Kisumu youth’s painful fight to get out of heroin addiction

David Osido, a psychological therapist, engages drug addiction patients at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital Wellness Centre in Kisumu. [Kevine Omollo, Standard]

For Achieng, a sunset without a taste of heroin calls for celebration.

For the past five months, she has endured the painful experience that comes with trying to come out of drugs bondage. Serving three years in prison may not have been the worst punishment in her life, but having to deal with life out of drugs.

Achieng is one of the 245 heroin addicts currently undergoing rehabilitation at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital Wellness Centre.

She was the first female to be enrolled in the programme funded by Kisumu County government and International Centre for AIDs Care and Treatment Programme (ICAP).

Achieng is one of the few clients set to leave the centre after showing positive progress since the centre opened its doors in 2017.

The 35-year-old mother of two was lured into drugs in 2003. She had sat her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination and failed to join Form One due to lack of school fees.

“I moved to Nairobi to look for a job, and since I did not have a national identification card, I got into a company of friends who helped me get domestic jobs like cleaning in people’s homes,” said Achieng.

It was the friends who introduced her to the drug, and before she knew it, she was deep into it.

“One day, I started feeling sick. I was trembling and I was feeling pain all over my body. A friend took me to the den, where I smoked a bit of it, and I felt better,” she added.

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital entrance, Kisumu. [KCollins Oduor, Standard]

It was then that she realised that her life depended on the drug.

In 2015, her parents got wind of her troubled life in Nairobi. They traced her and returned her to Kisumu with the hope that she would reform far from the source of the drugs.

But she soon got wind of new heroin peddlers in the lakeside city and soon, she was back to drugs. In 2017, she was arrested while using drugs and jailed for three years. At the time, she had just been enrolled in a hospital for methadone treatment.

“I thank God the hospital ensured I got the treatment for the period I was in prison, and when I cleared my term in 2019, I had no traces of the drug in my blood,” she said.

Her journey out of drugs is, however, a painful one. Rejection has become her biggest headache.

Nobody wants to associate with her for fear that she would have bad influence. This rejection made her relapse early this year before she was rescued again and taken back to treatment. She now sells second-hand clothes to earn a living.

Achieng’s story is similar to those of a number of youth from Kisumu who are undergoing painful experiences in their bid to get out of drugs.

Thirty-eight-year-old Bundi lost a job opportunity in Spain five years ago due to drug addiction, and friends and family are yet to forgive him.

“A relative who lives in Spain had organised for some casual job there and helped me and my wife process documentation to help us get there. My wife travelled while I remained behind. I hope I will redeem the chance one day,” said Bundi.

Bundi got into drugs in Nairobi when he was just a Form One student. His Nigerian girlfriend’s family was peddling the drug. He managed to keep it a secret until he sat for his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination.

Psychological therapist David Osido engages drug addiction patients, Kisumu. [Kevine Omollo, Standard]

His real colours were discovered when he dropped out of a computer package training class. All he wanted was heroin, and nothing else.

And just like Achieng, the last born in a family of seven was moved to Kisumu in a bid to get him away from the drug den. But still, the drug was available in Kisumu.

It was not until four years ago that a friend introduced him to methadone treatment, with which he has been trying to transform his life.

But this journey is more painful, as he has lost several job opportunities after the to-be-employers discovered his life in drugs. He now survives on making liquid soap for sale.

His story is not different from that of Otieno who dropped out of school in Standard Five while living with his parents in Ukunda, Mombasa.

His friend was from the family of peddlers and introduced him to the drugs. He escaped from home, and moved to Mwembe Tayari, and then to Mathare in Nairobi where he joined a street family for 20 years before his family traced him.

And just like his colleagues, he discovered the dens in Kisumu, and got back to drugs before he was saved by a health worker at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga referral hospital who introduced him to the treatment centre.

According to David Osido, a psychosocial therapist, many of the patients are jobless youth who reside within the slums where the drugs are mostly peddled.

Rachel Arigo, a nurse, said treatment at the facility is free, and all one needed was to commit to the sessions.