Liberian Psychologist Says ‘Encamping Drug Users, a Bad Idea’


Monrovia – Congregating drug addicts is not an advisable approach to controlling addiction or detoxification, says Dr. Janice Cooper, Project Lead of the Carter Center Mental Health Program in Liberia.

Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni, [email protected]

Dr. Cooper, an expert Psychologists, recommends that efforts to detoxify drug users in any country need to be managed clinically to avoid the risk of addicts becoming violent when withdrawing from drug substance.

Keep people who are addicted to drug as close to their homes as possible instead of building a camp for them and throwing them in it, she said.

“If we believe that addiction is a disease, you don’t put all the ill people in one place; we need to manage it within the context of our health care system,” she told FrontPage Africa in an exclusive interview.

“A public health solution is to create a facility where persons with addiction can be treated as a health condition, where you work on prevention, intervention, and after-care.”

“You can take someone to the camp and after some time you think they are OK and you release them, but then the person experienced the circle of addiction,” she said, warning against what she terms as the “impact of deviant peer contagion”  – “an idea that you put all bad people together and they get worse; they don’t get better”.

Dr. Copper has led the Carter Center Mental Health program for several years in the country, helping to treat over 15,000 people with mental illness and addiction.

She warns that detoxification is a very delicate process due to the chemical reaction that occurs within addicts once they abruptly stop using drug substance.

The body chemically reacts in a way that if it is not well managed properly in some cases people can die in the process of detoxification.

Addicts may experience lots of sweats and vomiting because their body depended on the drug for survival.

“There are also people who have taken a drug for so long and they do not know how to live without it, so in some cases, you need chemical replacements for the drug,” she said.

Her assessment of the current situation of drug users in the country comes amid increasing suggestions for acute drug addicts to be taken away from the streets and encamp to undergo rigorous rehabilitation.

But Dr. Cooper suggests that people with addiction should be treated in the hospital, rejecting perceptions that patients might flee hospitals while undergoing treatment and consequently relapse.

“People change when they want to change. So, the first part of working with someone who’s an addict is gaining their confidence, talking with them, figuring out from them ‘what is this addiction thing that you like? What is the part that you don’t like’? They will tell you.”

“Addiction is so powerful that some of the wealthiest people in the world have lost their entire fortune because they’ve become addicted.”

Many experts, like the Liberian psychologist, have theorized that once users shared their terrible experience about their addiction and having endured the gravity of seclusion from the society, they would likely be willing to withdraw.

“Addiction is a two prom approach: one, console people and then you provide psychotherapeutic intervention for them. The two goes hand-in-hand,” Cooper suggests.

According to a paper released by Liberia’s Ministry of Health on addressing addiction, approximately 15% of in-patients admitted to the country’s main mental health hospital in 2017 had problems with substance abuse; most patients admitted had drug-induced psychosis.

It states that drug-induced psychosis is the most population to deal with and many of them are brought to the hospital against their will and are sometimes ill-treated.

“Some of them come to us tied at wrist and ankles, the report quoted the hospital.

Liberia has trained 19 addiction specialists, and there are calls to train at least 20 addiction specialists a year.

However, the cost of rehabilitating approximately 77,000 drug users across major cities in Montserrado County alone would be a huge financial burden for the government amid an already troubling economy.

Liberia has trained 19 addiction specialists, and there are calls to train at least 20 addiction specialists a year.

Some say it would be improbable for the government to venture into such an expensive program of rehabilitating addicts.

The Association of Progressive Youth of Liberia (APYL), a group working with users across Monrovia and its environs, recently put the cost at US$36 million.

But Dr. Cooper, who disagrees with the stats and cost, suggests that about US$3.6 million may be required for treating only adult addicts in the country while recommending that imposing an additional tariff on alcohol would supplement the budget for such initiative.

A December 2016’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) research findings, suggests that it is possible to take an incremental approach to improving coverage for mental health care – including addiction and alcoholism – in low-income countries.

The research calls on governments of developing countries to prioritize mental health in the national budgets.

And the West Africa regional bloc, ECOWAS, according to the MOH report, also suggested that “the appropriate strategy is to focus on demand reduction strategies” – such as treatment and prevention.

For Liberia, the draft budget allotted for the country’s entire health sector is around US$73.3 million, which is deemed by many experts of the sector as a limited funding.

So, dealing with such a health problem which is sporadically transitioning to a social problem would require strengthening the health system and ensuring that every single health facility in the country is capable of providing addiction treatment, Dr. Cooper advised.

Untreated addiction leads to social problem and patients are more susceptible to illnesses, desperation, and criminality since they crave for the substance when they don’t have money to buy it.

“One of the things we said to the government is that every single county should have a wellness unit that has the capacity to do detoxification and a short-term stay for people with mental illness who are aggressive as well as persons with addiction,” she said.

According to her, several addicts have gone through treatment at the EJ Grant Mental Health Hospital in Paynesville and have come through well.

However, dealing with a large-scale population of addicts would require employing a massive strategy supported by the appropriate resources.

In other countries the sale of any form of alcohol has s tax on it and the tax is use for social service to fund prevention, education of alcoholism and addiction, used to support substance control.