Daniel Nemukuyu Investigations Editor
ABUSE of the dangerous drug called crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as “mutoriro”, “dombo” or “guka”, by youths has reached alarming levels with at least 100 young men and women appearing at the Harare Magistrates’ Court in the past three months.
The flood of cases for dealing or possession closely mirrors the flood of drug-induced mental illness which is threatening to overwhelm the two psychiatric units at Parirenyatwa and Sally Mugabe Central Hospitals in Harare.
Most of those developing mental illness from the drug are not in hospital or being treated as outpatients, the majority of the mental patients are and they can be seen roaming the streets with others behaving abnormally at shopping centres.
In most communities, young boys and girls who abuse the dangerous drug have changed in behaviour but they remain part of the community until the illness becomes more pronounced.
They are only taken to psychiatric units when they turn violent, show suicidal tendencies or cause problems to others.
At the Harare Magistrates’ Court, the cases now come daily, a development that prompted the authorities to allocate the cases to the Special Anti-Corruption Court, which has, since July this year handled at least 100 cases of either possessing crystal meth or abusing it.
Although drug addicts may abuse other dangerous drugs like dagga, ganja cakes, a prohibited cough syrup called BronCleer (bronco) and illicit beers known as “musombodhiya” in street lingo, crystal meth is dominating the serious end of the drug abuse spectrum.
Of the 100 or so cases involving crystal meth seen at Harare Magistrates Court over the past hree months, 23 involved women.
So far, three people have since been convicted and jailed over possession of crystal meth.
A woman, Tabeth Chakabveyo was jailed 12 months for possessing crystal meth while Matthew Hopkins was slapped with a four-year-jail term. Tonderai Sekiwa was jailed 28 months over the dangerous drug.
However, two suspects, George Banda and Simon Simon were acquitted of illegally possessing crystal meth.
Statistics also show that four of the suspects, Norman Musariri, Takunda Chinembiri, Talent Ankoma and Clever Chidavaenzi, are on outstanding warrants of arrest after failing to appear for their next court hearing.
The rest of the suspects are still appearing in court and their cases are at different stages.
Police national spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi hailed the people of Zimbabwe for cooperating with the police in the fight against drug abuse.
Most arrests were being effected after tip off from the people.
“We have an operation targeting those possessing or dealing in dangerous drugs and the people are cooperating.
“Arrests are ongoing and we appeal to the public to continue assisting us with information leading to the arrest of drug abusers and suppliers of those dangerous drugs,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
The two public psychiatric units at Harare’s two major referral hospitals are seeing ever more mental health cases linked to drug and substance abuse.
Among hundreds of drug abusers who seek mental health assistance at Sally Mugabe Central Hospital and Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals monthly, are medical doctors, nurses, pharmacists, members of the security sector, university and college students and pupils from boarding schools.
This confirms that drug-induced mental illness is not only for the poor and unemployed people who live in the ghettos.
President Mnangagwa recently expressed concern at the rate at which drugs were being abused in the country before instructing law enforcement agents to smoke out and arrest drug peddlers who feed and at times create the markets.
He was speaking at the burial of the late national hero, Father Emmanuel Ribeiro, at the national heroes’ acre.
The President said stern measures will be taken to stamp out drug peddling and violent crimes that are threatening the country’s moral fabric.
While Parirenyatwa and Sally Mugabe are public institutions, those who can afford can take their mentally ill relatives to private clinics so long as the patient is not violent and co-operates with the treatment.
If treatment has to be given without co-operation then the patient has to be admitted to a public institution.
Only when there is a compulsory treatment order does a patient have to be in a public hospital.
Parirenyatwa Hospital alone attends to about 800 mental health patients monthly with most of the ailments being related to drugs. Most patients get help and go back home being treated as outpatients although some have to be admitted.
Admission is only for those with serious illnesses that they cannot go back home while most of them are sent back home after treatment.
The senior nursing officer at Sally Mugabe Central Hospital Mr Nelson Makore said the figures are on the increase. He said 70 percent of their psychiatric patients had drug-induced problems.
Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals spokesperson Mr Linos Dhire said his hospital’s psychiatric unit was now overwhelmed.
“Yes, there is an increase in the number of youths coming to our mental health hospital with ailments related to drug and substance abuse. This has caused a huge workload at the hospital because most of these patients present as psychiatric emergency cases, especially with aggression and suicide attempts. In these circumstances, extensive nursing interventions are needed quickly as well as a lot of manpower to deal with such cases.
“Since the youths are now abusing new forms of substances such as crystal meth, broncleer and other emerging drugs, there is pressure on the part of practitioners to urgently fill the knowledge gap on how to handle these new forms of drug and substance abuse,” said Mr Dhire.
Since the mental health unit handles an average of 800 patients a month, even if most are outpatients, Mr Dhire said there was need for more staff.