Pubdate: Sun, 14 Jul 2002
Source: Daily Nation (Kenya)
Copyright: 2002 Nation Newspapers
Contact: (254-2)213946
Author: Dennis Onyango


For many years, Kenyans and their Government left the issue of drugs to the 
anti-narcotics police unit, which focused more on cracking down on 
trafficking and use of cocaine, heroin, mandrax and hashish, these being 
mostly substances on the United Nation's list of illicit drugs.

The small-time, mostly local but equally addictive and deadly drugs, the 
most common of which are cannabis sativa and miraa, were largely ignored. 
Now, a year after the Government formed the National Agency for the 
Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada), the organisation says it has 
established in the surveys it has conducted around the country that Kenya 
is a nation deeply under the influence of drugs.

About a year since its inception, Nacada officials have visited seven of 
the country's eight provinces to assess the extent of drug abuse, and held 
talks with the Prisons authorities, administrators, spiritual leaders and 
teachers. Nacada co-ordinator and former Nairobi Provincial Commissioner 
Joseph Kaguthi says the agency has established that alcohol, tobacco, 
bhang, miraa (khat) and some concoctions never seen before, and some of 
which have come from as far as India and Europe, are tearing the nation apart.

Up to 92 per cent of children aged between 16 and 26 are reported to have 
experimented with drugs. More than half of these stop using the drugs after 
some time, but 25 per cent continue abusing the substances. About 20 per 
cent of these young people, the report says, end up getting addicted.

Children start trying drugs

"Alcohol and tobacco are opening doors for children to start trying drugs. 
The age at which children now access the narcotic drugs has become lower," 
Mr Kaguthi, said in an interview with the Sunday Nation in Nairobi.

"The age 18 rule is now being flouted," he laments.

Most parents and teachers, though aware of the danger drug abuse poses to 
youth, do not know and would not even recognise what the young people who 
abuse these substances take.

Some of the most abused drugs are multiple concoctions of several 
chemicals, powders and shrubs that have a higher capacity to make users 
feel "high" as they rush to their ruin.

In some areas, young people have now taken to using herbs that were 
traditionally consumed only by very old people and even then, on very 
special occasions. But alcohol and tobacco are "mere initiators" into what 
in a large number of cases, ends up being a complex drugs world from which 
the young people can never escape, however hard they try, until some of 
them die aged only around 20.

Bhang (cannabis), which is more common and worries many parents and 
teachers in the towns and the rural areas, is not even the big one in the 
league of drugs the young people abuse today. It is, in fact, treated by 
some of the young addicts as "an escort" for harder substances.

In many cases, people will graduate from using tobacco and alcohol to 
smoking cannabis, "which escorts them into the more weird world of stronger 
drugs like cocaine and heroin," Mr Kaguthi says.

Miraa, which has become a big cash crop in parts of Eastern Province, where 
it grows naturally, comes fourth in the list of preferred intoxicants. The 
use of miraa in its traditional form has led to the rampant abuse of normal 
prescription drugs, it has been established in recent surveys.

"People take miraa to stay alert. They will then have to look for 
tranquillisers when they are going to work," Mr Kaguthi says.

Looks like a smaller problem

North Eastern Province is the hardest hit by miraa abuse and subsequent 
abuse of prescription drugs. The abuse looks like a smaller problem.

The miraa version the people, including teenagers in schools, now resort to 
is a stronger concoction which would make the leaves some people chew pale 
into nothing. Even in its traditional form, miraa is taking a heavy toll on 
the adults who use it, data collected by Nacada now shows.

"Where miraa chewing has taken root, it is said, men have ceased to be men. 
And their productivity is very low."

But the damage does not end at that personal level. Society suffers, too. 
"You take miraa, and then you take a depressant. Then you drive a motor 
vehicle. Just look at the strange road accidents that occur on our roads," 
Mr Kaguthi says.

A concoction that comes in packets the size of tea bags is being sold to 
young people in various parts of the country, especially in Nairobi. And it 
is this that is consigning many to early ruin, but the authorities are yet 
to detect it for what it is and take serious steps to stop the 
manufacturers and peddlers.

In the backstreet shops and makeshift kiosks, the substance sells as 
'Abyssinia Tea' or simply as 'Special'. Its ingredients are bhang, miraa 
and tea leaves. A sachet sells at Sh30, but the impact on the consumer 
could be life-long.

Then there is a small, glittering sachet of another concoction known as 
'Scented Kuber', which is imported from India. The powdery substance sells 
mostly in Asian-owned shops and is reportedly popular with members of the 
Asian community. It weighs 10 grams and is dissolved into hot water or chewed.

Scented Kuber is tobacco-based and schoolboys buy it to get "high". A 
sachet costs Sh20. The Scented Kuber smell can be too strong to be missed. 
It, therefore, comes with another product, for young people who want to use 
it and avoid detection.

Some of the children abusing this substance will buy something known as 
'Tulsi Mix Gutkha' and consume it to kill the Kuber's smell. Both come in 
small sachets and, according to Mr Kaguthi, schoolchildren hide the 
offending matter in their school mathematical sets.

The promotional advert on the Gutkha sachets says the concoction gives 
"more power, more taste."

To try out these concoctions

A warning on the Kuber sachets say it is "best used before six months." But 
it does not have the date of manufacture.

The use of tobacco-based intoxicants is increasing by the day. When young 
people are not taking the usual tobacco, those, especially from Eastern 
Province, are said to resort to taking a local discovery called the 'Mbeere 
brand' of cigarettes.

This brand comprises tobacco and bhang rolled together in Rizla papers and 
sold in a sachet. It has taken a heavy toll on schoolchildren in areas 
where it is consumed.

The Nacada data indicate that where the Mbeere brand and Abyssinia Tea are 
popular, such as in Central and Eastern provinces, more boys than girls 
drop out of school. Boys are more likely than girls to try out these 

Miraa's popularity points to how low things have sunk since independence, 
nearly four decades ago. In the colonial times, according to Nacada's field 
survey findings, the Local Native Council of Embu banned miraa chewing. And 
in the whole of the North Eastern Province, only three Somalis were allowed 
to chew the plant.

In the towns, especially Nairobi, glue-sniffing has become so commonplace, 
with almost every street boy holding a bottle close to his nostrils, that 
many people no longer see it as a problem. Yet it has devastating effects 
on the consumers. Of the popular drugs in circulation, glue-sniffing is 
most certain to cause death.

Dr Bilha Hagembe, the medical adviser at the Nacada headquarters in 
Nairobi, says glue has affinity to fat. It dissolves mylen, a bodily fat 
that is the medium through which nerve impulses work. Glue will wash away 
mylen in a process called demylenation. When the process is complete, life 

To which, Mr Kaguthi adds: "Most street boys hooked on glue never live to 
be 20." Glue proceeds to kill the users' sense of smell. That is why street 
children can get to clean filthy toilets and even carry human waste.

Dr Hagembe says: "Even the majority of health workers are ignorant of these 

More portent combinations

As more and more young people already hooked on easy-to-get drugs find less 
satisfaction in them after prolonged use, they resort to more portent 
combinations, according to a study by Prof David Ndetei, a psychiatrist who 
teaches at the University of Nairobi.

About 8.9 per cent of the population reported using cannabis in its pure 
form, while about five per cent mix glue and petrol. Almost all the other 
drugs, including cocaine, heroine, and mandrax, are used combined with 

"Women have demonstrated to oppose the ready availability of drugs and 
poisonous brews in their local areas. Each time the women stage a 
demonstration, they pass the message that the law-enforcement authorities 
are failing. I wonder why no action is taken," Mr Kaguthi said.

According to Prof Ndetei, there is a tendency for gradual graduation from 
one type of drug to another or a combination of various types. Children of 
ages ranging from one to nine years report to be first- time users of 
alcohol, tobacco glue or petrol and cannabis.

Between the ages of 10 and 15, they have tasted cocaine, mandrax, 
amphetamines and heroin, on top of the all the first ones. From the age 20, 
they are hooked on to every available drug with cannabis sativa being a 
permanent ingredient.

Prof Ndetei says the trend is more common among boys than girls. It used to 
be more prevalent among the urban children but the gap between the rural 
and urban children is closing up when it comes to drug use.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom