The Director of Butabika National Referral Referral Hospital, Dr. Juliet Nakku has implored Members of Parliament to ignore the economic pressures, and ban the production and sale of cannabis and khat.
Nakku said that their consumption contributes greatly to mental health cases and poses social and economic pressures to government and families.
“Data from Butabika Hospital in 2022 showed that for the Financial Year 2021/2021, 25 per cent of young adults were admitted for alcohol and substance use problems. Of these 44.7 per cent had alcohol use problems, one third had cannabis use problems and 2.1 per cent were using stimulus including Khat,” said Nakku.
She argued that cannabis use ranks second to alcohol use among patients receiving rehabilitation at Butabika Hospital and it is associated with slow improvement and relapses.
Nakku made this appeal on Wednesday, 09 August 2023 while appearing before the Committee on Health with the Minister for Health, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng. Officials from the National Drugs Authority (NDA) were also in attendance.
The Committee on Health is receiving from stakeholders on the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Bill, 2023.
Nakku said that people using the two drugs suffer severe mental illness such as depression, psychosis and often end up committing suicide. Minister Aceng re-echoed Nakku’s call saying countries that have legalized the two drugs for medical use have reaped undesirable consequences.
“In Thailand, cannabis was legalized in 2022; within seven months of legalization for medical purposes, there was a significant increase in non-medicinal use from 4.3 per cent to 25 per cent,” Aceng said adding that, ’there was an insignificant increase of one per cent for medical use amidst an increase in cannabis associated disorders and suicide’.
She rejected the argument by khat and cannabis growers in Uganda, who claim that the production and sale of the drugs have a significant economic impact, and asked MPs to study the economies of African countries where such drugs are legalized.
“Look at their economies and see whether they are growing; we had better protect our people before we go into something we do not know” said Aceng.
Aceng added that the new law clarifies on the ownership of rehabilitation centres for people with drug use problems, saying the earlier proposal to have the centres under the Ministry of Internal Affairs disregards that the centres offer both medical and psychosocial support which is mandate of the Health Ministry.
The Committee Chairperson, Dr. Charles Ayume said there is need to agree on the roles of rehabilitation centers and issues around their establishment.
“The Mental Health Act talks about them and we are also discussing them. There are questions on who should take the lead. Are they going to be stand-alone facilities or do we want them in the vicinity of the already stablished health facilities?” asked Ayume.
Obongi County MP, Hon. George Bhoka Didi said the new law should crack down the mushrooming rehabilitation centres operating illegally and charging exorbitant fees.
“A lot of rehabilitation centres are mushrooming around Kampala; to date most of them are not licensed. Many are providing services by care givers whose qualifications and operating licenses are not known,” said Bhoka.