Together, we can fight growing drug addiction

I met Pablo Escobar in Kisauni Mombasa. Well, not that Escobar, the Colombian. This Pablo was a young Arab addict that I met in the rehab in Kisauni. He called himself Pablo, pronounced Paaablo with a distinct Swahili accent. He liked the long drawn version of the name as it made him sound more cool. He was given this name in the street, recognition for being the highest mover of drugs.

He put himself in rehab telling me that if he didn’t stop doing drugs, he would end up like the zombies in Magodoroni,  a street in Mombasa where the entire population of men, women and children  have lost it all to drugs. They are incapacitated mentally and physically with drug addiction — beyond hope or redemption — waiting hopelessly for the next fix.

Pablo was a super smart kid of 22. His eyes shone with a feral intelligence coupled with street smarts.  How could such a smart kid be selling drugs in the first place? He was embarrassed when his mother asked for money for food or milk and he had to sneak out through the back door rather than admit he had zero money.

His was a classic case of a smart boy who did extremely well in school only to find his education cut short by lack of fees. His  job hunt was similarly short circuited by lack of education. His father was unemployed and his mother hustled to put food on the table.

It was heart breaking to watch his father’s self-respect wither away with the years as poverty and lack of hope wore him down.  It seemed a vicious circle that he could not break out of. When a local drug dealer recruited him, it seemed like the only way out. Within a few months he was a star salesman. On a daily basis he made between Sh1500 and Sh2,000.

He lost

He received a daily supply of Sh6,000 and made his cut of Sh1,500 and won his way back to respectability. It is only when he started using his own product that things started going haywire. He lost the trust of his suppliers and worst of all his girlfriend left him. She didn’t mind him selling drugs, but she certainly wasn’t going to go end up with a drug addict.

So, who are the suppliers? Respectable people who live in big houses in Nyali. You would never recognise them as many of them are pillars of the society. You see them in the mosques, their kids go to good schools and neither they nor their kids use drugs.

Oh No! They don’t use their products. Very rarely would one of their kids become addicts.  When one of their dealers is arrested they release them immediately with a phone call to the right person.

I neither sympathise with the dealers like Pablo nor do I try to justify what they are doing. My own family has too many drug addicts. The greatest tragedy that can befall a family is to see their child slide into drugs and there is nothing they can do.

I have lost millions of shillings sending kids to rehab only to watch them come back clean, then slide back to drugs. The chances of slipping back are extremely high when they return to the same environment. Nobody wants to hire former addicts and despair sends them back to drugs.

Stays awake

Can you imagine the agony of a mother watching her child becoming an addict? It starts in secret. Then the child starts stealing things at home to support their habit, then it comes out into the open and in the end the mother stays awake wondering what hell her child is in after disappearing for a few days and returning home looking completely blank, dazed or violent. In the end, you cannot tell whether the addict or the family are the victims.

As a community, we are at an impasse. Do we spend our limited resources investing in potentially productive kids or waste our money on addicts? It sounds so inhumane.  I have had to ask myself the same question — do I spend money sending an addict to rehab knowing that there is a very high chance that he will relapse or invest in a smart kid who needs fees for high school or college?

What would you do if that addict was your teenage daughter? Unfortunately, it happens to people like you too. Addiction afflicts the rich, poor and middle class, educated and uneducated, Muslims and Christians. And never ever assume that because you brought up your children well, they cannot be affected.

Fortunately, there are many NGOs that  help. Most of these organisations are run by volunteers who give their souls to help. These organisations have had better success than government hospitals.

Government funding would be better spent supporting them than trying to do the job themselves. Let us all support parents of drug addicts as well. Reach out to your neighbour who has an addict and try to help. But for the grace of God, it could be your child.

Mr Shahbal is Chairman of Gulf Group of Companies

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