Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Health Reporter
ABOUT 17 youths from Entumbane suburb in Bulawayo were rushed to Ingutsheni Central Hospital after overdosing on crystal methamphetamine (meth), as the drug menace among young people continues to haunt the city.
Zimbabwe is experiencing an upsurge in drug abuse cases and most of those abusing the drugs are young people.
Ingutsheni Central Hospital chief executive officer Dr Nemache Mawere confirmed that 17 youths were recently admitted to the institution.
“I don’t know if we will ever win the battle against crystal meth because it’s just beyond us. We admitted 17 youths from Entumbane who had overdosed,” he said.
“We are using a majority of our resources to intervene, but it’s clear that we are losing because no matter how much we try to rehabilitate users, they always relapse.”
The rate at which youths are abusing drugs has grown considerably with residents attributing that to the Covid 19 pandemic lockdown. About 250 drug addicts are attended to at Ingutsheni Central Hospital monthly, with the number of youths abusing drugs continuing to rise in Bulawayo.
Statistics from Active Youth Zimbabwe, a drug treatment and rehabilitation organisation show that the average age of substance use initiation is between 13 and 14 years old in the metropolitan province.
The illegal practice has been worsened by the fact that there are no rehabilitation centres locally and addicts are likely to relapse even after treatment at Ingutsheni.
This comes at a time when Zimbabwe is working towards a drug-free society through a drug master plan which will help the country achieve Vision 2030. The master plan aims at dealing with drug and substance abuse in society. President Mnangagwa recently launched the National Anti-Drug and Substance Abuse Campaign.
With statistics showing that at least 30 percent of Zimbabwean youths are hooked on meth, health experts fear the battle can be easily lost if drastic measures are not taken immediately.
The substance, whose scientific name is methamphetamine, is an intoxicating central nervous system stimulant mainly used as a recreational drug.
The highly addictive and illegal psycho-stimulant has powerful euphoric effects, which are similar to those of cocaine.
The strong and highly addictive drug that affects the central nervous system is popularly known as dombo, guka or mutoriro. Users smoke, snort, drink or inject meth.
Some drug addicts cut fluorescent energy-saver bulbs and use them as smoking pipes. Light bulbs are hollowed out, meth inserted, lit from underneath by a lighter and inhaled with a straw. When a light bulb is used as a meth pipe it will have certain characteristics specific to the smoking of crystal meth.
The light bulb is used because the glass is conducive to being heated and quickly transfers heat as well as cold.
The screw end of the light bulb will be hollowed out to allow for the insertion of the drug. There may be a small hole blown into the bulb to allow air to come into the smoke chamber created inside the bulb.
Sometimes a tube like a straw or a pen is used to draw the vapour from inside the chamber. When flame is placed under the drug, it begins to melt and vaporise. The flame will leave black soot on the bottom of the light bulb while inside the chamber will be coated with a film of vaporised crystal meth that is white and bitter to the taste.
Once inhaled, users suddenly feel a euphoria which alters their sleeping and eating patterns.
Crystal meth users are often seen crawling on the roadside and can lose sleep for three consecutive days.
The substance also tampers with appetite and most users usually suffer massive weight loss in the long run.
In Bulawayo, a packet of crystal meth costs US$5. Users, especially unemployed youths, end up stealing clothes and groceries from their homes to gratify the need to use the substance.
The substance is reportedly being smuggled into the country from South Africa.
Dr Mawere said out of 650 patients admitted to the hospital, about 50 percent of them are drug abusers.
He said professionals such as doctors, lawyers and pharmacists are also admitted to Ingutsheni for abusing crystal meth.
“This substance is very addictive and I doubt that we will be able to redeem any of its users. What worries me is the fact that drug lords are known, but the same communities whose children fall prey to crystal meth do not act,” said Dr Mawere.
“We need drastic measures to be taken against those who sell these drugs otherwise we will not even succeed in curbing this problem. Residents from Entumbane once forced a drug lord out of the suburb and it’s sad to see that 17 youths from the same area.”
Statistics compiled in 2021 by the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network revealed that 60 percent of psychiatric admissions countrywide are due to drug abuse. A majority of these were people aged between 16 and 25 years, including schoolgirls.
Last year, the Ministry of Health and Child Care launched a five-year strategic plan (2021-2025) against substance abuse to curb its prevalence which has become alarming.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry and Health and Child Care, Dr Jasper Chimedza recently said there is an urgent need to tackle the issue of illicit substances in Zimbabwe. He said the Government is also working on plans to establish rehabilitation centres at district and provincial levels to assist the affected youths.
Substances that are commonly abused in Zimbabwe include alcohol (both licensed and unlicensed brews) tobacco, cannabis and non-medical use of controlled medicines such as codeine-containing cough medicines and benzodiazepines.
Ms Rosemary Mhlanga of Entumbane said the use of crystal meth is now beyond control as youths, including girls are falling victim.
“My nephew is a victim and he can spend the whole night talking non-stop as a result of crystal meth. He steals money, clothes and groceries which he sells to raise money to buy drugs,” she said.
“He started using crystal meth after completing his A-level and we have done everything to help him, but to avail.”
Bulawayo police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube said drug abuse is a serious crime and warned drug dealers that they would face the full wrath of the law once caught.
“We have been calling on residents to help us with information that may lead to the arrest of those involved in selling drugs. We usually conduct sporadic raids targeting these criminals,” said Insp Ncube.
“We have made some arrests in the past and we continue to intensify our fight against drug dealers. We urge other stakeholders to get involved in this fight because we have zero tolerance for drug abuse.” [email protected]