Drug traffic fuels addiction in Sierra Leone

As the global narcotics trade expands in West Africa, it leaves a trail of addicts in its wake – Published on AlJazeera, Jan 26, 2013.

Freetown, Sierra Leone – Leaning against a wall, his eyes red and glazed over, Patrick Hindowa described how he spends his days getting high. “I got no job here,” he explained. “Whatever [drugs] I’m going to be able to do, I’m going to do. Because I really don’t have nothing.”  

Huddled at the end of a narrow alleyway downtown, Hindowa and two friends shared stories of addiction and life on the street.

“My mother died, my father died,” recalled Bakar Sesay. “Since then – since I was a kid – I chose the street life. Coke and all that.” The 20-year-old said that he has used drugs since he was seven … //

… Spillover effect:

As smuggling activity has increased, there’s been a spillover effect. According to the United Nations’ 2012 World Drug Report, “increasing trafficking of cocaine through the coastal countries of West Africa is leading to an increase in cocaine use… with cocaine use possibly emerging alongside heroin use as a major problem”.

Dr Edward Nahim, an adviser to the Sierra Leone National Drug Enforcement Agency, explained that it is common for drug handlers to be paid with portions of the product they’re moving, which is contributing to a growing proliferation of those narcotics in Sierra Leone.

“These international traffickers don’t work with money; that is the problem,” Nahim said. “They pay people with the drugs, and that is how these drugs stay behind.”

The only certified psychiatrist in the country, Nahim estimated that 80 percent of the patients he sees are suffering from “drug-induced psychotic disorders”. He noted that for now, the majority of those cases stem from heavy abuse of alcohol and high-grade marijuana, but that he is also observing an increase in the use of cocaine and heroin.

Ibrahim Samura, assistant superintendent for Sierra Leone’s national police force, also said that drug abuse is on the rise. He described the situation as “alarming,” and linked it to “an increase in gangsterism”.

“They use [drugs] more than is necessary, and it spurs them to behave abnormally and do things they wouldn’t do in their right senses,” he said. “They kill, they rape, they smoke marijuana, they carry weapons and do criminal activities.”

Samura called attention to legislation passed in 2009 that created stiffer penalties for drug trafficking. In March 2010, the UN secretary-general’s representative to Sierra Leone praised such efforts, but argued that to effectively tackle Sierra Leone’s drug problem, the country’s high unemployment rate for young people must first be addressed. Some seventy percent of youth were unemployed or underemployed in 2010, according to government statistics.

Hidden in a congested area of downtown Freetown is the so-called “Lumley Street Cartel Ground”. Down a narrow entrance, barely visible amid a throng of market stalls, the collection of shacks is a hub for the distribution and use of drugs in the capital city.

Sitting on a chair off to one side of the unadorned space was an old woman – reportedly the wife of a police officer – with a long scar running down one side of her face. She refused to speak to journalists, but directed two of her dealers to act as escorts. For the next 30 minutes, the men moved though a labyrinthine network of alleys and side streets, to join a small group of youths who were willing to talk about how drugs were affecting their lives and communities.

I gotta do drugs … to wake me up: … //

… Nahim and Ngobeh each have decades of experience working with addiction. In separate interviews, they both cited a lack of options for meaningful work as a primary factor driving young people to drugs.

“They are in the ghettos all day long, and for hours at night as well,” Nahim said. “And that’s on a regular, daily basis.” He argued that to begin to solve the country’s drug problem, it is this group of especially vulnerable people that must be made a priority.

Ngobeh echoed Nahim’s words. “When these young people are frustrated or depressed, they easily go to drugs,” he said. “They want to forget their problems. But they don’t forget… and that’s how most of them become addicted.”
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