Lack of support for Cardiff users claim after khat ban

By Jenny Johnson
BBC News

Media caption,
Health officials admit there is a time lag with bringing in help on the streets for khat users

Not enough support is being provided to users of a banned substance called khat, members of Cardiff's Somali community have said.

The plant, popular in Somali and Yemeni communities, has a stimulant effect when chewed, but it can lead to mental health issues.

It was criminalised as a class C drug by the UK government in June.

Cardiff and Vale health board said it was still in the process of rolling out support for users.

What is khat?

  • A leafy plant native to Kenya which has a stimulant effect when chewed
  • Khat is traditionally used by members of the Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities
  • It makes people happy and talkative but can cause insomnia and temporary confusion
  • Chewed for a few hours it leaves users with a feeling of calm, described by some as "blissed out"
  • The drug could make pre-existing mental health problems worse and it can provoke feelings of anxiety and aggression

The UK government classified it as a drug to prevent Britain becoming a hub for khat smuggling to countries where it is banned.

Before the ban, around 2,560 tonnes of khat was imported to the UK every year, with a benefit to the Treasury of £2.5m in taxes.

The ban had been supported by many Somali and Yemeni women who said the habit was detrimental to family life and relationships.

There was also concern about the impact on the mental health of users as the effects of the leaf included psychosis and hallucinations. Some users had been admitted to hospital as a result.

But there has been criticism from within one of the oldest Somali communities in the UK of a lack of support for users following the ban.

Mustafa Ahmed, 26, from Cardiff, said: "Unfortunately, there's been almost nil to zero in terms of support by local government or government as a whole for users.

"If you look at any other drug, whether alcohol, cigarettes, crack cocaine, heroin, there are programmes in place to help rehabilitate those individuals and put them on the straight and narrow.

"Unfortunately, the khat ban… yes it's a good idea but it's been brought in with no planning whatsoever with regards to how do we then support these people who we've taken a drug out of their system, and that's something that really needs to be addressed and it's a big concern for the community as a whole."

But the Cardiff and Vale health board said support for users of the drug was being rolled out.

Conrad Eydmann, head of substance misuse strategy and development for Cardiff and Vale area planning board, said the service was being redesigned to make it more accessible to the community but he admitted there had been a delay.

"We're looking for an approach that takes services to the person with need as opposed to expecting them to navigate the system," he said.

"I think there is a time lag in the turn around for something like a change in legislation to make itself operationally felt in the way that we deliver services."

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