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2015 International Day Against Drug Abuse & Illicit Trafficking   
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The United Nations, together with its member states and affiliate bodies have set 26th of June every year as the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

The theme for this year’s celebration is: Lets develop our lives, our communities, our identities without drugs. The emphasis this year is on the devastating effects drugs of abuse has on the individual user, the family and society at large.

According to the world drug report, there was an estimated death of 183,000 drug-related deaths in 2012 which corresponds to a mortality rate of 40.0 deaths/million among 15 – 65 year olds.

In statement released to commemorate the day, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Mr. Yury Fedotov, called for the education of children and young people about the dangers of illicit substance use. This call for education is grounded in the educational model of addiction which posits that, the lack of accurate information about the dangers of addictive substances and activities brings about addiction.

Human Growth

Human development could be divided into three (3) broad stages; Prenatal, Perinatal and Postnatal.
Prenatal is the gestation or the period before child birth. This period could further be divided into; 1st, 2nd and the 3rd trimesters where the foundations of the human development are laid and continue to develop through the 3rd trimester till delivery. In the first trimester, the embryo changes to foetus and the subsequent rapid development of vital organs for sustainable living continue even after delivery extending into adulthood.

Exposure to drugs during pregnancy.

A pregnant woman’s use of drugs could result in the following;

Gross structural (morphologic) defects,

Premature birth,


Low birth weight

Behavioural problems and cognitive deficits (subtle, long-lasting consequences)

The main factors that determine whether a particular drug will cause harm or not depends on

Time of drug exposure.

The entire prenatal period is considered critical regarding potential for damage to brain (neural) networks.

The amount of exposure to a drug.

Some pregnant women could use drugs throughout the nine (9) months of pregnancy while some would only over indulge at a sitting. All these habits
could affect the developing foetus in several ways.

Genetic makeup and the environment.

Some individuals, by virtue of their genetic makeup, are vulnerable to the effects of substance use and could get addicted to substances while in some individuals, the environment could confer resilience.

Alcohol and Pregnancy

Alcohol use during pregnancy can adversely affect the cells and organs of the unborn child in several ways as alcohol passes through the placenta into the developing fetus’ blood. These effects may manifest in a variety of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) which includes;

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Alcohol Related Birth defects

Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental deficits

Fetal Alcohol Effects

Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

These conditions are characterized by facial abnormalities, growth retardation, Central Nervous System developmental abnormalities, complex pattern of behaviour and cognitive deficits. The development that goes on in the brain and CNS could best be described as a well-orchestrated series of developmental events and drugs of abuse could modify signaling of neurotransmitter systems and intraceller messengers. Most of these effects manifest as functional rather than structural defects. Children growing up with FASD show other physiological deficits e.g. kidney damage, heart problems, limb problems, eye problems, hearing problems etc.

Psychologically, there could be memory deficits, attention deficits, hyperactivity, difficulty with abstract concepts (maths, time and money), poor problem-solving skills, poor judgement, immature behaviour, poor impulse control, confused social skills etc.

Nicotine and Pregnancy

Nicotine in the brain binds with nicotinic acetylcholine receptors which are widely expressed throughout the foetal nervous system. Prenatal exposure to tobacco smoking could result in;

Decreased birth weight and length

Increased risk of preterm birth

Ectopic pregnancy


Premature separation of the placenta

Susceptibility to respiratory problems

Increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders

Antisocial behaviour and learning disabilities (reading, spelling & verbal expression).

Cannabis and Pregnancy

The cannabis herb contains 60 unique compounds known as cannabinoids and cannabis use in pregnancy is particularly vulnerable during the second trimester. Research has identified an association between heavy cannabis use during pregnancy and subsequent behavioural problems and impaired executive function in children exposed to cannabis use in the prenatal period. Exposure could also cause long-lasting changes in social and sexual behaviours, emotional reactivity and cognition.

There is evidence that, adolescents are particularly at risk of suffering from the adverse effects from cannabis use due to the role of the endocannabinoid system in the CNS. Animal studies have shown a link in exposure to THC during adolescence and cognitive impairments, memory and social deficits.


There is overwhelming evidence to show that, drug addiction is a brain disease which results in disruptions in the mechanisms responsible for generating, modulating and controlling cognitive, emotional and social behaviour as a result of substance use. However, the fact still remains that, by giving people accurate information concerning the adverse effects of drug of abuse, we as a society could develop without suffering the adverse consequences of drugs of abuse.

Samuel Cudjoe Hanu. Fellow; WACON & GCNM ([email protected])

The writer is a Nursing Officer at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital who specializes in Drug Addiction.

Source: Peacefmonline.com/Ghana

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