Rising menace of ‘kush’ sparks health crisis in Sierra Leone, prompting urgent calls

A boy making joint | Credits: The Telegraph
A boy making joint | Credits: The Telegraph

The young population has been gathered under a bridge near a bustling market in Freetown and is dressed just in rags. There is condition is horrible, and they resemble zombies as their heads are cocked to the side and shoulders are slouched. Not only this, their bare and swelled feet make the condition more disgusting.

The reports by the Telegraph revealed that the driver behind such a condition is a mixture of opioids, cannabis and disinfectant. The group of people inhales the fumes, slowly breathes out, and then waits!

One such youngster, named Amara Kallon – who is a school dropout, comes to the bridge to take his hit of “kush.” Amara, who is homeless, stated, “When I smoke kush, I forget my problems. It usually takes me to ecstasy,” as per the reports by the Telegraph.

He further stated, “I used to smoke a couple of slings of marijuana a day, but after I was introduced to kush by friends, I never turned back. I sold my clothes and books to satisfy my addiction. I started stealing household items, phones, pots, and dishes to buy drugs.”

What exactly is ‘Kush’?

Reportedly, kush is a synthesized cannabinoid-like drug that can induce a long-lasting, hypnotic high that helps in detaching users from reality for several hours.

Reportedly, Sierra Leone was the first place to report Kush nearly half a dozen ago. Largely, the drug is manufactured and distributed by criminal gangs and nearly costs 5 leones (20p) per joint.

The major composition of the drug

According to the reports, the composition of the drug varies from one place to another; however, fentanyl and tramadol are known as the major ingredients, and formalin is used as a disinfectant. Additionally, several reports also claim that human bones are crushed and added to kush, though there is no evidence of the same.

Horrifying official data!

As per the stats shared by the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Teaching Hospital, in recent years, an overwhelming number of addicts have been reported. The worries increased when the official data revealed that the cases have been rising on a daily basis.

The acting medical superintendent at the center – Dr. Jusu Mattia, was quoted as saying, “We already recorded nearly 2,000 cases of kush addicts in 2023 at the hospital. Many are dying in homes and on the streets,” as per Telegraph.

Dr Mattia added, “The kush drug crisis is everywhere, but only a few are referred and most of those treated end up relapsing.”

Fuelling addiction

Similar to the situation in Sierra Leone, the issue of unemployment is contributing to a rise in addiction among the youth in Liberia. Additionally, the widespread prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the population is a significant factor. An estimated 3.4 people in Liberia are affected by PTSD, a consequence of the brutal civil war that ravaged the nation in the 1990s.

Joint for kush | Credits: The Telegraph

Being unable to accommodate this huge psychological need, as Liberia’s limited health resources are almost non-existent in parts of the country.

The nation’s battle with the drug has become political. The outgoing president, George Weah, who is a former AC Milan and Chelsea footballer, was accused in the recent national election campaign of not taking action against the use and sale of the drug in the country.

Emmanuel Degleh, a local journalist based in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, said, “Weah lost the election to Joseph Baokai [the next president] partly because of the drug problem and the rampant corruption.”

Degleh also said that his government had not done much to fix the situation. He alleged that out of Liberia’s total annual budget, a meager US$20,000 had been spent on mental healthcare facilities. This money was spent on the ES Grant Mental Health Hospital, which is a psychiatric facility in Monrovia.

Only a few other organizations are dedicated to offering short-term rehabilitation and integration programs. However, it’s not nearly enough due to the rising health crisis.

According to Degleh, “Liberian youths need help to address the social and economic problem which is the leading cause of the widespread use of drugs,” and added further, “Government intervention is critical in supporting the rehabilitation and integration of addicts to become useful citizens in society.”

Guinea is also dealing with a similar battle to contain the rampant growth of kush consumption over the past three years, as per the country’s health ministry.

Like Liberia and Sierra Leone, the country’s health care services are very limited- there is only one specialized center, which is based in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, that provides treatment for alcohol and drug abuse.

The authorities in Guinea say that kush drug comes from Sierra Leone through weak borders.

Many cars had been intercepted that attempted to cross the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea filled with a substantial amount of narcotics, specifically kush and cannabis, hidden in garri bags and palm oil containers, according to police sources.

Sierra Leone’s Kambia district, next to the Guinea border, is now a big spot for the trafficking of drugs and is becoming a key point of focus for local police.

In Sierra Leone, over 100 drug users and dealers have been found guilty, with dozens of cartels shut down by police.

Dr. Mattia, however, said that “the issue of youth intoxicating themselves with kush is not a criminal justice problem, but rather a health and social related problems that need to be addressed holistically.”

Government officials, religious leaders, civil society groups, and youth-focused organizations met at a Freetown hotel in November to form a workable and better solution to Sierra Leone’s drug crisis.

At the UN-organized meeting, Melrose Karminty, who is the Minister of Social Welfare, said that the government wants to decriminalize and rehabilitate users rather than punish them.

She told the audience gathered at the New Brookfields Hotel that “The government plans to establish a rehab center to support the rehabilitation of and recovery of substance abuse victims.”

And added further, “We want to give meaningful life to victims after they have been treated and institute remedies to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into their respective communities.”

It is yet to be seen whether such measures will ever come to fruition and drive meaningful change or not.

Mohamed said he had quit his job, withdrawn his savings from the bank, sold his property, and abandoned his wife and children to satisfy his addiction to kush, as one of the testimonies given during the meeting.

He also said, “Our youths are suffering, many are dying in isolation,” and “We need help.”

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