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Phanuel Demanya talks with his youth Bible class about the dangers of cocaine.
Photo by Erik Tryggestad

The opioid crisis in Ghana

A teacher takes time in Bible class to battle the crisis his nation is facing.

ACCRA, Ghana — This West African capital is in the grip of an opioid crisis like the one that has destroyed countless lives across the United States.

Children are among its victims. 

Phanuel Demanya, who teaches youth Bible classes for the McCarthy Hill Church of Christ in Accra, said he has spoken with kids as young as 8 who have tried Tramadol, a painkiller that’s supposed to be available by prescription only. 

After a spike in Tramadol usage in 2017, the Ghanaian government took steps to curb its usage, designating it as a controlled substance. 

But drug peddlers from neighboring countries bring it across the border on motorbikes, a government official told the British newspaper The Independent last year in a piece titled “Tramadol: the opioid taking over Africa.” 

Demanya’s Bible class has children from the community who are invited to church by their friends. Some come from broken homes and spend much of their days without adult supervision. Some have family members who are struggling with addiction.

Often, he said, these children are sent by relatives or caretakers to buy Tramadol, which is then mixed with energy drinks or alcoholic beverages. 

The kids “started taking the leftovers,” Demanya said. “It’s a serious thing in Ghana now.”

That’s why the 38-year-old father of three girls — ages 6, 4 and 18 months — takes time in the midst of Bible studies to talk openly and honestly about drugs. 

He discusses how they’re made, how they’re intended to be used and how they’re abused. He tries to dispel the myths the children hear in their neighborhoods. 

“I teach them how to report it, to see a sign that a friend is misleading you,” he said. 

On a recent Sunday morning, he drew a crude oval diagram on the dry erase board in his classroom, an open-air pavilion below the church’s auditorium. 

The drawing resembled the bright yellow pod of the cocoa plant, the basis of chocolate and the backbone of Ghana’s economy. 

But it was actually coca, not cocoa, he explained to the youths, ranging in age from 8 to 14. Although coca is indigenous to South America, not West Africa, there’s plenty of it here in Accra — in the form of cocaine. 

Ghana has become a transit hub for the drug as the cartels bring it from the fields of Colombia and Peru to the streets of Europe, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The discussion was in response to a child’s question, Demanya said.

“We create the awareness of it and how they can avoid these things,” he said. But he realizes it takes more than awareness to combat drug abuse.

So Demanya and other members of the McCarthy Hill church have begun hosting regular sports activities at the church building, including basketball, aerobics and soccer “to keep them from being idle,” he said. 

He’s seen a change in the kids, he said. They’re not afraid to ask him questions about drugs and alcohol. He prays “that they will surely be fine.”

For Demanya, who has worked as a professional photographer and run businesses ranging from commercial printing to automotive lubricants, teaching the youths is a way of passing on the blessings he has received. 

“My life has been transformed since I was baptized.”

He had worshiped with Presbyterian, Pentecostal and Seventh Day Adventist churches, but “I kept searching,” he said. “I didn’t know what it meant to really worship God.”

He met evangelist Douglas Boateng eight years ago when the McCarthy Hill church was planted in his neighborhood. He studied the Bible with Boateng, who baptized him.

“My life has been transformed since I was baptized,” he said. 

Now he wants to see that same transformation in the next generation.

Filed under: Accra Africa Church of Christ cocaine Ghana International News opioid addiction opioid crisis Top Stories

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