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Home / Health & Science

How heroin addiction robbed me of my youth

HEALTH & SCIENCEBy JOY WANJA MURAYA | Sun,Jul 03 2016 15:15:00 EAT
By JOY WANJA MURAYA | Sun,Jul 03 2016 15:15:00 EAT

What began as a contest on who could swallow the most ‘illicit’ tablets meant to treat mental illnesses got David Mbugua hooked to the drugs.

This set off experimentation with substances that could leave him with a light head after his peers ushered him into the world of drugs at the turn of his sixteenth birthday.

 David Njuguna who is attending methadone clinic at Mathari National Teaching and Referral Hospital on 22nd June 2016. (PHOTO: WILBERFORCE OKWIRI/ STANDARD)

“Initially we would swallow about 100 tablets per day of the drug  to get instant excitement and when this was not enough, we opted to smoke and inject heroin whose results were faster and amazing,” Mr Mbugua said in an interview with The Standard on Sunday.

Today the 34-year-old is a recovering addict and describes his youthful years as meaningless and wasted because he got into wrong company of friends and neighbours who worshipped drugs and crime.

Mbugua turned to crime to buy his daily dose of drugs and on bad days he sold his grandmother’s household goods.

His performance in class dropped due to drug addiction. On different occasions in school, he was punished, suspended and eventually expelled from secondary school.

“In Form Three, I could not go a day without miraa and when I was caught, packing and leaving was the only option, sending me off onto the cold streets where I got into the matatu business by day to fund my addiction,” he said.

He believes he is alive today because of his grandmother’s prayers.

“My grandmother not only talked to me but also prayed for me relentlessly, besides sending her friends and relatives to urge me to live a meaningful life in my youth,” he said.

Today he has dedicated his life to taking care of his wife and their ten year-old child. “My family is my life. If I revert to drugs, I will lose them,” said Mbugua.

He is currently in the second year of methadone treatment at Mathari National Referral hospital in Nairobi which he began in February last year and religiously goes for his daily dose at 8am to wean his body from the devastating effects of years of heroin use.

 Drug addicts inject themselves at their hideout in Mombasa County recently. (PHOTO: MAARUFU MOHAMED/ STANDARD)

According to Justus Okenye, a medical social worker at the clinic, the patients receive integrated services including counselling to understand the profiles of each patient, they refer to as clients, in order to provide them with wholesome care.

“We have 598 clients enrolled for this programme with about 423 regular ones whom we receive from three satellite centres in Nairobi who refer them here after establishing their need and commitment to end their heroin dependence,” Mr Okenye told The Standard on Sunday during the interview at the facility.

Disappointments

Mbugua’s friend, Martin Muiruri, 35, joined the conversation after taking his daily methadone dose and described years of heroin addiction as slavery.

“I was introduced to heroin by a female friend after I walked into a room when she was injecting her arm saying that it gave her relief from the problems of the world. I thought about my empty life and the disappointments I faced growing up and when I got my first shot, they temporarily went away,” Mr Muiruri said.

Despite the temporary relief, he realised that he needed a dose or two daily of the drug and his friend introduced him to peddlers who gave him  drugs on credit but later when he became an addict they started demanding for cash on delivery. “Initially I would smoke it but when I realised it was cheaper and more potent when injected, I got the injections and always walked with them for my dose,” Muiruri said.

After completing secondary school in 2000 and he couldn’t go a day without a shot of the drug, and with no source of income, he turned to crime.

“I could never be left in the house alone because I would pocket any item within reach for sale....When I didn’t get money, crime was a better option and at one time I was jailed for eight months for breaking into a house,” he said.

After release from prison, he counted as most of his friends were felled either by the bullet or lynched by the public prompting him to turn a new leaf, and his family embraced him. Today, he gets his daily dose of methadone before he sets out to look for casual jobs to fend for his family.

Lydiah Wairimu also enrolled in the programme in November last year after years of heroin use as an adolescent. “When I resorted to the legs, I exhausted heroin injection sites on my body. Then they began to get wounds and swell, I saw death calling,” Wairimu said.

She resorted to drugs after battling low self-esteem.

“I am determined to get well again, especially regain the strength of my feet so that I can look for a job that will help take care of my siblings,” said Wairimu who is currently residing in Mwiki in Kasarani with her sisters.

The clinic, Medically Assisted Therapy, (MAT),  was established in December 2014 as a partnership between the Ministry of Health and the University of Maryland targeting heroin users to wean them off the drug.

Dr Tracy Njonjo, the pharmacist at the Methadone programme, says the first task after inducting a client to treatment is to perform a urine toxicology, to determine the approximate amount of heroin an individual has taken over a period of time.

 Dr Tracy Wanjiru Njonjo lead pharmacist at Mathari National Teaching and Referral Hospital. She says the first task after inducting a client to treatment is to perform a urine toxicology, to determine the approximate amount of heroin an individual has taken over a period of time. (PHOTO: WILBERFORCE OKWIRI/ STANDARD)

Oscar Munyao, University of Maryland programme manager that provides technical support through the Centres for Disease Control to the methadone treatment at Mathari hospital said there are plans to support another facility in Ngara to reach out to more heroin addicts.

“We are providing access to appropriate care and treatment for persons who have been addicted to heroin. Recent studies estimate about 12,000 injecting drug users in Nairobi and through this collaborative project, we hope to reach out to a total of 1,400 clients in both facilities,” Mr Munyao said adding that the new facility would also integrate Tuberculosis and HIV treatment and management.

Head of Substance Abuse Management and Mental Health Promotion at the Ministry of Health Catherine Syengo attributed the increasing cases of drugs and substance abuse in teens and adolescents to poor parenting, violent environments and peer pressure.

And as Kenya joined the world in marking the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26th, the theme, ‘Listen First’ is hoped to encourage dialogue on drug abuse and war on the menace.

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