History of drug misuse in East Africa

Drug misuse has been a persistent problem in East Africa for several decades. The region has been a major transit point for illegal drugs, particularly heroin and cocaine, which are trafficked from Asia and South America to Europe and North America. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that around 80% of the heroin seized in Africa is destined for European markets, and a significant portion of this transits through East Africa.

In addition to the transnational trafficking of drugs, there has also been a significant problem with the domestic use and abuse of drugs in the region. According to a report by the East African Community (EAC), marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in East Africa, followed by khat and prescription drugs. The use of khat, a plant native to East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula that is chewed for its stimulant effects, is particularly prevalent in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.

The abuse of prescription drugs, particularly opioids, has also been on the rise in East Africa in recent years. This is partly due to the availability of these drugs in the region and the lack of effective regulations to control their distribution. A study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in 2020, reported that opioid abuse is becoming a significant public health concern in East Africa, with a growing number of people in the region becoming dependent on prescription opioids such as codeine and tramadol.

The East African Community (EAC) has been working to address the problem of drug misuse in the region. In 2010, the EAC adopted a regional strategy on drug control, which aims to strengthen regional cooperation on drug-related issues and to address the root causes of drug misuse. However, the implementation of this strategy has been hindered by a lack of resources and political will.

Overall, drug misuse in East Africa remains a significant problem, with the region facing a wide range of challenges related to drug trafficking, domestic drug abuse, and the lack of effective drug control policies.


  • UNODC (2020) World Drug Report 2020.
  • EAC (2019) East African Community Regional Strategy on Drug Control (2010-2020).
  • Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, (2020) Opioid Abuse in East Africa: A Growing Public Health Concern.

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