The 26th Day of June each year has been observed as the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking for about 32 years now. This follows Resolution 42/112 of 7 December 1987 by the United Nations General Assembly.

Popularly called 26/6, the story about the day goes back in history to 183 years ago when Lin Zexu, the Chinese Head of State and Governor General took a stand against the opium trade in Humen Town in Guandong. That decision on the 25 of June 1839 marked the beginning of the first opium war. The second opium war between Great Britain and China ended in 1842. It was thereafter that the perfidy of illicit drugs was fully brought to the attention of the entire world.

The International Day Against Substance Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is therefore marked in commemoration of Lin Zexu’s bold action. The Day is meant to raise awareness on the growing problem of the abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances like cocaine, heroin, sedatives, opiates and cannabis. A rough estimate of over 200 million persons around the world abuse illicit drug which has a trafficking net worth of well over 322 billion USD.

Marked with a distinct theme year every in reflection of appropriate sociological realities, the theme for this year is BETTER KNOWLEDGE FOR BETTER CARE. Under normal circumstances, several indoor events like rallies (roadshows and walks) symposia, film shows, debates among other activities spearheaded by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime would be held all over the world. Preceded by a message from the United Nations Secretary General, activities marking the occasion are normally carried out by governments at various levels in conjunction with several non-profit bodies and other stakeholders.

Unfortunately, this year’s event will not be observed with all the attendant fanfare as it was done in previous years. This is obviously so because of the prevailing Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic which has necessitated shutdown, social distancing and other attendant safety regulations.

Nonetheless, the significance of the drug menace as reflected in this year’s theme is instructive. Knowledge remains a key element in protecting the people in our various communities against the continuous spread of this endemic scourge.

The sad reality is that the drug scourge has permeated almost every fabric of our various communities. Almost every day our young ones get initiated into the drug culture either through their peers, the environment, parental involvement and other biopsychosocial factors. Consequently, more and more young persons are experiencing mental health, biological and other severe social problems, which give vent to crime, violence and unsafe conducts.

On the other hand, the scourge is also impacting very negatively on our economic and social environment. The use of illicit drugs has extremely costly consequences as it corrodes societal values, reinforcing indiscipline, leading to accidents, terrorism, criminal damages and all manner of subversions. The huge profits that drug dealers generate from their nefarious trade is being used to undermine the very root of democracy and to corrupt the rule of law in several climes.

It is in the light of the above that knowledge is a key factor for fighting the illicit drug menace. The knowledge necessary to wage an effective drug war must therefore be all embracing; procedurally, contextually and declaratively. 

What is more, the better knowledge we have, the better we can take care of unfortunate members of our communities that have become victims of the scourge of drug addiction.Suffice it to note that knowledge bound up with appropriate information will help to create better drug preventive educative and awareness approaches. However, such knowledge must be made to permeate every strata of society in a bottoms-up approach from the grassroots; with the community as our universal theme for drug abuse prevention.

The need to focus on the community cannot be too accentuated. Community is the embodiment of humanity. Needless to say, humans are pretty much unique by nature with limitless possibilities under the right conditions. Value adding factors like education, peace, security, safety, economy, the dignity of labour, sound health, love and truth through knowledge is not sociologically exclusive to who we were originally.

Originally, we were our brother’s keepers; we understood ourselves, mutually coexisted and held up the flag of love and mutual respect for one another. We valued and held our cultural heritage in high esteem. Every child in our typical communities belonged to all parents within each community, hence every child was everybody’s child.

Originally community transcended the building blocks of institutions and infrastructure. Community transcended perfunctory interaction to communicate with ourselves to share information by physical, electronic and other means as we now do. Community means empathy, getting into the mind frame of the other person to know, feel and understand exactly what and how they feel. Hence community thrives on purity of purpose. 

Together, we can grow communally without discrimination, segregation, hate, revulsion, primordial religious sentiments or nepotism. Stereotype was alien in the original community. But the introduction of the menace of opium and other drugs overtime altered the serenity of our communal ambience. Illicit drugs brought in death, destruction, crime, the cults of secrecy and numerous other societal ills. It follows that the value of humans for fellow humans has been reduced and replaced by many unpleasant options. With illicit drugs also came banditry, rape, money laundering, gruesome murders, mindless kidnappings for ransom, piracy, terrorism, gun running’s and insurgencies.

Have these unpleasant options subtly watered down our identities? Surely they have skulked into our ideals. But we cannot continue like this. Borrowing from the slogan of the African Council on Narcotics (ACON), in truth No new hope will be added to the bud promise of our future if we allow this scourging slavery of drug abuse and illicit trafficking to continue the way it is going in our communities. The better we know this, the better we will care for one another; more so, the vulnerable ones among us. 

Rekpene Bassey

President, African Council on Narcotics (ACON)

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