Lusaka (Zambia), 8 November 2023 – Drug use is on the rise in the Africa region. According to UNODC’s World Drug Report 2023, Africa has seen an increase in the use of cocaine and heroin over the past few years, and is no longer a region of destination for illicit substances produced in other regions, but increasingly a region of drug production, especially in relation to methamphetamines in East and Southern Africa, with repercussions on crimes that affect the environment.
Past reports also indicate that the Africa region is due to see an increase of 40% in drug consumption by 2030, in line with anticipated population growth.
Women make up one third of drug users globally and account for one fifth of the global estimated number of PWID. Women have a greater vulnerability than men to HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne infections. Many studies have reported female gender as an independent predictor of HIV and/or hepatitis C among PWID, particularly among young women and those who have recently initiated drug injection.
According to the African Union’s Pan-African Epidemiology Network on Drug Use Report (PAENDU), almost 70% of people who sought treatment for drug use disorders on the continent from 2016 to 2021 were aged 15 to 34 years and about 1 in 20 individuals treated for SUDs in the same period were aged 10 to 14 years, implying early initiation of substance use in some settings. While women are particularly likely to experience stigma and experience social and economic disadvantages on account of drug use, the PAENDU also showed that women make up approximately 7% of all entrants to drug treatment (2016-2021) in Africa.
In light of these developments, the African Union convened a regional High-Level Session to address substance use and related mental health disorders in the region in order to secure a better future for Africa youth women and children.
In her opening remarks, the Vice President of Zambia, H.E Mutale W K Nalumango called for a whole-of-society approach to addressing the world drug problem, starting with, and expanding from the nucleus of family:
"Addressing substance use means involving families, communities, institutions, countries and the international community."
The High-Level Session was the opportunity for calls to compassionate action towards people who use drugs, favoring a health focused approach that puts people first and addresses stigma and discrimination against People who use Drugs.
Of note were calls made by African ministries for:
Jane Marie Ongolo, UNODC ROSAF made a clear call for involving youth and women more prominently in decision making and the implementation of policies aimed at addressing substance use:
“In the Strategic Vision for Africa, there is a group of stakeholders called change enablers. These change enablers are the youth and the women.”
Reflecting the call by the Zambian Vice President, the High-Level Session included representatives from Civil Society, traditional leaders, religious Leaders, arts and culture influencers, and testimonies from people having lived through substance abuse and risen back to help others.
Rev. Dr. Jacobus Nomdoe, Pastor of Enon Tabernacle Western Cape and Regional Director for Global Teen Challenge – Africa made the following statement calling for immediate involvement and action:
“If addiction were a country, it would be the fourth largest country in the world. The church cannot but have a response.”
AU and UNODC organized the High-Level Session jointly, UNODC ROSAF playing a key role in providing technical support. The Summit agreed on a roadmap for strategic interventions including development of an African model drug law, prevention curriculum for schools, youth and gender specialized treatment facilities as well as the scaling up of harm reduction programs among others. The Lusaka Statement is envisaged to accelerate multi-faceted interventions for drug use in Africa and a stride forward after the Cairo Declaration of 2022.
 People Who Inject Drugs