The shock of one million youth in severe drug addiction

At least one million youths aged between 25 and 35 years in Kenya are struggling with a severe form of addiction to either alcohol, tobacco, khat, or cannabis.

A survey by NACADA shows the highest severe substance use disorder was registered on alcohol where one in every 14 or 596,336 youths aged between 25 and 35 are under the vice-like grip of alcohol addiction.

A further 247,137 youths or one in every 33 young people in the age bracket under focus struggling with a severe addiction to tobacco.

The survey shows Khat—that plant (miraa or muguka) containing the alkaloid cathinone, a stimulant, which is said to cause excitement but leads to loss of appetite—ranks third among reported severe substance use disorders with one in every 71 youths or roughly 112,724 people hooked to the drug.

Ranking fourth with just over 100,000 youths with severe substance use disorder is cannabis. Currently, Kenya’s capital city, home to about 4.5 million people, had the highest prevalence of cannabis use at 6.3 percent nationally followed by Nyanza at 2.4 percent and Coast at 1.9 percent.

You might have come across the job title ‘peddi’ or ‘plugs’ which translates to peddler. These are the people risking it all to push cannabis use across the city’s neighbourhoods.

“The prevalence of cannabis use almost doubled over the last five years. The growing demand for cannabis especially among the youth could be attributed to the low perception of harm due to myths, misinformation, and misconceptions,” Nacada explained.

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The worrying statistics paint a gloomy picture of the country’s most productive age group given that severe drug addiction poses numerous detrimental health effects, impacting both physical and mental well-being.

Overall, and contrary to current perception that Mount Kenya leads in alcohol use, Nacada survey shows the Western region has the highest prevalence in the use of alcohol at 23.8 percent followed by Coast (13.9 percent) and Central (12.8 percent).

Alcohol abuse increases the risk of cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, weakened heart muscles, and an increased likelihood of heart attacks or strokes.

According to Nacada, about four out of every 10 Kenyans had the perception that the production of illicit brews was widespread in their community with Western region posting the highest perception level at 68.2 percent followed by Nyanza at 53.2 percent and Rift Valley at 41.5 percent.

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At the moment, the Western region also has the highest prevalence of use of chang’aa at 11.4 percent as well as traditional liquor at 12.9 percent.  Across the country, Central region had the highest prevalence of use of potable spirits at 4.1 percent followed by the Coast at 3.2 percent and Rift Valley at 3.1 percent.

Further, 53.7 percent of Kenyans had the perception that the consumption of illicit brews was widespread in their community with the Western region recording the highest perception level 85.8 percent followed by Nyanza 81.9 percent, and Rift Valley 55.6 percent.

Nacada’s Status of Drugs and Substance Use in Kenya, 2022, is a five-year survey conducted to assess the trends of Drugs and Substance Use indicators. Previously, the survey was done in 2007, 2012, and 2017.

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