About 60 percent of students in primary and secondary schools drink alcohol and more than a third have consumed marijuana, cocaine, and other prohibited drugs and substances, a new report by Makerere University School of Psychology has revealed.
Marijuana, cocaine, shisha, heroin, khat (mairungi), cigarettes, and alcohol are among the most abused drugs and substances by school-going children, according to the research report.
While presenting the report at the university yesterday, Dr Leon Matagi, the lead researcher of the study, said 2,392 pupils and 2,765 students participated in the survey as respondents across the country between January and February 2020 before closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said up to three in every five children and one in every three who were interviewed reported that they had ever taken local alcoholic drinks or bottled alcohol respectively.
“Those who ever used or tried marijuana/weed/njaga (nine percent), shisha (seven percent), cocaine (eight percent), heroin (six percent), inhalants such as petrol and jet fuel (11 percent), khat/mairungi (eight percent) and cigarettes (12 percent),” Dr Matagi said.
The report states that drug and substance use was high among both female and male children, contrary to the assumption that drug and substance use among girls is low.
“10.6 per cent of males and eight per cent of females had ever tried using marijuana. 13.4 percent of males and 11.5 percent of females had used cigarettes,” the report reads in part.
Dr Florence Nansubuga, a psychologist at Makerere University, said drug and substance use among children is sometimes caused by influence of the adolescent development stage which is characterised by an urge to explore.
Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, the Vice-Chancellor of the university, said: “Drug abuse is a big problem in Makerere University and we are fighting it.”
“29.9 percent of secondary school students and 26.4 percent of primary school pupils had ever taken alcohol. 9.5 percent of secondary students and 9.2 percent of primary pupils had ever tried marijuana,” the report states.
However, the use of cigarettes was higher among primary school pupils than in secondary schools.
Dr Matagi said drug and substance use start at primary level of education and children carry these habits as they progress to higher levels.
He said peer pressure, family and religious backgrounds, and strict rules in schools and homes were the key factors influencing drug use among children.
Private versus government schools
The research found that abuse of drugs and substances was also higher in government schools than in private schools.
Dr Matagi explained that this could be because private schools are stricter on pupils and students which limits the chance of smuggling or using these harmful drugs and substances into the schools.
Drug use was also found to be higher in rural schools than urban ones. This, according to Dr Matagi, could be because majority of government schools are in rural areas.
In the report, the level of drug and substance use was highest in northern region followed by western region, South-western and central regions.
Eastern region reported the least abuse of harmful drugs and substances.
Dr Simon Nantamu, a member of the research team, suggested the low rate of drug abuse in eastern region could be because of the high poverty levels that children cannot afford the prices.
“In order for pupils and students to always receive guidance and counselling, government should create an established position of a school counsellor for continued guidance and counselling of school-going children,” the report reads.
Dr Matagi said parents and teachers should emphasise to children that any drug is a poison and has many negative side effects.