Owiti, Fredrick R
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United States International University-Africa, Nairobi, Kenya. OBJECTIVE: To investigate the prevalence and pattern of substance use among an undergraduate population in a Kenyan university. DESIGN: Cross-sectional survey, cluster sampling of classrooms, self-administered questionnaires. SETTING: Private international university in Nairobi province, Kenya. PARTICIPANTS: Five hundred fifty eight undergraduate students of both sexes, age range 16-50 and mean age (S.E) of 21.1 +/- 0.2. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Self-reported use of psychoactive substances. RESULTS: Percentages of lifetime prevalence rates of commonly used substances were tobacco, 54.7%; alcohol, 84.2%; cannabis, 19.7% and inhalants, 7.2%. The corresponding "past use" and "current use" rates were relatively lower but followed the same pattern. The percentage rates were significantly higher in males than females (p < 0.005). Rates for regular use (> 20 days/month) were higher for tobacco (24.7%) than alcohol (11.5%). The lifetime prevalence rates of other drugs (heroin, cocaine, mandrax, amphetamines and LSD) were low (< 5%), while modest rates were recorded for tranquilizers (10.8%), local brews (13.6%) and cough mixtures (35.1%). Less than 20% of respondents initiated substance use in lower primary school, while more than 50% started using in upper primary and secondary school and 11% to 25% started using substances at university. CONCLUSION: Substances most commonly used by respondents studied were of the licit variety (alcohol and tobacco). The rate of use of the two substances is rather high. The use of illicit drugs seems to be growing and may soon escalate to alarming levels. The findings suggest an urgent need to gather more data, which can be used to guide formulation of health promotion and prevention programmes.