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Drug addicts dig up graves to get high on corpses’ bones

Unsettlingly, a national emergency has been proclaimed in Sierra Leone as abusers of a “zombie drug” made up of human bones unearthed from graves to get high.

Police are now required to monitor the graves in the nation’s capital, Freetown since kush usage has skyrocketed.

With entire neighbourhoods teeming with drug addicts, kush has become a major issue.

To meet the demand, dealers have allegedly turned into grave robbers, breaking into “thousands” of graves to take corpses.

The youth congregate in large groups, sometimes sleeping upright and sometimes lounging their heads while bending over.

Also Read: Century-old human remains found in Bulawayo

When high, “zombie” addicts have been known to walk into traffic or fall from high places.

In a nationwide broadcast on Thursday, Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio called the drug a “death trap”, saying it poses an “existential crisis”.

He said: “Our country is currently faced with an existential threat due to the ravaging impact of drugs and substance abuse, particularly the devastating synthetic drug kush.”

President Bio added that there had been “escalating fatalities” among kush users.

The president also authorised officials to form a National Task Force on Drugs and Substance Abuse, whose primary priority will be on “combatting the kush crisis.”

He said that facilities will be established in each district and “adequately staffed by trained professionals to offer care and support to people with drug addiction”.

Officials have also been urged to break the drug supply chain by “investigations, arrests and prosecutions”.

Two recovering kush addicts sit on their beds at the Kissy Mental Hospital in Freetown in 2023
Two recovering kush addicts sit on their beds at the Kissy Mental Hospital in Freetown in 2023
Two recovering kush addicts sit on their beds at the Kissy Mental Hospital in Freetown in 2023

Although illegal in the country, kush is sold and smoked openly on the streets of Freetown.

The exact ingredients of the highly-addictive drug are a mystery, but opioids such as fentanyl are frequently found in joints.

The synthetic drug is also made from a mixture of herbs, toxic chemicals, disinfectant and disturbingly, human bones as they contain traces of sulphur, which allegedly can enhance the drug’s effect.

There is no official death toll linked to kush abuse, but one doctor from Freetown told the BBC that hundreds of young men had died from organ failure caused by the drug “in recent months”.

Between 2020 and 2023, admissions to the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital for kush-related diseases increased by about 4,000 percent, with the great majority being young males aged 18 to 25.

It initially appeared in Sierra Leone around six years ago and produces a long-lasting, hypnotic high that may take users away from reality for several hours.

It normally costs only 20p each joint, but statistics indicate that many people spend up to £8 per day on the substance, which is a significant sum given that the average annual salary is only £400.

There is currently only a single drug rehabilitation treatment clinic in Sierra Leone, located in Freetown, and it was only established early this year with just 100 beds.

Some 63% of the hospital’s current patients were admitted with kush-related problems, the BBC reports.

Dr. Abdul Jalloh, director of the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital, said Mr Bio’s emergency declaration is “the right step” and will be “crucial in addressing drug use”.

He said: “It signifies the prioritisation of resources, attention and intervention to combat this growing epidemic.”

Putting an exact number on usage rates is difficult, but Sierra Leone’s only psychiatric hospital is overwhelmed with young addicts brought in by families in a last-ditch effort to help.

Dr Jusu Mattia, acting medical superintendent and resident psychiatrist, said that 60 per cent of the hospital’s admissions are “kush” related.

More and more people are referred daily, with many of them sedated upon arrival because of their violent tendencies.

“We have already recorded nearly 2,000 cases of kush addicts in 2023 at the hospital. Many are dying in homes and on the streets,” said Dr Mattia.

To help patients wean themselves off of their addiction, care consists of isolation treatment for three to six weeks, backed by anti-psychotic medications.

They can have psychotherapy and join socialising activities such as sport and sewing.

Embraced by euphoria, youngsters are turning to kush to “escape the harsh realities of life” in a West African nation ranked among the world’s poorest.

To make matters worse, Sierra Leone has one of the highest youth unemployment rates which stands at 60 per cent.

Amara Kallon – a 21-year-old school dropout – told the Telegraph that he smokes kush to “forget his problems”.

He said: “I love it. It makes me feel happy for a moment, enough to forget my worries and societal problems.”

Amara, who is now homeless, first sold his clothes and books, and then started stealing household items, phones, pots and dishes to buy drugs.

Another victim, a 25-year-old Aby Bakhar, was an aspiring musician before kush reduced him to a virtual zombie.

“Because of drugs I did not concentrate on music,” he told Channel 4 News.

“Because of drugs I did not concentrate on studies. Because of drugs I did not concentrate on writing. Because of drugs I did not concentrate on anything.”

Like many addicts, Bakhar lost his home and was forced to live on a landfill on the outskirts of Freetown.

There are reportedly over a thousand people living on the rubbish dump, scouring it for anything valuable to sell for a dose.

Kadiatu, 22, also got hooked on “kush” and struggles to recognise herself.

To pay for a joint, she resorted to sex work, enduring wounds from knife attacks and emotional trauma.

“Sometimes when I wake up from sleep without smoking, my body and joints ache,” she told Channel 4.

“After I smoke two, three [joints], I feel okay, I feel alright, my meditation changes, my mood becomes cool. After smoking I eat a lot.

“I used to be a cheerful woman with so many fashion dresses. Look at the hair on my head – I don´t plait my hair [any more].”

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