Dagga, crystal meth and prescription drugs most used substances among HIV/AIDS and TB key populations,research shows

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By Staff Reporter

A RECENT survey among people most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis (TB) has shown that illegal use of banned substances is rife.

Cannabis also known as dagga or marijuana, emerged as the most taken drug among participants of the research.

In 2021, the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN), in collaboration with the Zimbabwe National Key Populations Technical Support Committee (TSC), within the auspices of National AIDS Council (NAC) and Ministry of Health and Child Care, and Zimbabwe National Key Populations Forum (KP Forum), designed a proposal for a situational analysis of drug use and injection in Zimbabwe.

It was funded by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GF) and UNAIDS.

According to the survey results published recently, drug use was prevalent in the past year for the total sample and per province.

The survey was done in five provinces namely, Harare, Bulawayo, Mashonaland West and Central and Manicaland.

Overaly, the most used substances were cannabis, home brewed alcohol, skunk, and cough syrups, mostly Codeine.

“Overall, the most used substances were cannabis, legal and illegal (‘home brew’) alcohol, skunk, and cough syrup (codeine). Nonetheless, over a third (3652%) of the total sample reported using methamphetamine (crystal meth) and almost one in five participants (1843%) declared to use pharmaceuticals without prescription.

“Strikingly, 341% reported having used something without knowing what it was. A much lower percentage of participants declared to have used powder or crack cocaine, heroin, glue, or nyaope,” reads the survey report.

The types of pharmaceuticals were not specified in the survey, but participants mentioned using ARVs, Haloperdol, Ketamine, Dazepam, Diclofenac, Pethidine and a concoction known in street parlance as mangemba, which is water laced with psychiatric medications such as Chlorpromazine, Diazepam and Benzodiazepnes.

For those substances that participants affirmed to have used in the past month, further questions investigated the main route of administration and the frequency of use.

Cannabis and skunk, which is a variety of cannabis, were listed as different substances in the survey, following advice from key informants from the community of people who use drugs during the research preparation phase.

They affirmed that people consuming and selling these substances make a clear distinction between the two. According to those informants, skunk is grown indoors and in greenhouses, with use of chemicals, in contrast with a natural growth process in the case of cannabis.

This would cause skunk to have a distinct and “chemical” smell as well as a harder texture, rendering it impossible to be ground or screened by hand.

The Zimbabwe National HlV and AlDS Strategic Plan (ZNASP) 2021-2025 identifies people who use drugs as a key population within the HIV response, but progress towards catering for their specific needs has been slow.

The blueprint acknowledges there is a lack of data to determine the magnitude and burden of disease and vulnerabilities to HIV and TB among people who use drugs in the country.

The Zimbabwe National Drug Master Plan (2020-2025) focuses on reducing the supply and demand of drugs and lists harm reduction interventions.

Zimbabwe’s national laws and regulations are strongly based on zero tolerance towards drugs, and adopt a punitive approach towards their use and or possession.

The study represented an attempt to fill the knowledge gap around drug use and injection in Zimbabwe.

It intended to provide an exploratory account of lived experiences among people, emerging drug use patterns and the kind of support they would need.

The sub-objectives were, among others, to identify patterns of drug use and injection, including types of drugs used, types of drugs injected, poly-drug use, extent of harms experienced by the users, number of women and minors who use or inject drugs; to assess levels of knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of risk and vulnerability to HIV and TB among these groups.

“While this information is useful to start designing policies and programmes for people who use drugs, more information is needed for an in-depth understanding of drug use and the tools and messages needed to improve access to health services for people who use or inject drugs,” outlined the research report.