Editorial comment – Fighting the world’s drug problem

On this day in 2020, we discussed the issue of drugs. We touched on drug addicts and the interlinked issues. We discussed the frightening reality that we lacked knowledge about dealing with such people.

We learnt that our doctors lacked this knowledge at the time.

The revelation by the officer-in-charge at the time at the Police Criminal Investigations Department’s (CID) Drug Unit, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Anare Masitabua was like a shot to the stomach.

It was like taking a low blow and that was a major concern at the time!

We learnt that we had no proper drug rehabilitation centres in the country.

It wasn’t something that Fijians would have been thinking of anyway. We were too far removed from the dangers of the drug world, or the underworld!

At least that’s what we felt at the time.

We assumed only developed countries, and those in far off places like South America had this problem to deal with.

We did not know the harsh reality of what was happening on our streets, sometimes, right under our noses. We had alcohol, cigarettes and there was marijuana. There were weekend parties, and there were brawls.

Mr Masitabua had spoken about how addicts were taken and left at the St Giles Hospital. Methamphetamine was one of the most dangerous drugs we had in Fiji, he revealed at the time.

Since methamphetamine withdrawal was extremely painful and difficult, most abusers got back into the habit.

Thus, 93 per cent of those in traditional treatment, he revealed, returned to abusing methamphetamine. The problem with withdrawal was that it would go on for 30 to 90 days. The best deterrent for methamphetamine then was to have a drug-free focus and plan.

Minister for Health and Medical Services Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete said at the time, the management of people who had ingested drugs was complex.

A lot of investigative work was needed to come up with the diagnosis for a person who was a drug addict.

We live in a nation that appears to be finding itself gripped by this scourge that has destroyed thousands of lives around the world. In the fight against drugs, awareness is a critical element.

So is a rehab centre where addicts can get appropriate treatment and be allowed to kick the habit. On Sunday, the world acknowledged International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

In his message for the day, the United Nations general secretary Antonio Guterres said the special day placed the spotlight on the impact of drug challenges in health and humanitarian crises.

Conflicts, climate disasters, forced displacement and grinding poverty, he said, create fertile ground for drug abuse — with COVID-19 making a bad situation even worse.

Meanwhile, criminals, he said, were profiting from people’s misery, with cocaine production at record highs, a five-fold increase in seizures of methamphetamines and a near-quadrupling of amphetamine seizures over the last decade. He called for a renewal of commitment to end the scourge and support those who fall victim to it.

This, he said, should include non-discriminatory policy solutions centred on people, health and human rights, underpinned by strengthened international cooperation to curb the illicit drug trade and hold accountable those who profit from human misery.

He called for the strengthening of science-based treatment and support services for drug users.

The world’s drug problem, he said, should not be allowed to shadow the lives of tens of millions of people living through humanitarian crises.

He called for commitment to lift this shadow once and for all, giving the issue the attention and action it deserved. In our context, we have said this before, the fight against
drugs needs the support of every Fijian! We are reminded!

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