Drug addiction in Zimbabwe: a nation's tragedy

7 May 2019


Desperation and unemployment is leading Zimbabwean youth to drug addiction, with everything from lizard dung, cobwebs, petrol fumes and broncleer are on the list of the DIY drugs used by youth.


Emmanuel Caffe, a Zimbabwean citizen and journalist researcher, told me that 'expensive illicit' drugs like cocaine and heroin are currently out of reach for many unemployed young people, leaving them to turn to a range of cheap options, and concoctions, to get high.


'Here in Zimbabwe there is what they call Gutterwater: a potent mix of codeine, tramadol, rohypnol, cannabis, and water or juice. While the mixture enhances the enjoyable high of each drug ingredient, their side effects are also increased leading to a very risky outcome,' he added.


The spreading addiction among Zimbabweans to 'cheap synthetic opioids', brought in and smuggled from international and neighbouring countries, has had a number of effects on youth leading to deaths and bodies found along rail lines in gutters.


According to the UN, West and Central Africa, the regions within reach of the militants, now account for 87% of all pharmaceutical opioids seized globally.


The average cost of Tramadol pills in Zimbabwe cost less than a dollar and codeine syrups sell for $3 (£2.32). With mass-unemployment a prevalent issue in the country, some believe this is why the young turn to drugs for an escape.


Mental health effect

Youth friendship Bench, a mental health organisation based in Zimbabwe, recently tweeted on the issue, saying that, 'we need more mental health services, often substance abuse becomes a way of self-medicating when one is trying to cope with depression, anxiety and other common mental disorders. Early intervention for these CMD's can help prevent substance misuse and abuse.'


But in the capital of Zimbabwe, Harare, where there’s a 'thriving black market' of drug abuse there is limited access to medical facilities for addicts. The city has only a few rehabilitation centres like Highlands and Borrowdale’s Halfway House, citizens are using social media to demand more access to clinics.


Medical Practitioners like Noble Kufa have complained on the lack of government & clinical response on the drug issue, unlike Cameroon where Tramadol is the second most used substance after cannabis (according to 2017 figures) after the government set up an inter-ministerial committee against cannabis and other drugs.


The pain relief drug (Tramadol) which produces similar effects to the 'high' caused by heroin is heavily used across the African continent.  An estimated 4.7 per cent of the population in Nigeria using opioids such as tramadol, morphine and codeine for non-medical purposes in the past year and in Egypt, a 2015 study by the ministry of health and the UNODC found 100,000 people dependent on opioids with half of that number dependent on Tramadol.



Speaking on the drug issue in Nigeria is Usain Ibrahim fagge. Usain believes there are unofficial doctors selling the drugs illegally in order to gain profits.


'We keep on enlightening and telling them (drug users) the effects of drug abuse but government should provide for the skimmed (poor) to empower the youth before they even get engaged in drugs abuse.


'If the government have already engaged then they should establish force within schools to control things there.'


According to Usain in his area Tramadol is expected to sell at almost $1 which equates to £0.76p


The Kano bred citizen thinks the government should take extreme measures which may stray people away from the abuse and misuse of Tramadol and other drugs but 'most importantly' keep criminals and 'corrupt agencies' away from engaging in selling illegal drugs to everyone. 


Noble, says solutions come in two forms: one that works on ending the causes and one that’s aimed at helping those already affected (direct or indirect victims.) 'This means we focus on socio-economic causes, the unemployment, poverty and the mental health issues that might be the driving factors and as some believe the pharmaceutical enterprises pushing addiction.'


But he also he believes there needs to be an 'urgent' normalisation of addiction by using anonymous peer-to-peer groups, and increased rehabilitation clinics which may also help end the stigma on mental health. The Zimbabwean practitioner is currently in the process of planning his own solution by forming a peer to peer support group for mental health sufferers and addicts.


He’s said to update me in the following few months. 



A Backbench Report by Abbianca Makoni.


Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Please reload

Want to respond? Submit an article.


We provide a space for reasoned arguments and constructive disagreements.

Help to improve the quality of political debate – support our work today.