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Psychedelics and Prescription Drugs on The Rise

By Abigael Wanjiku

As society evolves, so do our interactions with drugs and other substances. Like many countries worldwide, Kenya has been grappling with an economic crisis that has impacted the lives of its citizens in various ways. The people have subsequently turned to substance use in order for them to cope.

Although alcohol remains among the most widely abused substance in Kenya, the rising cost of living is forcing people to seek stronger, easily accessible, and cheaper drugs to numb the pains of these problems. Due to this, we can say that the revival of interest in psychedelics is not confined to Western societies alone. Kenya is rapidly becoming a prominent player in this global phenomenon.

Challenges like rising inflation and soaring unemployment rates have severely impacted the financial stability and livelihoods of individuals and families, leading to increased stress and anxiety levels. In such circumstances, individuals are shown to most likely turn to prescription drugs to cope with their hardships.

The 2022 National Survey on The Status of Drugs and Substance Use in Kenya (released May 2023) reveals an intriguing aspect, there is a steady increase in the non-medical use of prescription drugs in Kenya. People have begun experimenting with pharmaceuticals, seeking euphoria or relief from stress. The report indicates a 35% rise in prescription drug misuse, painting a concerning picture for healthcare professionals and policymakers. The three most often misused drugs are- opioids given for pain killing, CNS depressants like barbiturates and benzodiazepines used for anxiety or sleep issues (also known as sedatives or tranquilizers and stimulants, drugs prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, or obesity. Psychedelics, once associated with counterculture movements, are experiencing a remarkable resurgence.

According to UNODC 2023, Kenya has seen a significant increase in the use of psychedelics, such as LSD, magic mushrooms, and DMT, with a staggering 45% rise in the past three years. Mixing psychedelics with prescription medications can lead to unforeseen consequences, ranging from severe health issues to psychiatric disturbances. As these two worlds collide, the dangers of polydrug use become increasingly evident. The blurred lines between recreational and therapeutic use demand greater vigilance from medical practitioners and addiction counselors.

As the rise of psychedelics and prescription drug misuse garners attention, the Kenyan government faces the challenge of striking a balance between preserving individual freedom and safeguarding public health. The UNODC World Drug Report 2023 underscores the importance of comprehensive drug policies that address supply and demand reduction and prevention, treatment, and harm reduction strategies.

Looking ahead, the integration of evidence-based research, community engagement, and regulatory frameworks will play a pivotal role in shaping the future trajectory of these substances in Kenya. Collaborative efforts between government agencies, healthcare professionals, and civil society organizations are essential to harness the potential benefits of psychedelics while mitigating the risks associated with their misuse.