Mishaeli Najimu, 25, is a former drug abuser currently undergoing medical treatment and rehabilitation at the Muhimbili National Hospital’s department of Psychiatry and Mental Health.
Najimu who has been free of addiction since February 2011 says his history with drugs spans back 15 years. During the time, he has seen many of his drug using friends die or end up in jail or in mental hospitals because of excessive use of intravenous drugs.
He says many of his friends who remain in drug using joints have no plans to stop visiting the vijiwes (jobless corners) where they get their daily supply of heroin.
According to Najimu, men and women between the ages of 15 and 60 frequent the maskani (jobless corners) multiple times a day, beginning as early as 8 a.m. for what they call ‘kujitibu.’ Kujitibu refers to injecting heroin necessary to maintain one’s level “of a high” for as long as one’s body can withstand. Frequent intravenous use, they believe, gives them the energy they need to get through their “backbreaking jobs” in the oppressive heat.
“Young people often talk about the ‘highs’ induced by the illicit drugs but many may not be aware of the lows," says a concerned Najimu.
Illicit drug use is a concern because it poses a threat to health. Negative effects vary depending on the type of drug consumed, the doses taken and the frequency of use. “All illicit drugs have immediate physical effects, but they can also severely hinder psychological and emotional development,” says Najimu.
Around 200 million people take drugs at least once a year. Of these, 25 million are regarded as drug dependent. Every year 200,000 people die from drug-related illnesses.
Young people are more susceptible to drug use. Prevalence of drug use among young people is more than twice as high as drug use among the general population; three times as high in the case of cannabis. Much more needs to be done to provide young people with the skills, information and opportunities to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
Leading a healthy lifestyle requires making choices that are respectful of body and mind. To make healthy choices, people, particularly the young, need guidance from role models and need to get the right facts about drug use.
Several efforts such as those of Tanzania AIDS Prevention Program (TAPP) and Médecins du Monde (MDM) or Doctors of the World, to mention a few provide young people and others with tools to inform themselves about the health risks associated with illicit drug use.
The world drug problem continues to be a serious threat to public health, the safety and well-being of humanity, in particular young people, and the national security and sovereignty of the nation, and it undermines socio-economic and political stability and sustainable development.
As the world commemorates the International Day against Drug abuse and illicit trafficking on June 26, in Tanzania drug abuse remains a huge driving factor behind the high crime rates in major towns.
Drug addiction involves all layers of the society in the majority of countries of the world. And unfortunately Tanzania is no exception. Although drugs are used everywhere, including small towns, it is in the large cities that injecting of heroin is more prevalent.
In his maiden speech last year to commemorate International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said; "Unless we reduce demand for illicit drugs, we can never fully tackle cultivation, production or trafficking. Governments have a responsibility to counteract both drug trafficking and drug abuse, but communities can also make a major contribution. Families, schools, civil society and religious organizations can do their part to rid their communities of drugs. Businesses can help provide legitimate livelihoods. The media can raise awareness about the dangers of narcotics.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to addressing the drug challenge. Each community has a unique set of problems and circumstances. This is why tailored actions developed with the participation of all the concerned sectors of society, from families to schools to local health service providers and law enforcement professionals are the best options in addressing drug-related problems. Community-based interventions also make sense financially; by working together, communities can create synergies, build upon existing infrastructures and leverage resources.
Equally important is that by approaching the drug issue from an inclusive and participatory perspective, community-based interventions will ensure that every sector of society feels ownership and responsibility to do their part in addressing this challenge. Only by working together can we create a healthier and safer world that is not plagued by drug-related crime and violence.
Dr. Frank Masao, one of the doctors coordinating the day to day activities of the clinic at Muhimbili is optimistic that there is a silver lining in the dark side of clients’ drug life.
“My work and that of our team is to bring back young people from the brinks of self-destruction through alcohol and drug abuse by offering them medical treatment and counseling,” Masao says.
Dr. Masao added that a survey carried out in 2000 indicates that heroin use had gained a foothold and that trafficking and injecting drug use more than doubled in Dar es Salaam.
He says substance abuse in Tanzania is the result of optimal market conditions while policies exist, their implementation need more effort to bring to task those involved in trafficking, and care for drug users needing medical, social and psychological interventions. Other areas needing interventions include efforts aimed at decreased unemployment, poverty, corruption and the breakdown of traditional values.
Heroin abuse in the country according to Dr. Masao has also led to an increase in related social, medical and economic problems, including poor health, domestic violence, reduced productivity, increased crime, sexual violence, unsafe sex and exposure to HIV/AIDS.
Yet despite the challenges posed by drugs, the impact can be mitigated. By taking a balanced approach that addresses the supply of drugs and confronts the demand with sound preventive action, societies can make a difference in curbing the negative impact of drugs. In addressing drug use, prevention, treatment and care, intervention replica to that of TAPP, MdM and other organizations according to Dr. Masao are promising and call for concerted efforts to expand such services beyond the borders of Dar es Salaam.