by Sierraeye

When you have 32 young people buried in a mass grave, having died from abuse of a particular drug and 63% of patients admitted in a psychiatric hospital because of that same drug, and when you walk down the streets and see youths crouched in corners as if in a daze, you can’t help but feel we have a national disaster on our hands. Nobody needs reminding about the devastation caused by the Kush epidemic which is dominating most national discussions.

Kush, with additives comprising several chemicals including formalin, a toxic chemical commonly used to preserve bodies is potent and dangerous but easily accessible and cheap. The drugs are shipped from overseas and mixed in makeshift labs throughout the country. Not much is known about the sources of supply but it is suspected that many small time dealers may also be working for people with strong connections in the political and security spheres.

There are many compelling reasons why the government should redouble its effort to tackle this menace as it threatens to derail its well laid out programmes, especially related to youths. Here is how it affects these programmes:

1. Health sector

The Kush problem threatens to overburden the health sector. Kush addicts have severe health problems. They start to forego basic hygiene. Their immune systems become weakened. Sores fester, and many complain of severe swelling in the feet and lower legs. The drug also causes liver, kidney and respiratory problems. Impaired cognitive functions and mental health disorders are common. They overburden the hospital system. Sierra Leone also has extremely limited capacity for drug treatment and rehabilitation.

2. Educational sector

Many addicts in school become school drop outs. Many of our school environments have places where drugs and alcohol are sold in public, enticing students to participate in taking drugs.

3. The Big Five

The consumption of illicit drugs is likely to undermine this government’s agenda. The priority “Feed Salone Programme” may be left bereft of manpower. The drug pandemic makes nonsense of “Human capital development”, aimed at delivering inclusive skills and a healthy population. The “Youth employment scheme” serving as a catalyst for social, democratic, economic and national security will also be put in jeopardy.

4. Work productivity

Those with jobs stop turning up to work. Many turn to theft to fund their habit.

5. The security sector

We have witnessed several instances in which even members of our security forces have been caught in a state of drug stupor. Kush is compromising our national security.

6. Social and behavioral issues

Drug abuse places a significant financial burden on individuals, families, and society. Kush addicts have become a social and community menace. They leave many areas unkempt and may even raid cemeteries. There are widespread rumours that some producers add ground-up human bones to the Kush concoction, hence the raiding of cemeteries.

Government has taken some measures in the past. At the tail end of 2022 for example, the ONS led a working group comprising representatives drawn from the various institutions-MDAs, civil society and international organisations to come up with practical measures in addressing the drug menace. Under the auspices of the Transnational Organised Crime Unit (TOCU) and SLP the security sector mounted sustained intelligence-led operations in order to crack down on drug cartels and kingpins across the country. The government’s security apparatus is no doubt attempting to hone in on the problem.

We have lately seen the commissioning of a Rehabilitation centre by government. There has also been a raft of initiatives by various community groups, mainly targeting drug addicts and meting out subjective unilateral punishments. MPs have also taken the matter seriously and the Speaker of Parliament has called for pursuing those at the top hierarchy of the supply chain. The public has got in on the act and accusing fingers have been pointed at suspected drug kingpins.

Meanwhile the body that officially handles such issues, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) remains severely underfunded and lacking in capacity. The Agency has responsibility for, amongst other functions providing leadership in and coordinating all issues relating to drug control, eradicating drug abuse and effectively implementing the national drug control strategy. The national drug control (arrest and seizure) regulations, 2021 give it extra powers of arrest, entry and seizure. However, the Agency’s operational budget per year is a laughable $100,000 (assuming it is even provided in full). Despite such enormous powers at its disposal, it can do little to dent the situation.

What is really required is greater political will by government to address this problem at all costs, considering the way in which this menace can thwart its overall programme. At present the response to the Kush crisis appears to be lukewarm and not well coordinated. The government should not only signal its seriousness to address this problem but commit resources–both human and financial to addressing this problem, despite the current budgetary limitations. Some have even called on the President to declare a Public Health Emergency as was recently done by President Boakei in Liberia. It is obvious that a greater political will needs to be both manifested and efforts funded by the government to avert a greater crisis which may be looming.

The Kush problem is a national crisis that needs to be tackled with more seriousness now!

Ponder my thoughts.

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