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It’s possible, turning drug addicts into good citizens

BONIPHACE Deus and Khadija Kashinde as well as David Jorum and Irene Andrew are couples whose relationship originated from attending methadone treatment at Sekou Toure Hospital in Mwanza.

They knew each other during their days of drug abuse (heroin), but never thought of love affairs until they joined a methadone clinic for counseling sessions. The couples are among 15 others out of the 463 methadone clinic attendants who are set to graduate in this coming January after change of behaviour.

They all share common causes which pushed them into drug addiction – cannabis and heroin.

“My mother used to earn her daily income making local brews. Most of her clients are smokers who used to ask me to light their cigarettes or demanded bhang,” says Deus.

“My mother made cannabis part of her business so that she could retain her clients.” Regular trips for buying cigarette and cannabis sativa made Deus to go for smoking trials.

He got interested with the taste and eventually joined gang smokers in the streets of Kirumba and other areas of Mwanza City. In the long run, he ended taking up a heroin as his favourite drug. This behavioural change pushed into committing such crime as stealing and selling some home appliances so that he gets his drug.

“We used to call this type of smoking a ‘cocktail’ (mixture) as we mixed tobacco, heroin and cannabis. I used to interact with all these fellows, including my wife where we engaged in robberies just to have money for heroin. We never thought of families. I thank this clinic whose counseling sessions made us become a family,” said Deus.

A few months later, Deus’s mother died while his father was serving a jail sentence. He used that opportunity to sell the family’s house. He gave his two relatives a small amount of money and spending a huge amount on heroin.

Deus says they were imprisoned for committing robbery and selling family properties in order to buy heroin. However, the drug addicts experienced shortage of heroin in the streets, a factor that pushed them to abandon their ‘cocktail’ enjoyment and join methadone treatment.

“Things went the wrong way when President John Magufuli took power. Apart from scarcity of the expensive drugs, the available ‘cocktail’ lacked actual taste that we used to feel earlier,” Deus explains.

“It was a must to have ‘cocktail’ everyday but sometimes I spent even a week without getting it, something which weakened my health,” he says, adding ,”dealers (sellers) we used to call ‘Wazungu’ also went into hiding fearing the long arm of the government.”

“For example, a dealer could direct you to find him at Kirumba; and when reaching there, he will again direct you to another place until he is assured that you are not accompanied by police,” said Ms Kashinde.

One of the things that Kashinde will never stop regretting is the way she used to torture her mother, who spent most of her time in search of her in various drug ‘camps’. Her mother went crazy when her daughter engaged in robbery acts as well as stealing some home appliances in order to get the ‘cocktail’ she was craving for.

“She is still suffering from various health conditions despite some slight positive changes, especially when she sees her grandson. It seemed she couldn’t expect that I could one day become a mother,” Kashinde narrates.

However, they all admit that quitting the ‘cocktail’ wasn’t an easy task as one sees others in streets continuing with such crime of drug abuse.

The Head of the Methadone Department at Sekou Toure referral hospital, Dr Eunice Masangu, says many drug addicts fail to abandon the behaviour as they are aware that methadone treatment turns a poison once mixed with heroin or cocaine in the human body.

She says that once one consumes heroin and has started methadone treatment he or she should not revert to drugs because a mixture of the two (drug and methadone) creates dangerous poison that can cause sudden deaths.

“They know and are afraid of such possible and sudden impacts. Methadone is the strongest dose to be offered only for heroin or cocaine users and not for cannabis, cigarette or alcohol consumers,” says Dr Masangu.

She revealed that there are few remaining drug dealers (wazungu) who have been struggling to win the same clients, with some (clients) being easily spoiled.

“That is one of the main challenges we face. We registered 463 at the beginning of this clinic in 2018, with 26 being females, but the current active number is 311. Some have been rejoining (after being spoiled) the clinic, but must start the dose afresh because when going back for smoking, they get affected almost twice more,” she says.

A complete methadone dose is two years and must be taken on a daily basis. She cited the couples mentioned in this article as a good example of clinic attendants, whose both health status and behaviour have changed drastically to become good clinic attendants.

“We are happy that their relationship originated from our service, including counseling sessions. Each couple has a baby, with all children and parents looking good, healthwise,” Dr Masangu says, adding, “We are proud of the situation for it paints a good image of our department.”

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