Cannabis tops the list of most commonly used illicit drugs in West Africa even as the burden of drug use disorders was highest among people aged 15 to 44 years and a significant proportion of people with drug use disorders in treatment are aged 10-14 years.
The West African Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (WENDU) Report (2014 – 2017) with focus on drug interdiction, substance use disorders and treatment presented stark realities of the vulnerability of West Africa and Mauritania to illicit drug use, production and trafficking, and its spillover effects regarded as an issue of great public health and safety concern as well as a threat to good governance, development, peace and security in the region and above.
WENDU Report provides information on the drug situation based on the latest data reported by ECOWAS Member States and Mauritania. The report aims at shaping evidence-based policy decisions and practice, addressing the social, health and economic consequences of substance use by identifying risk factors for drug use and targets for preventive healthcare in the West African region.
It also provides an overview of the quantities of drugs seized, the number of arrests for drug related offences, the extent of drug use reflecting the number of people in treatment, and drug-related policies available in West Africa constitute the body of this report.
According to the report, cannabis, cocaine, opioids and amphetamine-type substances (ATS) (mainly methamphetamine) were the main drugs seized in West Africa from 2014 through 2017. While Nigeria accounts for about 60 per cent of the population of region, the quantity of cannabis seized in the country represented more than four-fifths of the total amount of cannabis seizure reported in West Africa in 2015. The trends in cannabis seizure however decreased from 2015 to 2017 in West Africa. A total of about 0.4 tonne of heroin was seized in West Africa in the reporting period. The non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids including tramadol is an alarming phenomenon in West Africa. Increasing seizures of tramadol (especially higher-than-normal dosage tablets) in Member States indicate a rise in tramadol use in the region. Similarly, increasing seizures of cough mixtures containing codeine in some countries in West Africa indicate an uptick in the non-medical use of prescription opioids. Furthermore, it is important to note the ten-fold increase in tramadol seizure reported in the region from 17 tonnes in 2014 to 170 tonnes in 2017.
While there was a significant increase in quantity of controlled drugs seized in the reporting period, the number of arrests due to drug related offences increased marginally from 3.8 per 100,000 population (2014) to 4.3 per 100,000 population (2017).
Excluding alcohol, more than seven in 10 persons who accessed drug treatment services in West Africa indicated cannabis as the primary drug used. In 2014, 2,891 (one per 100,000 population) persons entered drug treatment in West Africa for cannabis use problem. The number of entrants into treatment on account of cannabis use remained fairly stable at an estimated rate of two per 100,000 population in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Overall, Senegal and Nigeria accounted for more than four-fifths of the number of cannabis users who entered treatment in the reporting period.
A significant increase in trend of cocaine problem use was observed from 2014 to 2017. Among people accessing treatment for drug use disorders in West Africa in 2016, a total of 762 (0.2 per 100,000) persons indicated cocaine as the primary drug used while 801(0.2 per 100,000) reported same in 2017. Cocaine/crack problem use was more prevalent in four countries.
Heroin was the most commonly used opioid amongst people who accessed drug treatment services. It is often smoked, snorted, or injected. Although use of heroin and other opioids including tramadol is relatively less common than the use of cannabis, they are most commonly associated with more harmful consequences of drug use. With data available in only Niger and Togo, 2.5 per 100,000 and 0.1 per 100,000 persons respectively, accessed treatment for tramadol use disorders in the region in 2016.
A major highlight of the report is that almost two in 10 (18.4 per cent) persons who accessed drug treatment and rehabilitation services in West Africa in the reporting period were aged 10-19 years. Furthermore, majority of people with drug use problems during the period were unemployed.
Drug supply suppression data indicate a growing threat in West Africa. While the number of arrests due to drug related offences in the region remained stable at about four per 100,000 population from 2014 to 2017, a gradual increase in the seizures of cannabis and heroin was observed in the same period. Furthermore, illicit trafficking of tramadol, an alarming phenomenon in West Africa, continues to grow. This calls for improved inter-agency collaboration and cooperation through coordinated investigations, interdiction, drug-crop substitution and eradication, strengthening of law enforcement institutions, and intelligence sharing amongst neighbouring countries.
The report shows that provision of effective drug treatment services for drug use disorders remains inadequate. While there seems to be some interventions in a few countries, the motivation to treat people in need of drug treatment services remains poor. Furthermore, diagnosis and treatment services for co-morbidities including HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis infections among people who use drugs are inadequate. Government and other stakeholders should include drug demand reduction as a major health priority in all ECOWAS Member States and Mauritania while strengthening the health systems for more effective and efficient delivery of health care services. Concerted efforts should be made by national governments in the region to prioritize drug demand reduction in keeping with the balanced approach highlighted in the recommendations of the United Nations (UNGASS, 2016).
The WENDU Report (2014-2017) was prepared through the collaborative efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) with the funding provided by the European Union.