Poverty, hunger cited as drug abuse soars; Police say number of people addicted a ‘national disaster’

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By The Sunday Times

Police this week described the soaring number of drug users as a “national disaster”, as addicts using crystal meth and other drugs pour into the psychiatric wards of two major hospitals in Harare.

Paul Nyathi, assistant commissioner of police,  said: “The issue of drug abuse and illicit drug activities is now becoming a serious cause for concern. It’s now a national disaster.”

He said police were making arrests for possession of crystal meth and other substances “throughout the country” on a weekly basis.

“But that is not enough. We want each and every person, and communities, to play a part so that we get ready for this menace which is seriously undermining the safety of communities.”

Drug user Kenneth Mupanongo, 30, said he began smoking cannabis at 24 and later turned to crystal meth and BronCleer, a prescription cough syrup that contains codeine, which is an opioid.  Mupanongo lives in the streets of Mbare, one of Harare’s oldest high-density suburbs, where drug abuse is rife.

“Life is very hard. The emotional turmoil and economic hardships made me turn to drugs. I couldn’t find a job or provide for myself. The drugs made me forget all my troubles. For $1 l can buy crystal meth and after taking the drugs l can go for days without eating, which means l don’t have to worry about where my next meal will come from,” he told the Sunday Times.

The emotional turmoil and economic hardships made me turn to drugs. I couldn’t find a job or provide for myself. The drugs made me forget all my troubles

“But drugs also make me aggressive and violent, making me commit crimes like shoplifting or vandalism. l do it because I need money to buy drugs. It has taken a toll both on my physical and mental health. I have lost everything. My parents kicked me out of house, I am homeless living in the streets.  I want stop using drugs, but it’s difficult l am dependent on drugs and surrounded by people who take drugs.”

Claudius Mukoki, 33, also known as “Mugumba”, lives in Budiriro, Harare. He said he was an addict for more than 10 years, using marijuana, alcohol and crystal meth, but managed to turn his life around.

“In my 20s, drugs started to play a big role in my life. It was a time when life was extremely difficult. I lost my job and l could barely afford to eat. The only thing that gave me solace was taking drugs. As the economic hardships persisted, the more l turned to harder drugs such as crystal meth. I tried to stop several times, but I kept on relapsing to crystal meth use and with each relapse l had psychotic episodes. I would hear voices and have hallucinations,” he said.

Mukoki was admitted to a psychiatric unit in Harare.

“I was diagnosed with psychosis caused by drug and alcohol misuse. I also started a drug rehabilitation process. Losing so many friends to addiction and overdose was also a turning point in my life.”

Psychiatric units at Harare’s Sally Mugabe Central Hospital and Parirenyatwa Hospital have been swamped by an increasing number of drug patients

Deputy minister of health John Mangwiro said: “The situation is critical. Youths are indulging in drugs too much.”

Social commentator Wurayayi Zembe said drug abuse in Zimbabwe was “terrifying” and destroying an entire generation between the ages of 10 and 35.

“I think the major cause of this problem is economic destitution because the ages are of children and youths of employable age who have no jobs. It goes back to how the country is being run that young people are not even groomed into responsible adults,” Zembe said.

According to a 2021 World Health Organisation report,  “Mental health among young people in the Africa region”, Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates on the continent of binge drinking and drug abuse among youths aged 15 to 19.