Daniel Nemukuyu-Investigations Editor
PSYCHIATRIC units at Harare’s two major referral hospitals are now overwhelmed by the ballooning number of mental health cases linked to drug and substance abuse with professionals and students from colleges and universities dominating the disturbing figures.
Most patients are addicted or have complications arising from crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as “mutoriro”, “dombo” or “guka”, although the older abused drugs of ganja cakes, a prohibited cough syrup called BronCleer (bronco), mbanje and illicit beers known as “musombodhiya” in street lingo pad out the numbers.
While most people with mental illnesses linked to drug and substance abuse are roaming the streets in the suburbs, a few that finally visit public psychiatric units for help are putting pressure on the resources available at Sally Mugabe Central Hospital and Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals.
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 are 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. 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.
“Unbecoming trends such as the alarming entry of destructive drugs into our jurisdiction, threaten the fate of our youth. To the youth in general, bring honour to your families, communities, and nation.
“There is need therefore to redouble our collective fight against this new phenomenon of drugs and harmful substance abuse. My Government will thus continue to take stern measures to stamp out this growing threat. In the same vein, gun-related crime will not be tolerated.
“Law enforcement agencies and the courts must work in concert to ensure that perpetrators of gun-related crimes, violent drug kingpins, the supply chains, and drug vendors are definitely smoked out and brought to book,” the President said.
While Parirenyatwa and Sally Mugabe are public institutions, those who can afford can take their mentally ill relatives to private clinics. 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 fast increase. He said 70 percent of their psychiatric patients and drug-induced problems.
“Drug abuse is now high and this negatively impacts on the mental health. In the past, depression was the major cause of mental health problems here but because of the rampant abuse of crystal meth, BronCleer and other substances, we now have drug induced psychosis as the major cause of the ailments.
“Almost 70 percent of the patients we attend to, have problems related to drug abuse and mutoriro is the new drug that is selling more than anything else. It is highly addictive and it affects the mental health of the people,” he said.
Mr Makore said the working population and other productive groups of people are the most affected.
“In most cases, we attend to professionals like medical doctors, nurses, police officers, soldiers and officers from the central intelligence organisation who have drug induced psychosis.
“We also attend to university and college students as well as school children who abuse drugs in boarding schools or in their neighbourhood. Drug abuse is not only for the unemployed because the drugs are expensive and those who can afford are the most affected.
The clinical matron at Sally Mugabe psychiatric unit Ms Enety Mahove said the figures of drug-induced mental illnesses were increasing quarterly.
“Between January and March this year, our outpatients section of the psychiatric unit attended to 229 patients with drug induced psychosis while 63 others were admitted.
“In the second quarter of the year, from April to June, the outpatients figure rose from 229 to 301, while the number of those admitted moved up from 63 to 97,” said Ms Mahove.
Ms Mahove said women were also among those with drug-induced mental ailments.
“In the past drug abuse used to be a man’s practice but women have joined in. We are attending to more women on ailments linked to drug and substance abuse,” she said.
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, Mr Dhire said there was need for more staff.
“Moreover, many of the youths who come with substance and drug abuse problems need to be admitted within a psychiatric institution for stabilisation and detoxification which require more human resources.
“Even after being discharged from the psychiatric unit these patients will still require our care as they will be coming for review and also for different forms of psychotherapy and occupational therapy sessions so that they can be rehabilitated and successfully re-integrated well in the society,” he said.
Mr Dhire said some of the patients are referred to the unit by the police.
“Individuals can become frankly psychotic which may result in gender based violence, suicide, public indecency, depression or malicious property destruction. They end up seeking mental health services such as treatment and counselling. Some of the cases are referred from the Zimbabwe Republic Police and rape clinics for assessment,” said.
Recently, police warned some rogue elements in its rank and file, who are reportedly protecting peddlers of illegal drugs for a fee. In most suburbs, criminal dealers sell dangerous drugs to adults and children in broad day light, often not taking too many precautions to avoid notice, while enjoying protection of some corrupt officers.
A Brazilian national, Guilherme Sodre Alvenaz da Silveria, was recently intercepted at Robert Mugabe International Airport with a consignment of more than 4kg cocaine, testifying to the existence of ready market for the illicit drug in the country.
Cocaine and mbanje are the drugs of choice in leafier suburbs.
Police at times raid dealers’ houses but they reportedly receive bribes from the drug dealers, some of whom now own buses and immovable properties from the dirty business. Drug dealers have become cash-cows for the corrupt officers who receive “protection fees” and allow the illicit trade.
Some residents accuse the police of alerting the dealers in advance whenever the police plan to raid known drug bases in the suburbs.
Responding to the public outcry, CID national spokesperson Detective Inspector Portia Chinho said such bad apples have no place in the police service. Speaking on a radio show recently, Det Insp Chinho appealed for information on the corrupt officers to enable the authorities to flush them out.
“ZRP is on record saying it has no place for such unruly elements. ZRP has zero tolerance to corruption. We always say in every basket you will get one or two bad apples but what do you do with them: you throw them away.
“Give us information on these unruly cops and ZRP will pluck them out and remain with the few upright ones.
“As long as there is any incriminating evidence, feel free to come forth. The police officer involved will face the full wrath of the law,” said Det Insp Chinho.
Det Insp Chinho urged people to use suggestion boxes and police hotlines for any tip off.