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Drug abuse: support and don’t punish victims

by Byron Adonis Mutingwende

Amanda E.N Jojo

Social, mental, and economic pressures contribute to the avalanche of reasons why young people use drugs, poverty, and unemployment residing at the very top of the hierarchy. It is however evident that misuse and criminalization of drug users have got repercussions that at times go unnoticed.

In this regard, individuals and concurring groups observe the “Support don’t punish” initiative which is a global advocacy campaign to raise awareness of the harms caused by the criminalization of drug users. It was created in 2013 in acknowledgment of the need to change laws and policies that impede access to harm reduction and to promote respect for the human rights of people who use drugs.

“I have been relying on cannabis for years now and have been using ecstasy on some of our parties. Since the lockdown was imposed I have found it difficult to access some of these substances and have been suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

“I think we need this psychotherapy and psychological support,” expressed Ryan a college student who has been exposed to drugs.

In response to that, there has been a movement called Students For Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) which is an international grassroots network of students who are concerned about the impact of drug abuse in communities. While fighting back counterproductive drug war policies, SSDP seeks to mobilize and empower young people to participate in the political processes and push for sensible policies in order to achieve a safer and more just future.

“Here in Zimbabwe we have an affiliate chapter of the International Students For Sensible Drug Policy, our approach is the same, we advocate for drug policy reform and harm reduction for the youths and students who use and inject drugs,” said Monalisa Magoche Africa Committee Chairperson of Students For Sensible Drug Policy Zimbabwe (SSDP).

 “We will be working with other organizations that work closely on the issue of drugs in order to change the narrative,” affirmed Monalisa.

Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN) and SSDP Zimbabwe share a close-knit relationship because they are advocating for a similar cause.

“SSDP Zimbabwe is a baby of Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug network. It was born out of our organization and we linked it to other students from around the world so that as students they can discuss issues, topics, and debate world drug problems.

“We share the same thrash or pillars like harm reduction, drug policy reforms and prevention of drug use,” said Tinashe Chiweshe who is an administration officer with Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network.

Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN) also offer services to people who use drugs to prevent harms from substance use that include impaired driving, to increase understanding of the risks associated with driving under the influence of drugs.

The awareness programs include outreach and support group programs, information, and resource centres on safer ways to use drugs and substances, mental healing, and wellness support groups.

Colleges and high schools constitute a great chunk of drug abuse, the “Support Don’t Punish” initiative has been embraced as it will raise responsiveness amongst victims of drug abuse.

 “A lot of students are abusing drugs and most of them are punished through suspensions or being expelled.

“I have challenged the institution decisions by introducing the Mental health support group where we help students in situations like that through people who have been in the same predicament and those ready to raise responsiveness on drug abuse,” University of Zimbabwe Student Representative Committee President Abiona Mataranyika expressed her sentiments pertaining the initiative.

High school students are prone to drug exploitation due to reasons such as peer pressure and depression. As much as the government encourages students to abstain from drugs, there has been an outcry by some students to approve the “Support don’t punish” concept.

Students For Sensible Drug Policy advocates tackle the issue from a human rights and health-based perspective. It does not encourage the use and legalizing of drugs rather it finds alternative ways to criminalize. It is working in line with the Union Plan of Action 2019- 2023 and with researches conducted by world bodies such as the United Nations and European Union that shows criminalizing drug users has not reduced the number of people using drugs. This was the first year of SSDP Zimbabwe to commemorate the “Support Don’t Punish Day.”

“Apparently we are a newly established organization in Zimbabwe, so we do not have any identified beneficiary as of yet, but our main aim is to create a conducive environment for victims of drug abuse,” said Charity Dheka, Vice Chairperson for SSDP Zimbabwe.

In Zimbabwe, Students For Sensible Drug Policy has been registered at two university institutions that are the University of Zimbabwe and Great Zimbabwe University. It’s not yet high up although there are efforts to broaden the scale of the network so that it is able to have a bearing on many communities.

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