How drug/substance abuse endangers lives of Sierra Leonean youth


    November 16, 2021

    By Alhaji Haruna Sani

    In a makeshift structure located right in the heart of Freetown just behind a garage were about 15 youths including 4 young girls, all below age 30. Some were snoozing and profusely sweating with their mouths widely opened and eyes closed, others snuffling some dust in a piece of paper, while the rest were busy replacing the tobacco leaves in cigarettes sticks with some substance (kush).

    FLICK, FLICK – the lighter they held in their hands came alive springing out flames which they use to light their substances. After sniffing in and puffing out slow smoke, tensions mounted, the once dull atmosphere turned lively by explosive vocal sounds of laughter, talks about how better chances awaits them abroad and more.

    Less than two minutes, one of the ladies was screening aloud, rat! rat! rat!. Where is the rat? Asked others. In my stomach, she replied. Those who whose senses were not been completely taken away by the substances burst into laughter. Suddenly, two of the boys started vomiting ceaselessly. For me, it was scary to be on that scene so I peacefully departed.

    Earlier on, I have seen incidents of such in different locations of Freetown. Drug/substance abuse is said to be taking a terrifying dimension in Sierra Leone especially in the capital Freetown.

    Apart from reports of chronic health conditions of abusers, experts have also established a nexus between the menace and rising incidences of violence, crimes and accidents.

    The enormity of the danger of drug misuse calls for urgent need to nip the problem in the bud. The undesirable subculture had flourished whereby adolescents and young adults wantonly indulged in the abuse of illicit substances in the nook and cranny of Freetown.

    The issue of drug abuse is not a novelty in Sierra Leone and the world at large, but the pace at which it is prevailing needs more and urgent attention by all and sundry to curb the menace.

    Conventional substances such as cannabis spark 2, Kush, and prescription opioids, such as tramadol and codeine are also experimented with dangerous mixtures by youth.  

    Loss in productivity and mental health issues are some of the consequence of drug/substance abuse.

    Kissy Lunatic Asylum is the only Government mental hospital in the country. It was established in 1820 as the first lunatic asylum in colonial Sub-Saharan Africa. It originally catered for both mentally and physically ill persons who cannot look after themselves.

    Owing to the persistent stigmatisation of both patients and staff by the public, it was renamed in 2006 as the Kissy Psychiatric Teaching Hospital from Kissy Mental Home (Krase Yard).

    Doctor Keifa Koromba Kpallu is the Resident Psychiatrists at Kissi Psychiatric Teaching Hospital. “Drug can be defined in pharmacological term, medicinal term and addictive term”, he stated.

    In pharmacological terms, he said, drug can be defined as any chemical taken in by an individual that can produce a biological effect. He defined drug medicinal term, as is any substance taken for the purpose of curing or managing the individual of a disease condition. Lastly, he defined drug in addictive term is any chemical that has addictive tendencies and which is taken for the purpose that is not really meant for.

    He said substances usually abused includes cocaine, marijuana, shisha, hallucinogen, haloid, methamphetamine, LSD, DMT, heroin, ecstasy, and more all of which he said can either cause de-motivational syndrome, social personality disorder, or hallucination.

    The resident psychiatrist also define psychoactive substance as chemicals which when taken by an individual alters their mood, thought, sensory perception and behaviour. He added that pharmaceutical drug can also be psychoactive substances provided they enter into person’s brain and alters the way the person thinks, behaves, feels and perceive his surroundings. He said psychoactive substance induced psychosis (a mental illness or disorder).

    He broadly categorises drugs into psychoactive and non-psychoactive substances. He said psychoactive substances are opioids like tramadol, morphine, heroine and more. He added that stimulants like cocaine, depressants like diazepam, and relief, and hallucinogens like LSD,and others like kush marijuana, hashish, shisha and more are all sub categories of psychoactive substances.

    He said non psychoactive drugs are antibiotics like ibuprofen, diclofenac and more.

    Doctor Kpallu confirmed that about 80% of patients in the hospital are youth, adding that about 85% of the causes of their illness are as a result substance or drug abuse or misuse. He said in recent years there has been a surge in the number of cases reported to the hospital.

    He said only 20% of psychosocial illnesses (illnesses as a result drug/substance abuse) brought to the hospital fully recovered from their condition, and that 80% remain in their condition for lifetime.

    He maintained that the 80% who could not be cure are those having anti-social personality disorder like stealing, gambling and those involve in clique activities. He concluded that supply of drug can never be completely eradicated; the only solution he said is to reduce the demand. “One does not have to abuse drug for long before been affected, taking drug for the first time may cause serious harm”, he said.

    The Pharmacy Board of Sierra Leone (PBSL) regulates the production, distribution and use of pharmaceuticals and also enforces standard to prevent misuse of medicines through the Enforcement and Narcotics Department.

    Tima Sannah Brewa is the Public Relations Officer of Pharmacy Board Sierra Leone.She told Concord Times that Pharmaceutical drugs are commonly misuse and taken as stimulants. She said they conducts regular drug audits of wholesalers and distributors of pharmaceutical premises and regularly inspects pharmaceutical premises to ensure they comply with standards of pharmaceutical care and pharmaceutical supply chain management.

    “Pharmacy Board also has an outreach programme through which it regularly educates the public on safe and efficacious use of medicines and health products”, she stated. 

    Brewa said that Pharmacy Board has established Task Forces comprising Pharmacy Board Enforcement, Narcotics Department and Inspection Department as Law Enforcement Agencies.  “However it faces limitations in terms of its powers to prosecute,” she maintained. 

    “Multiple border entry points undermine effective control of pharmaceutical imports into Sierra Leone, and there is only one Pharmacy graduating Institution in Sierra Leone which is contributing to the lack of enough Pharmacy manpower,” she disclosed. 

    She highlighted some inroads made by the Board. But despite those achievements, pharmaceutical drug abuse is still going unabated except for tramadol which over the past years have been very scarce and expensive due to measures initiated by the Board.

    Abusers who get access to tramadol now buy it at a whooping coast of Le 25,000 to Le 30,000 (2 to 3 US Dollars) per tablet or capsule.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) defined substance/drug abuse as a harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs which impact on abusers is not limited to health hazards but also with a heavy financial burden on them.

    According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2021, released ahead of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (IDADAIT), around 275 million people used drugs worldwide in the last year, while over 36 million people suffered from drug use disorders.

    The report emphasised the importance of strengthening the evidence base and raising public awareness, so that the international community, governments, civil society, families and youth can make informed decisions, and better target efforts at preventing and treating drug use, and tackling world drug challenges.

    According to the latest global estimates 24 June 2021, about 5.5 percent of the population aged between 15 and 64 years have used drugs at least once in the past year, while 36.3 million people, or 13% of the total number of persons who use drugs, suffer from drug use disorders.

    The immediate aftermath of drug and substance abuse is extremely noticeable in Freetown. Reactions of drug/substance abuse vary on the type of substances abused or the systems of the abusers. Some abusers behave vulgarly to an extent of becoming a threat to their own lives and other people’s lives as well.

    Today drug/substance abuse has become a phenomenon among youth in Freetown. It is most common among people between the ages of 19 and 39.

    The City of Rest started operating in 1984 through offering prayers and evangelism for depressed people by Reverend Morie Ngobeh.

    Lately the facility started using psychoactive drug which greatly improved on the healing of patients. It presently stands as the only private mental care facility in Sierra Leone.

    “Our vision and aim is to bring spiritual, physical and psychosocial healing and restoration to lives that have been severely affected by drug and substance abuse through drug addiction. Our mandate is to see that drug abusers are reintegrated into society with compassionate care and counselling through Christ” James Ngobeh, Executive Director of City of Rest explained.

    Ngobeh further explained that there facility accommodates about 75 patients at a time but due to Covid-19 measures they only accommodate 45 at a time. He said over the years of operation, City of Rest has cure and reintegrated more than 10,000 patients.

    He intimated that young people between ages 15 to 35 constitute about 80% of their patients. He cried out for Government to help them with logistics so that they can be well equipped in rescuing drug abusers.

    Ngobeh said key among the primary causes of substance abuse, is weak economy which leads to unemployment among youths and most of them abuse substance as a remedy to their problems.

    He also measure peer group pressure or influence and depression as another causes of drug abuse. He added that it is because of peer group influence that most pupils and university students abuse drugs.

    Ngobeh challenged that if government do not put measures in place to drastically reduce drug abuse there will be an unimaginable number of mentally disturbed or mad people in the street of Freetown by 2024.

    He said drugs like Mole, kush, tramadol, codeine, spark 4, Cannabis have become too rampant in the city. He maintained that if government fail to take immediate and prompt action in stopping the importation of those drugs the many young people will end up becoming complete disappointments.

    Ngobeh sternly warn youth to quit drug abuse because it damage their mind-set, their neurons, all of which he said causes huge set back in their lives and making them lose their grip in society.

    “My fellow youth!, let us focus on becoming better people in society. If young people continuing taking drug because government didn’t provide jobs, then we are causing no harm to government but ourselves. Let us all take responsibility by advising young people to deviate from taking drug and all forms of psychoactive substances”, he warned.

    Government through the Ministry of Youth Affairs has also been making some frantic efforts to ensure that most of the youth in the country are gainfully engaged.

    Mohamed Orman Bangura is minister of Youth Affairs and the youngest of all ministers in the cabinet of President Bio. “We are doing a lot to ensure that youth are gainfully engaged which also could help them stay-off substance abusing”, he explained.

    He mentioned several projects the ministry is undertaking to keep the youth employed. He highlighted the 191 chiefdom youth council, 16 district youth council development empowered with training, 1400 youth in fishing, youth in car wash, youth in entrepreneurship, chiefdom youth farm, youth at risk, national youth service and more, as a way of fruitfully engaging the youth populace.

    Minister Orman said the youth at risk is a scheme that has a special sector which embarks on sensitizing youth on dangers of substance abuse and rehabilitating those who are already into it.

    He also advised youth out there to vacate the use and abuse of psychoactive substance adding that “to whom much is given much is expected”, he stated.

    Thomas Foday is the National Coordinator of the Sierra Leone chapter of Youth for Human Rights International and also coordinator for the Foundation for Drug-Free World Sierra Leone Chapter.

    He said drug/substance abuse or misuse is a worldwide crisis which needs chain work to help tackle the menace. He suggested that government should set aside some special amount to the youth ministry so that they can carry out massive sensitisation against drug/substance abuse.

    “Myself and my fellow volunteers are doing our own bit by organising campaign in schools, ghettos and deprived communities so that the menace can be curtail”, he stated.

    Foday called on government and other organisations to support the Sierra Chapter of Drug Free Word with funds so that they can intensify sensitisation and campaign against drug abuse all over the country especially Freetown.