After a prison sentence for crimes he committed while stoned, Eric Ndem, a drug user in Cameroon’s economic capital Douala, said he wanted to end such a way of life.
Ndem, 38, a homeless person, is among many drug users in Douala, which is believed to be a center of illegal narcotics activities.
According to estimates by Cameroon’s national anti-drug committee (CNLD) in 2018, 21 percent of the country’s population have already tried hard drugs.
In many ways, the Cameroonian government is coming to Ndem’s rescue by putting in place various programs and structures to check the abuse of illicit drugs.
Owona Noah, an addictionologist and public health expert, works in a government-sponsored drug prevention center named “La vie” (meaning “life” in French) in the capital Yaounde.
His job is to change the behavior of drug addicts and help them reintegrate into the society as “responsible people.”
“We receive a patient who is suffering from a psychological or psychiatric problem (because of drug consumption)… But once the patient goes back to his community, home, or job side, he is likely to start facing the same stressful situations that caused the psychological trauma again,” Owona said.
“That’s where we intervene to facilitate the socio-professional integration of the patient so that he can participate again in the development of his community,” he added.
According to Cameroon’s Ministry of Public Health, such centers have been created in all the 10 regions of the country since 2015.
“In five or 10 years if things continue to evolve in the right way, we will have very few mental disorder patients caused by drugs in the community,” Owona said.
According to him, about 60 patients have visited his center in April and May, and “a good number” of drug addicts have already stopped abusing drugs after consultation.
As part of the measures to battle against drug abuse and trafficking, the Cameroonian government has also established a health care control brigade in the Ministry of Public Health.
“We conduct sensitization campaigns against drug abuse not only in colleges but also universities. We work in collaboration with forces of law and order,” said Joseph Ekoum, who heads the brigade in the Littoral region with Douala as its regional capital.
“We also act as what we called health police. This means that we have control posts at the various entries of the city frontiers. We have two control posts, at the airport and seaport. These are two places where the illicit products can easily enter,” he added.
Ekoum is proud that such tactics and collaboration with government forces has produced “outstanding” results.
From 2010 to 2014, this collaboration has led to the seizure of 320 kg of cocaine and 30 kg of heroine, according to figures from the Ministry of Public Health. Recent statistics are unavailable.
The local civil society is also working closely with the government to enhance anti-drug sensitization campaign among the youth, primary victim of narcotics, according to CNLD’s finding.
Dadjio Emilienne teaches philosophy in a high school in Yaounde. At the same time, she is a member of a local non-governmental organization (NGO) whose mission is to educate young Cameroonians about the harmful effects of drugs.
“As we now know that drug abuse is causing havoc in school milieu, we think it is important to meet young people and tell them about the consequences of consuming drugs,” Dadjio said.
During the field campaigns, Dadjio urged young people to never start the drug, “because it is a road of no return.”