Health & Fitness

Why drug users must be treated


Violent of not, substance abusers must be treated. FILE PHOTO | NMG



  • It is only right that that you take the person to hospital if on account of the use of psychoactive substances, that person poses a danger to him or others.
  • Even in the absence of drugs, this is a good reason to take a person to medical attention.

Q My neighbour suffers from suspected psychoactive disorders but she doesn’t seem to accept that she is ill and has refused pleas by her family to seek treatment. Though she has not harmed anyone so far, should we force her to go for treatment?


With your permission, we will restate your question as follows; what is psychoactive substance use disorder? Under what circumstances is one justified to take such an abuser of substances to hospital against his will? We will now answer your two questions in one.

We will first consider what the substances you refer to are, and also what they do to those exposed to them.

These are substances that on ingestion alter normal functioning of the brain. The result of the alteration could change perception that is, the way one sees, hears, or feels things; they also affect the mood, either very happy, sad or simply swinging from one to another extreme and also have effect on consciousness, cognition and behaviour.

Some of the common drugs that fall in this category include cannabis, heroin, and cocaine among others.

As you will know, the commonest of all these substances is cannabis, and it comes to us with much controversy. While others are generally accepted as harmful and, therefore, illegal substances, cannabis is legal in some parts of the word including the USA and many parts of Europe.

In Kenya, the drug remains illegal, and the debate on whether to legalise or not continues and is unlikely to be resolved soon. The easier question to dispense with is whether cannabis is harmful to some people and if it is what kind of harm does it cause.

That debate is now largely settled and there are no doubts that for certain people, cannabis either precipitates a psychotic illness (Schizophrenia) or causes psychosis of a different type that sometimes gets better on stopping the use of the drug. In some cases, however, the harm is long-term and could lead to social disintegration.

The bottom line is that some people suffer serious mental health consequences when they use this substance. Last year we saw a young man who was taken to hospital by the police. For several months his parents had known that he was using ‘something’.

Over the months, he had steadily become withdrawn, spent many hours in his room, had lost all friends and most crucially had dropped out of the final year at university, claiming that degrees are useless and that he was no longer interested in following this type of life.

He was most vague in the way that he reasoned and at first his parents let him be as he was not doing any harm to anybody but himself.

When the police found him with rolls of cannabis, he did not deny use and challenged them to prove that the cannabis was indeed harmful.

He argued that Kenya was a primitive country by the continued ban on cannabis pointing out that in other more civilised countries he could smoke as much as he wanted. His father was well connected and arranged for the release of the young man without charge.

When he became overtly psychotic a few weeks later, the police had a very difficult time taking him to hospital. Beyond living in a very dirty room, the young man had started to hear voices that no one else could hear.

The voices were talking about him and some were making a running commentary on what he was doing. He also felt that the woman next door could read his mind and that her son was controlling his mind as he played on his play station.

The police had been called in when he confronted these people, who were simply leading a normal life and were unaware that the young man had developed a drug induced psychotic illness.

Upon examination, it was clear that he had taken large amounts of cannabis and that both he and his neighbours were in some form of danger on account of the drug use.

Coming back to your question therefore, it is only right that you take the person to hospital if on account of the use of psychoactive substances, that person poses a danger to him or others.

Indeed, even in the absence of drugs, this is a good reason to take a person to medical attention.