Digested week

Collateral victims of drug abuse and trafficking

1 juillet 2024, 21:00


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Collateral victims of drug abuse and trafficking

The low price and availability of the ingredients of synthetic drugs coupled with greater reach to buyers enable traffickers to remain a step ahead of law enforcement.

The international day against drug abuse and trafficking, celebrated last Wednesday, aims to strengthen action and cooperation at national, regional, and international levels to achieve a society free from drug abuse. For individuals struggling with substance abuse disorders or communities dealing with the aftermath, the impact is wide-ranging. Despite various strategies in place in our country, drugs continue to be widely peddled and used by both the youth and adults, while putting their families through hell.

During the national celebration of the international day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking at the Côte-d’Or complex on Wednesday, the Prime minister, Pravind Jugnauth, addressing an audience of students, emphasized once again his government’s unrelenting commitment to fighting the drug mafia. He highlighted the devastation caused by synthetic drugs in Mauritius, acknowledging their devastating impact on both young and old. Furthermore, the police incinerated on Monday 19,175 cannabis plants, 121.88g of cannabis leaves, 2.35kg of heroin, 2.19kg of synthetic drugs, 449,000 cannabis seeds and 600 psychotropic tablets, worth a total of Rs 167 million and seized over the past two years. Last year, the drugs incinerated were estimated at Rs 508 million.

However, these figures seem insignificant when considering the quantities of drugs that keep entering the country by sea and air. It is no secret that drug trafficking is rampant in almost every corner of the country, and trafficker networks seem well-protected. For every arrest or seizure, one wonders how many slip through the net… Moreover, the scourge of synthetic drugs that plagues our society was confirmed by social worker José Ah-Choon in a talk show this week. He declared that “more than 60,000 young people are synthetic drug users in the country. The authorities are powerless in this situation. No one is spared, even the children of VVIPs are addicted to synthetic drugs”. In the same vein, Dr Luxmi Tauckoor, an addictologist from the Harm Reduction Unit (HRU) of the Ministry of Health, mentioned the issue of trained staff in this field. “Detoxification and rehabilitation centres are needed to treat patients with synthetic drug dependence. The department is currently recruiting physicians to that effect and giving them specific training.”

Stigma by association

Another talk show and a gathering involving NGOs and parents highlighted the ordeal of families affected by drug addiction and the lack of compassion of society towards them. “No social background, no level of education, no profession, no age, no family is immune to the scourge of drugs. When a parent, spouse, child, brother, or sister falls into addiction, the family is plunged into an inferno involving treatment, HIV, legal troubles, prison, and sometimes death... But the worst part is the stigma by association,” says Ragini Rungen, coordinator of the NGO Groupe A de Cassis – Lacaz A, who has been fighting against drug addiction for 40 years. Their centre in Port-Louis has created a support cell consisting mainly of women, the first affected by loved ones on drugs, and volunteers who support those in treatment, remission, or prison daily. Last Sunday, the NGO gathered parents and volunteers to speak out and break the silence. “There are no statistics on the number of families broken by drugs. They are reluctant to talk about their problems because it is a taboo subject, and they often feel rejected even by their close relatives. But no parent prompts their child to go and take drugs. We also see in the media how many parents and grandparents are increasingly becoming victims of violence related to drug abuse of someone close to them...”

Furthermore, families feel abandoned by the system while their lives are severely impacted. They go through a daily ordeal and face many difficulties – financial, legal, social – without getting the necessary compassion and support. They are often silent victims, misunderstood and stigmatized despite themselves. They insist that their drug-addicted children should be treated as patients. They request that the methadone treatment for opioids be reorganized with a proper framework that offers continuous support to people coming out of detox programs to help them reintegrate daily life while minimizing the risk of relapse. They also call for more prevention and ongoing awareness in schools and society in general.

A few stats for 2022

Health-related issues

In 2022, admissions in public health institutions following drug-use complications were 1,008 (903 males and 105 females). Some 59.8% admissions in public hospitals were in the 20-34 age group and 6% in the 15-19 age group. The urban region represented 50.5% of drug-related admissions against 49.5% for the rural region. 80.8% of drug-use-related admissions were reported due to presumable use of new psychoactive substances and/or heroin. Some 789,167 needles and 766,394 syringes were distributed to people who inject drugs – 53.1% by NGOs against 46.9% for the Ministry of Health (MOH). There were 88.1% male and 11.9% female clients accessing the Needle Exchange Programme.

The five Addiction Units under the MOH registered 1,030 new cases seeking rehabilitative treatment due to drug use. Follow-up cases at these units amounted to 4,663 with an average monthly number of 389. Among the new cases, the majority (83.1%) were between 18 and 39 years and 13.4% aged 40 years and above. Some 82.6% of all new patients seeking treatment were primarily heroin users compared to 72.4% in 2021.

The majority (78.7%) of new cases seeking rehabilitative treatment at NGOs were aged 18- 39 while those aged 40 years and above stood at 19.1%. At NGO rehabilitative centres, women represented 22.0% among new psycho-active substance-use patients and 33.6% among polydrug use patients, as compared to new heroinuse patients among whom women represented only 18.3%, whereby among cannabis use patients it represented 13.3%. The distribution of primary substance of use among the total of 1,862 new patients attending NGO centres was as follows: heroin (75.1%), new psychoactive substances (4.9%), cannabis (5.6%), polydrug use (6.1%) and unspecified substances (5.3%).

Drug-related offences

In 2022, with 4,502 reported drug offences, the drug offence rate stood at 3.6 per 1,000 population. Out of the 4,502 drug offences reported, 43.0% were cannabis related offences, followed by 30.0% for heroin-related offences, while 17.8% of drug offences were attributed to synthetic cannabinoids. 86.5% of convicted drug offences were sentenced with fines, against 12.9% imprisonment. Some 0.6% was sentenced to conditional and absolute discharges. The Forensic Science Laboratory reported 4,149 confirmed cases of illicit substances, an average of about 1,000 cases every 3 months.

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(Mothers registering for the parents’ meeting organised by Groupe A de Cassis – Lacaz A on Sunday June 23.)

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(The caption in Mauritian creole says: «When a mountain is on fire, everyone sees it; when a mother’s heart is on fire, everyone should see it.»)

Source: National Drug Secretariat November 2023