Govt under pressure as drug abuse cases spike

According to mental health experts, a patient requires psychiatric treatment when manifesting symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions, due to the use of drugs and there will be urgent need for rehabilitation to prevent relapse, or encourage drug abstinence.

MIRIAM MANGWAYA GOVERNMENT is under intense pressure to establish rehabilitation centres accessible to ordinary drug users owing to the growing demand of people in need of professional mental health care.

An investigation conducted by the Zimbabwe Independent in conjunction with Information for Development Trust — a non-profit organisation that promotes investigative reporting — showed that the government is yet to establish rehabilitation centres to cater for people suffering from drug use related mental challenges.

Government runs psychiatric health institutions which include Sally Mugabe Psychiatric Unit and Parirenyatwa Annex Psychiatric Unit both in Harare, Ingutsheni Psychiatric Hospital and Ngomahuru Hospital in Masvingo.

Parirenyatwa Hospital

According to mental health experts, a patient requires psychiatric treatment when manifesting symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions, due to the use of drugs and there will be urgent need for rehabilitation to prevent relapse, or encourage drug abstinence.

Private rehabilitation centres located in Harare’s low-density suburbs are charging exorbitant fees which have made them inaccessible to ordinary drug users, according to a survey conducted by the Independent.

Drug use is common in Harare and other major towns and cities but the problem has become prevalent among a number of youth in high density suburbs known as the ghettos in street lingo.

Crystal methamphetamine (meth) known as mutoriro is the most commonly used drug.

Crystal methamphetamine (mutoriro)

The survey showed that local rehabilitation centres, most of them located in leafy residential suburbs of Harare, charge from at least US$50 consultation fee up to US$2 000 service fee per week.

This is, however, out of reach for ordinary people with the majority surviving below the poverty datum line.

At Highlands Halfway Home rehabilitation centre located in Highlands, Harare, a patient with drug-related illness seeking help is supposed to pay a consultation fee of US$150 and an additional US$40 for drug tests.

The patient is also supposed to pay an admission fee of US$620 per week to the clinical psychologist, occupational therapist and two doctor’s visits.

At Borrowdale Halfway Home, the drug patient is expected to pay the same consultation and drug test fees, but will pay an additional US$700 for a room which is shared.

At Mandara Manor rehabilitation centre, the consultation and drug test fee charges are also the same but the patient is expected to fork out US$1 060 admission fee per week for doctors’ services.

Serenity Mind Centre in Milton Park charges US$100 as consultation fee and an additional fee of US$60 for follow up checks. The patient pays US$480 rehabilitation services fee and US$120 for doctor’s visits twice per week.

The charges exclude the prescribed drugs which vary depending on the patient’s status.

Anti-drug abuse activists, however, noted that public health institutions were overwhelmed with patients due to affordability which usually compromised the quality of services offered.

“Zimbabwe does not have public rehabilitation centres. So there is nowhere to go for ordinary people in need of rehabilitation if they have challenges after drug use.  As for private rehabilitation centres, they are expensive and only a few can go there,” Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network executive director Wilson Box said.

“There is urgent need for public rehabilitation centres if possible one per province from the newly launched drug use fund to offer harm reduction and treatment services.”

Clinical psychologist Lazurus Kajawu said the government institutions were not adequate to deal with the increasing number of drug addition cases.

“Government has psychiatric centres for drug users and other mental patients, but they may not be enough given how big the challenge of drug use has become. The danger of inaccessibility of rehabilitation is that it complicates recovery,” he said.

“Patients will relapse easily and the prevalence of mental disorders will increase and this will affect the general welfare of society. Eventually it will affect the nation’s productivity.”

Another clinical psychologist Tarisai Bere advocated for early childhood curriculum on the dangers associated with drug use in communities.

“We have to normalise talking about these issues not just in our schools but within our homes too. Boarding schools should carry out inspections of alcohol and drugs and make this a part of inspection activities. Awareness should start early and let’s include primary school children even as young as nine years old,” she said.

But concerns have been raised on lack of successful prosecution on use of crystal meth as the drug was not listed as a dangerous drug under Dangerous Drugs Act Chapter (15:02).

In June last year, prominent Harare lawyer Admire Rubaya challenged prosecution of Anesha Brenda Gumbo on charges of dealing in crystal meth,  arguing that the drug was not classified as a dangerous drug  under the Schedule of Dangerous Drugs Act Chapter (15:02) hence Gumbo had not committed any offence.

Legal expert Jacqueline Sande also said if crystal meth was not listed as a dangerous drug, individuals found in possession were not liable to prosecution.

“What it then means is that, people will continue selling and using the drug because they will not be committing an offence. Government has to amend the law listing crystal meth as a dangerous drug so that users and those found in possession can be prosecuted or imprisoned if found guilty, thus deterring offenders,” Sande said.

The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Virginia Mabhiza, said the government was aware of the need to list crystal meth as a dangerous drug and were in the consultation process.

“We are aware of the problems associated with drug abuse,” Mabhiza said. “We have had some discussions with the police Drugs and Narcotics Unit over that issue. However, before we make concrete steps on such key legal deliberations, we have to consult first with other relevant stakeholders.”