But the corrupt police officers who are the majority in Africa, are fully aware that this approach has failed for many years. In Africa, as in other parts of the world, prisoners still use drugs. Drugs are fundamentally a health issue, akin to alcohol addiction. In my view, African drug users need help, and treatment is available if accessed before the brain becomes seriously damaged. Both police and the community must play a part.