THE advent of the Covid-19 pandemictwo years ago caught the world unaware, resulting in a manifestation of social ills such as gender- based violence, depression, mental illness and an upsurge in drug and substance abuse, which are all symptomatic of the breakdown of the community cohesion.
As restrictive lockdown measures became the uniform prescription to curb human contact and subsequent infections, this, however had a negative impact, especially on young people, who ended up indulging in substance abuse.
While substance abuse by young people has been pervasive, it is the prevalence of the uptake of drugs such as cannabis, crystal meth, whose common name for crystal methamphetamine and referred to as mutoriro in street lingo, heroine and cough mixtures, such as Broncleer, which has raised alarm in high density suburbs.
It appears the Covid-19 pandemic, which was dubbed the “new normal” in a characteristic reflection of its disruptive naturecompounded to the grim global economic environment characterised by unemployment, industrial scale retrenchments, which largely affected the youths mostly.
These dire economic straits coupled with the undesirous effects of the pandemic subsequently resulted in increased drug and substance abuse by young people, especially those born between the years 1981 to 1996.
The insecurities induced by the economic woes negatively impacted on livelihoods and on the emotional stability of young people, many who were left without adequate support mechanisms from the traditional pillars of family, friends and communities.
According to World Bank, close to eight million people are living in extreme poverty.
With 90% unemployed, the economic situation in Zimbabwe has forced many millennials to seek greener pastures elsewhere abroad and those left facing unstable economy, poverty and substance abuse as a way to cope with these pressures
The Covid-19 pandemic therefore provides an eye opener on the need to urgently provide health and psychosocial support mechanisms. In particular upgraded health facilities,investment in clinical research,devolution and rehabilitation of community response mechanisms is imperative.
In his bookLeaders eat last, Simon Sinekstates that dopamine released after drug and substance use chases feelings of struggle, intimidation, fear, anxiety and paranoia “hence numbers keep growing”.
In their recent interview with the ZBC, Mubatirapamwe Trust (which deals with long term rehabilitation strategies,counselling and detoxification)highlighted the need for authorities and parents to work together before the epidemic graduates to a pandemic.
“We receive more than 20 calls from distressed parents and it’sso hugethat we’ve to refer parents to Parirenyatwa and other hospitals but they’re not copying” executive director of Mubatirapamwe Christina Madamombe said.
Her sentiments reflect the need for robust awareness campaigns to avert the impending epidemic.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO),Zimbabwe has only two psychiatric hospitals,two psychiatric inpatient units and seven outpatient mental health facilities active countrywide.
With the increase in mental health cases these institutions are overwhelmed and unable to cater for all.
As new drugs continue to arrive crystal methand marijuana have been the most used due to costs and availability.
“Zimbabwean youth also abuse cough syrups like Broncleer and these cough mix contains alcohol,ephedrine and codeine. Codeine is an opiate, and contains morphine like substances,”says Dr Jephias Matunhu lecture at Midlands State University.
Prescription cough syrup likeBroncleerare misused and many young people have gone to the extent of selling family property just to get high.
“It’s a phenomena that has become so common and it is now an epidemic locally …each hospital must put aside a ward to accommodate these people” says Deputy minister of Health Dr Mangwiro, the ministry acknowledge how drug abuse has ravaged young people and the need for creation of wards to cater for drug addicts.
According to Summit Care Trust Health Advocate, about 10 000 new mental illness patients are admitted in hospitals and it is a result of drug and substance use, particularly methamphetamine locally known as ‘guka’ and Broncleer
Faced with a plethora of problemsand stress at home, stress of finding a job, stress with finances and lost hope,it becomes difficult to confront these problems when sober andthe solution remains with drugs.
Stress and drug addiction leads to mental illness with various symptoms such as strange behaviours, violent conduct, suicidal attempts,hallucinations, and paranoia.
Sadly mental health cases have doubled due to drug and substance abuse across the country.Zimbabwe civil liberties and drugs network( ZCLDN), an organisation that was set up in 2011 to advocate for effective strategies for addressing problems associated with drug misuse in the country reports on a number of young people dying due to overdose.
With many unable to afford rehabilitation fees, this has resulted in relapse and many millennial failing to copy with normalcy and returning to drug portions.
Once addicted, the craving is insatiable combined with peer pressure, isolation, discrimination from family andstigmatisation by the community, addicts finds it difficult to cope without drugs.
With the rise in drug induced mental illness, it is now crucial for authorities to come up with ways to avert and establish intervention programmes for persons abusing drugs in Zimbabwe through investment in recreational and rehabilitation infrastructure and self-control initiatives.
- Nyawo is a development practitioner