Beneath a bridge close to a bustling market in Freetown, the younger folks collect of their lots. Wearing nothing however rags, they stand like zombies – shoulders slouched, heads cocked to the facet – as they aimlessly shuffle in circles. Many are with out sneakers, their ft naked and swollen from an infection.

Those who have but to succeed in this catatonic state go a joint between themselves. It’s a mix of opioids, hashish, disinfectant and, locals say, ground-down human bones which have been dug up from graves. They inhale the fumes, slowly breathe out, and watch for euphoria’s embrace.

Amara Kallon, a 21-year-old college dropout, is among the many addicts right here. He comes each day for his hit of ‘kush’ – an artificial, cannabinoid-like drug that’s sweeping by the youth of Sierra Leone’s capital. It induces a long-lasting, hypnotic excessive which might detach customers from actuality for a number of hours.

“After I smoke kush, I overlook my issues. It normally takes me to ecstasy,” says Amara, who’s homeless.

“I used to smoke a few slings of marijuana a day however after I used to be launched to kush by associates, I by no means turned again. I bought my garments and books to fulfill my dependancy. I began stealing house-hold objects, telephones, pots and dishes to purchase medication.”

A user of kush smokes the drug from a lit cigarette

A person smokes rolled kush, a mix of opioids, hashish, disinfectant and ground-down human bones – Saidu Bah

A man wraps a kush joint to smoke

A person wraps a kush joint to smoke. The consequences of the drug can detach customers from actuality for a number of hours – Saidu Bah

Kush first emerged in Sierra Leone half a dozen or so years in the past. Manufactured and distributed by legal gangs, the drug sometimes prices 5 leones (20p) per joint – although many customers will spend round £8 a day, a small fortune for a rustic with a mean per capita earnings of underneath £400 a yr.

The composition of the drug varies from place to position. Fentanyl and tramadol are stated to be elements, as is formalin, a disinfectant. There are additionally a number of media experiences of human bones being crushed up and added to kush, although there isn’t a proof to substantiate this.

The drug has grow to be commonplace throughout Sierra Leone, with entire neighbourhoods and communities hooked on the narcotic. However placing a exact determine on utilization charges is tough.

The Sierra Leone Psychiatric Educating Hospital in Freetown says it has been overwhelmed with addicts in recent times. The variety of referrals retains rising every day, and lots of are sedated upon arrival on the facility attributable to their violent tendencies.

“Now we have already recorded almost 2,000 circumstances of kush addicts in 2023 on the hospital. Many are dying in houses and on the streets,” says Dr Jusu Mattia, appearing medical superintendent on the centre. In 2020, it recognized 47 folks as customers. In 2022, it was 1,101. Many of the sufferers are males between 18 and 25.

“The kush drug disaster is in every single place, however just a few are referred and most of these handled find yourself relapsing,” provides Dr Mattia.

Amara Kallon, a 21-year-old kush addict, dropped out of school and is homeless

Amara Kallon, a 21-year-old kush addict, dropped out of faculty and is homeless. A number of of his associates and relations have died of kush dependancy – Saidu Bah

An addict bows head down at the city of rest rehbilitation center in Freetown

An addict bows head down on the metropolis of relaxation rehbilitation heart in Freetown – Saidu Bah

The Educating Hospital supplies isolation therapy, which lasts between three to 6 weeks, and antipsychotic medication to assist wean sufferers off their dependancy. However it’s the solely facility of its sort providing energetic care to kush sufferers in Sierra Leone.

Certainly, there are simply 5 psychiatrists in the complete nation, house to roughly 8.4 million, in accordance with the World Well being Organisation, making it inconceivable to sort out the spiralling epidemic.

Sierra Leone’s youth unemployment charge – which stands at 60 per cent, one of many highest on the earth – is additional compounding the difficulty, consultants say. Jobless folks like Amara are turning to kush so as to “escape the tough realities of life”.

“I adore it,” he provides. “It makes me really feel comfortable for a second, sufficient to overlook my worries and societal issues.”

As ‘harmful’ as heroin or cocaine

For some customers, kush dependancy can gas critical psychiatric points. There have additionally been experiences of individuals creating swelling and infections, resulting in open wounds on their legs, however there isn’t a clear medical rationalization for this.

The drug can even show deadly. When excessive, customers have been recognized to bang their heads repeatedly towards partitions, stroll into site visitors or fall from excessive locations. Amara has misplaced a number of of his associates and relations whereas excessive on kush, together with one who fell over and hit his head on a rock – a blow which killed him.

There isn’t a official information accessible for deaths associated to the drug, however well being consultants estimate round a dozen kush customers die weekly in Sierra Leone, with their our bodies usually recovered from the streets and slums.

However it’s not simply Sierra Leone which is grappling with the fallout from kush. A wave of dependancy is slowly transferring throughout West Africa, with the horrors of Freetown now being repeated within the city centres of Liberia and Guinea. Estimates recommend greater than one million folks from the area are actually addicted.

“Kush is a really harmful drug like heroin or cocaine, it’s sturdy, low cost and simply accessible, there may be weak regulation and management over the sale of the drug and it’s turning into widespread in West Africa,” says Dr Edward Nahim, a marketing consultant psychiatrist on the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Educating Hospital.

“The shortage of jobs and alternatives is a driving drive main many youths into drug dependancy after the disruption of economies by the Covid pandemic.”

A police officer walks into a kush den with byelaws for addicts written on the wall during a raid in Waterloo a suburb outside Freetown

A police officer walks right into a kush den with byelaws for addicts written on the wall throughout a raid in Waterloo a suburb exterior Freetown – Saidu Bah

Hundreds of young people are admitted for drugs and mental health at the only psychiatric hospital in Sierra Leone, where doctors say they are overwhelmed

Tons of of younger individuals are admitted for medication and psychological well being on the solely psychiatric hospital in Sierra Leone, the place docs say they’re overwhelmed – Saidu Bah

Like in Sierra Leone, unemployment among the many younger is fuelling dependancy in Liberia. But the excessive prevalence of post-traumatic stress dysfunction within the inhabitants – an estimated 3.4 folks undergo from the situation, a by-product of the nation’s bloody civil struggle all through the Nineties – can be an element.

Liberia’s restricted well being assets – virtually non-existent in elements of the nation – have been unable to accommodate this enormous psychological want. Many have subsequently turned to kush as an alternative.

The nation’s struggles with the drug have notably turned political. In the course of the nation’s current election marketing campaign, outgoing president George Weah, the previous AC Milan and Chelsea footballer, was accused of tolerating the use and sale of the drug within the nation.

“Weah misplaced the election to Joseph Baokai [the next president] partly due to the drug downside and the rampant corruption,” says Emmanuel Degleh, an area journalist based mostly in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.

His authorities has completed little or no to handle the disaster, provides Degleh. In 2021, simply US$20,000 from Liberia’s annual price range is alleged to have been spent on psychological healthcare provision. This funding was channelled into the ES Grant Psychological Well being Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Monrovia.

There are a handful of different organisations devoted to offering short-term rehabilitation and integration programmes, however it’s merely not sufficient within the face of a mounting medication epidemic.

“Liberian youths need assistance to handle the social and financial downside which is the main explanation for the widespread use of medication,” says Degleh. “Authorities intervention is crucial in supporting  the rehabilitation and integration of addicts  to grow to be helpful residents in society.”

Police seize supplies of kush

Police say Sierra Leone’s Kambia district, which runs alongside the border with Guinea, has emerged as a drug trafficking hotspot – Saidu Bah

Across Sierra Leone, more than 100 drug users and dealers have been convicted, with dozens of cartels shut down by police

Throughout Sierra Leone, greater than 100 drug customers and sellers have been convicted, with dozens of cartels shut down by police – Saidu Bah

Guinea is equally battling to comprise a big improve within the consumption of kush over the previous three years, in accordance with the nation’s well being ministry.

As with Liberia and Sierra Leone, the nation’s healthcare providers are severely restricted – there is only one specialised centre, based mostly in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, that gives therapy for alcohol and drug abuse.

Authorities in Guinea declare the kush drug is imported into the nation from Sierra Leone by porous borders.

In response to police sources, a number of automobiles have been intercepted making an attempt to cross the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea laden with a considerable quantity of narcotics, particularly Kush and hashish hidden in garri baggage and palm oil containers.

Sierra Leone’s Kambia district, which runs alongside the border with Guinea, has emerged as a notable hotspot for the trafficking of medication and is turning into a key level of focus for native police.

Throughout Sierra Leone, greater than 100 drug customers and sellers have been convicted, with dozens of cartels shut down by police.

However Dr Mattia stated that “the difficulty of youth intoxicating themselves with kush shouldn’t be a legal justice downside, however slightly a well being and social associated issues that must be addressed holistically.”

Kush users sit in a drug den in Freetown while under the effects of the powerful drug

Kush customers sit in a drug den in Freetown whereas underneath the results of the highly effective drug – Saidu Bah

Freetown City Council grave diggers inspect a grave with missing skeletons at a cemetery

Freetown Metropolis Council grave diggers examine a grave with lacking skeletons at a cemetery – Saidu Bah

In November, authorities officers, spiritual leaders, civil society teams and youth-focused organisations met at Freetown lodge to develop a workable and extra accountable resolution to Sierra Leone’s drug disaster.

In the course of the UN-sponsored assembly, Melrose Karminty, Minister of Social Welfare, revealed that the federal government was in search of to decriminalise and rehabilitate customers, slightly than punish them.

“The federal government plans to ascertain a rehab centre to assist the rehabilitation of and restoration of substance abuse victims,” she informed the viewers gathered on the New Brookfields Resort.

“We wish to give significant life to victims after they’ve been handled and institute treatments to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into their respective communities.”

However whether or not such measures will ever come to fruition and drive significant change, stays to be seen.

Among the many testimonies given throughout the assembly was Mohamed, who stated he had give up his job, withdrawn his financial savings from the financial institution, bought his property, and deserted his spouse and kids to fulfill his dependancy to kush.

“Our youths are struggling, many are dying in isolation,” he stated. “We want assist.”

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