Sierra Leone is currently experiencing an epidemic of Kush, a synthetic drug that poses a grave risk to its users’ lives. The drug has fatal effects and continues to wreak havoc on the nation. The government and law enforcement must take action to protect lives and increase their efforts to combat the issue. The first step is to comprehend why individuals abuse drugs.
In Sierra Leone, little is known about drug addiction and its effects because, historically, the larger society, including people from all backgrounds and walks of life, has paid little or no attention to drug and alcohol addiction, as well as mental illness. Moreover, in most families, including mine, where there are drug addicts or users, the issue is frequently referred to as an evil attack on the user or as the result of witchcraft. Due to the stigma associated with drug use in Sierra Leone, many are unaware of the motives for drug use.
Until we do, however, we will be incapable of resolving the problems that drug use causes. According to the BBC, drug use has led to increased crime, including murder and sexual and gender-based violence.
The prevalence of drug use among adolescents and youth continues to exceed that of adults. Through my work with adolescent girls affected by sexual and gender-based violence in Freetown, I have learnt that many engage in substance abuse due to their traumatic childhood and sexual abuse experiences.
In addition, high levels of stress and depression are cited by young men as causes for their drug use. The absence of adequate treatment facilities and support for addicts makes it extremely unlikely that youth crime, particularly sexual and gender-based violence, will cease.
According to the World Health Organization, one of the most significant effects of illegal drug use on society is the deterioration of its members’ health. Additionally, drug abuse places a significant financial burden on individuals, families, and society.
In Freetown, Kush fuels the risky sexual behavior of adolescent girls, who are frequently observed engaging in transactional sexual activities with older men along the beach. Through my work, I am also aware that these girls are frequently coerced and trafficked by drug gangs as sex slaves or drug mules to tourist areas. Girls are typically beaten, raped, and abandoned.
Several years ago, the body of a young sex worker, Hannah Bockarie, was discovered on Lumley Beach, a notorious hangout for drug addicts and sex workers. Those accused of her rape and murder were found not guilty.
I am also convinced that successive governments, including the administration of President Bio, have not viewed the Kush epidemic as an urgent government priority. Since the end of the 11-year civil war, the debate surrounding the explosion of the harmful synthetic drug Kush has been ongoing, but the government has done little to address the issues of preventing its spread or assisting addicts. Additionally, some citizens are convinced that certain politicians are behind the country’s drug trade.
Drug rehabilitation agencies are calling for more research, as there is a lack of knowledge and evidence regarding the demographics and motivations of drug users. Conducting qualitative research would provide law enforcement officials with a deeper understanding of the issue in the long term. To combat drug use, comprehensive drug prevention policies targeting drug users must be implemented, along with necessary laws and reforms. Addicts should receive mental health and medical advice, and women who engage in transactional sex while under the influence of drugs must be treated as victims rather than criminals.
The government of Sierra Leone must establish a collective strategy to combat the rise of transnational drug trafficking in the country. In addition to aiding in the reduction of crime, these methods will help authorities gain a better understanding of the drugs used and their effects on drug users.
The Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), and the Sierra Leone Police, among others, have conducted awareness campaigns primarily in the affected areas surrounding Freetown. According to victim-led organizations, these activities do not go far enough to address the causes of drug use or the needs of drug users to overcome their addictions, particularly among young people, particularly adolescent girls.
Even though there is the political will to address the issue of drug trafficking in Sierra Leone, many argue that the country will lose the fight against drugs until the government, politicians, and civil societies take a strong stance on the root causes of the drugs problem, particularly the impact on drug users and their excessive drug use.
In Sierra Leone, it is crucial to end ignorance regarding drug use and drug users. We must recognize that drug addiction is a complex public health problem requiring a comprehensive solution. Girls and young women who are at risk of becoming sex slaves or drug mules as a result of drug gangs’ human trafficking must be protected immediately. A concerted effort must be made to provide addicts with adequate treatment facilities and support, enact laws and enact reforms, and conduct research to understand the scope of the problem.
In conclusion, the Kush epidemic in Sierra Leone is a significant public health concern that requires immediate attention. The government and law enforcement agencies must adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat the problem and safeguard the lives of at-risk girls and young women. To solve the problems that drug use creates in our country, we must end our ignorance towards drug use and drug users and understand the root causes of drug addiction.
Alimatu Dimonekene, MBE, a Public Voices Fellow on Advancing the Rights of Women and Girls. Founder A Girl At A Time (Sierra Leone). Twitter @TheAlima