HARARE – An alarming picture has emerged of an escalating cocaine problem in Zimbabwe and the government’s inadequate response to the situation.
There is a distinct lack of treatment services available across the board and there are not enough specialists specifically assigned to battle the emerging crisis.
Police have busted at least two cocaine smugglers at Harare International Airport over the past month, the latest sign that drug cartels are increasingly plying their trade in Zimbabwe.
It is not clear whether Zimbabwe was the final destination for the cocaine, worth more than $300 000, or whether it was a transit point for other markets in the sub region.
But one thing is clear — big drug busts are becoming more common.
Over the past weeks, two female drug mules were arrested at the airport just after disembarking from Emirates – a Dubai airline.
Both seizures point to Brazil’s role as a possible transhipment hub, as highly organised gangs look to hide their tracks to US and European markets by taking advantage of soft security at African ports.
Though the number of people seeking help for cocaine addiction continues to rise, there is a small group of experts helping recovering addicts stay on a treatment programme.
First Step addictions counsellor, Ndabezinhle Hove, told the Daily News on Sunday that most Zimbabweans are hooked on the cheaper version of cocaine, crack cocaine.
First Step rehabilitation centre opened its doors in Greystone Park in Harare this January to cater for the growing need for rehabilitation of addicts in the country.
The rehab reports a sharp increase in cocaine abuse.
“On the rise in Zimbabwe of late has been cocaine, not your pure cocaine, but crack cocaine, it’s quite prevalent. So, pure cocaine is more expensive because it’s in powder form and crack cocaine (crack) is a mixture with bicarb (bicarbonate) to make a bigger supply.
“And also there’s a difference with the way it’s used. With pure cocaine, they sniff it and with crack they use a crack pipe to smoke it,” Hove told the Daily News on Sunday.
Cocaine use, while still low, is on the rise among newly wealthy party-goers in Harare and other major cities in the country.
“Because it’s expensive, it’s linked to the affluent and those who can afford. So, people would want to be associated with that kind of status, not knowing that behind that, is the addiction,” Hove warned.
“Many a times, people who take it, do it with alcohol, which is a depressant. People call it a downer and cocaine is an upper. So people get their drinks and when they feel like they are getting drunk, they sniff cocaine to take them up again, then they are awake and are out to party.
“When people take drugs, it’s recreational, but then behind the scenes is the addiction. Nobody starts it so that they get addicted, but because they want to have fun and get addicted in the process.
“And it’s dangerous because there is a high risk of overdose.”
On the Zimbabwe market, crack cocaine is going for $30 a packet while the pure one is going for $80 to $100.
The most affected ages, according to Hove, are between 18 to 54 years.
Since January, when the rehabilitation centre opened in Harare’s Greystone Park suburb, it has dealt with over 15 cases of drug abuse. It has also held several workshops on drug abuse.
“We have had quite a lot of inquiries and in January, when we opened to now, we have dealt with more than 15 clients coming in for treatment. We have also been running workshops that on average will have 15 people coming for a workshop, there has been quite an outreach.
“At times we get parents phoning in and saying my child needs help after noticing negative behaviour change, and then sometimes someone just picks a phone and says ‘I’m abusing alcohol or I’m abusing a substance.’
“So they come in, we do an assessment and after the assessment, we come up with a treatment plan that is based on their addiction, we don’t use umbrella treatment.
“We look at the issues peculiar to that person; we look at mental state, emotional state, physical state as well as spiritual state. And then from there, the care plan is formulated.
“In June, we will be having a family programme to educate families on substance abuse especially the affected ones, to say how you deal with a family member who abuses substances. What are the dos and don’ts? In substance abuse cases, manipulation is one of the issues,” Hove said.
The “addicts” go through sessions including exercise, meditation, as well as individual and group counselling
Apart from cocaine, a lot of people in Zimbabwe are also addicted to alcohol, marijuana (mbanje) and what is commonly known as broncleer or bronco as well as prescription medicine.