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Health News of Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Source: Sally James

The shocking rise of Methamphetamine in West Africa

Methamphetamine is cheap, it’s easy to make, and once you’re hooked, you’re often hooked for life. We speak, of course, of methamphetamine. In its ‘crystal’ form, it can be ‘cooked’ up by pretty much anyone, from ingredients which are reasonably easy to obtain.

While climate and growing conditions tend to dictate where narcotics like heroin and cocaine can be produced, there are no such constraints upon meth. Which gives enterprising drug-pushers from areas in which opium, coca, and so forth do not grow a golden opportunity to grab a slice of the global drugs trade for themselves. Reports indicate that some West Africans are increasingly taking up this opportunity, turning drug barons as they produce meth for smuggling abroad (mostly to Asia).

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is a pretty powerful drug, which induces extreme ‘highs’ and euphoric states in users. It’s easy to synthesize - although deaths from meth-lab accidents are not uncommon - and is powerfully addictive.

Methamphetamine causes the brain to release huge amounts of ‘pleasure chemical’ dopamine, and then prevents the brain from re-absorbing it for many hours. This gives a lasting and euphoric ‘high’.

However, it also starts to damage the brain (while simultaneously causing pretty awful effects throughout the rest of the body), and can reportedly cause almost instant addiction. This latter fact makes it tremendously easy to create a ‘captive’ market for methamphetamine, and makes it potentially a very profitable substance. Methamphetamine can very swiftly devastate entire communities, making it a very dangerous drug indeed.

While some people have - with a lot of effort - managed to get clean from methamphetamine, it’s by no means common to do so. When your nation has a methamphetamine problem, it spells a lot of trouble. And West African nations are, sadly, fast developing into something of a methamphetamine phenomenon.

Global Transit Route

West Africa, including Ghana, has long had a part to play in the global drugs trade by being part of a transit route which sees drugs crossing continents. Loose border controls and a lack of emphasis upon drugs-based policing has given traffickers ample opportunities to use West Africa as a convenient transit point. However, West Africans have tended to have little to do with the drugs trade, and internal drugs problems have been low. Until recently.

Meth Production

As the global value of methamphetamine has skyrocketed, West African criminals have been quick to take advantage. Using established drugs routes to traffick their product, more and more West Africans are taking to meth labs in order to make their fortunes.

The market for West African methamphetamine tends to be Asia, Japan in particular, and the profit margins are vast. A kilo of meth can cost a West African producer $1,500 to make, but will sell for $150,000 in Tokyo.

That’s enough money to tempt anyone, especially when one considers that producing meth does not take a lot of time or effort. Currently the main markets for West African meth appear to be abroad, but the potential for an internal market to develop out of control (destroying many of West Africa’s most vulnerable communities) is huge.

Why West Africa?

West Africa is a tempting prospect for many meth producers due to a number of factors.

Firstly, the aforementioned presence of established drugs routes makes the stuff relatively easy to traffick.

Secondly, many West African nations are rich in isolated, unpatrolled areas in which crystal meth can be ‘cooked’ without interruption from the authorities.

Thirdly, the past lack of major drugs issues in West Africa has resulted in police forces which are unused and ill-equipped to dealing with drugs issues. In this latter aspect, at least, Ghana is trying to take control.

Though it’s a very difficult thing to do, Ghanaian authorities have spoken of making a concerted effort to improve the way in which the nation deals with drugs and drugs-related crime.

This acknowledgement that there is a very serious problem is a great step forward, which will hopefully lead to positive action and change in the future.

In the meantime, however, the West African methamphetamine trade goes from strength to strength, causing great trauma and heartache for the thousands of unfortunate individuals who come into contact with it.