Zimbabwe is undergoing an emerging drug abuse epidemic. Until recently, the only drugs available in the country were marijuana and ‘Bronco’, a prescription cough syrup containing codeine that is manufactured in South Africa.
A dealer quoted by a Zimbabwean daily recently said most of his customers now want to buy mealie meal, which is the street name for cocaine. He also said that he was operating a thriving business in diazepam, meth and crack as well as Bronco and cocaine.
Sadly, many deaths have occurred on the globe and some of these can be traced to drug abuse. The World Health Organisation estimates that in 2019 about 180 000 people lost their lives directly due to drug use disorders while substance abuse was responsible for 11,8 million deaths in 2017 both directly and indirectly.
What could have easily been overlooked as a small issue is now proving to be creeping everywhere with numerous cases of illnesses, untoward behaviours, suicide, accidents and unnecessary deaths. The prevalence of drug abuse among young people in Zimbabwe is 57%, a figure which is quite alarming.
Interestingly, most of the illegal drugs flooding into Zimbabwe are manufactured outside the country and smuggled across the border.
Due to their affordability, the popularity of prescription medications is growing in Zimbabwe. One of the most popular choices among the country’s users is cough medicine imported from South Africa, which is often codeine-based. It is brought into the country cheaply and then resold to buyers at much higher prices.
The increase in drug abuse has led to a rise in social problems in some cities. For example, many vagrant drug addicts in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, are reportedly engaging in petty criminal activity to pay for their drug habit. They then congregate in public places and use drugs until they pass out, repeating the cycle when they wake up.
Of course, there are so many causes of drug abuse and what is appalling is that the youth from either poor or rich backgrounds are equally affected. Some cite peer pressure, social isolation, unemployment and poverty as factors which drive them to drug abuse.
According to UK-based mental health practitioner Carole Nyakudya, “lack of family involvement in adolescent health and social affairs could be contributing to drug abuse as the youth end up hooking up with bad friends.”
Dr Benson Mudiwa said: “Unfortunately, the country is found wanting when it comes to helping and rehabilitating drug users, with the public-sector facility programmes almost non-existent, and only one private facility rehabilitating drug users in Harare. Organisations like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) also have a lethargic, almost insignificant presence in Zimbabwe.”
While everyone seems preoccupied with the fight against Covid-19, we should not forget the threat posed by drug abuse. Cases of organic psychosis are on the rise, thus putting an unnecessary strain on an already overburdened health delivery system. The young generation needs help on this issue that is threatening to usurp the potential of
our future leaders.
Government and every other stakeholder should consider health education in order to boost protective factors and eliminate or reduce risk factors.
Programmes could also be designed for various ages and be used for individual or group settings. Availing recreational activities like art and sport could be of great help as well.
“Every young person has some sort of talent, they just need opportunity and the platform to express those talents. Some of these young people are potentially great soccer players or actors but they are unable to exercise all that,” Nyakudya says.
Rehabilitation centres for drug addicts are few in Zimbabwe and the private sector can play a significant role in the establishment of such centres. Understandably, it is difficult for an addict to abruptly stop drug abuse, hence the need for rehabilitation at secluded places.
Tanya Nyathi is an independent writer in the Gauteng Area. She has a BA in Journalism and an M.Phil in Communication Management from the University of Pretoria in South Africa and has been a regular health and science contributor to African News Publications with a global audience.