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Why global drug challenge calls for a united response

Opinion piece by Mr Neil Walsh, UNODC Regional Representative, Eastern Africa

First published in The Standard, Kenya, 6 November 2022

Next week Kenya hosts the 13th meeting of Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies in Africa (HONLEA Africa) 2022 in Nairobi.

Topics include drug trafficking trends, new concealment methods and how to detect them, alternatives to conviction and punishment, improving regional cooperation to address the negative consequences of drug trafficking and problematic use.

HONLEA Africa is a subsidiary body of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, established by the United Nations to foster cooperation in drug law enforcement at the regional level. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has organised this meeting together with Kenya’s National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) which will bring together African countries, international organisations, regional law enforcement bodies, UN agencies as well as other partners to interrogate Africa’s drug problem.

Kenya has demonstrated leadership on the continent by embracing international drug control conventions to implement balanced responses, with a focus on the health and welfare of humankind, while maintaining a strong and bold stance on countering illicit cultivation, production, manufacturing and trafficking.

Since 2014, UNODC with financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been working with Kenya’s Ministry of Health and Civil Society to provide Medically Assisted Therapy (MAT) services for people with opioid use disorder.

To date, over 8,000 Kenyans have benefitted from the programme and received other lifesaving healthcare services including prevention and treatment of HIV&AIDS, screening and treatment of viral hepatitis and tuberculosis.

Not only does drug abuse pose immediate threats to society and the health and well-being of individuals, it also exposes victims, especially women and children who may be vulnerable to sexual exploitation and human trafficking syndicates.

Transnational organised crime weakens the rule of law and state structures and bolsters the nexus between corruption and insecurity.

Effective, multistakeholder and coordinated responses to transnational organised crime, money laundering, and illicit drug trafficking at the legal, technical and policy level are necessary to disrupt criminal network activities.

UNODC continues to strengthen coast guards in the region to enhance maritime law enforcement and offers technical and material support in disrupting illegal trafficking through sea, air, and land.

The 2022 World Drug Report registered new record highs for cocaine manufacture, as well as seizures of opiates and amphetamine-type stimulants. Illicit drug markets are expanding into new and vulnerable regions. African countries must act now to safeguard their youthful populations.