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Three Reformed addicts’ team up to fight drug and substance abuse menace

Towards the end of 2016, Administration Police Officer Stephen Muturi Hinga started experiencing agonizing headaches which he initially thought were driven by the change of environment as he had just been transferred from Marsabit to Nakuru County.

Though he visited the Nakuru Level 5 Teaching and Referral Hospital and was put on medication, the throbbing headaches persisted for several months.

Things came to a head on the morning of December 27, 2016, when Constable Hinga who had been assigned duties at the Bahati police camp’s motor vehicle workshop unexpectedly lost his eyesight.

Though the now panic-stricken Anti-Stock Theft Unit (ASTU) officer raised a distress call to his fellow officers telling them he had lost his eyesight they at first dismissed it as a joke. Nonetheless, to Hinga it was the day he began the journey of darkness.

He was referred to Kikuyu Hospital for a CT scan. The scan showed that he had a brain tumuor, marking the beginning of a life full of anxiety, tribulation, and hopelessness.

Mr. Hinga was later flown to India where the tumuor was removed but he never regained his eyesight. The police officer boldly confesses that doctors in Kenya and India traced his condition to a marijuana smoking habit that he had picked while in primary school at the age of 11 years.

“Though marijuana has been variously touted as a herb with medicinal values, new studies including the one conducted by the University of California’s School of Medicine have suggested that using the narcotic drug can accelerate the development of certain types of cancers,” explains the cop.

Mr. Hinga states that his doctors informed him that Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main ingredient that causes euphoria and changed behaviour in bhang users can speed up the growth of head and neck tumuors.

THC is at least one of the 13 cannabinoids identified in the marijuana-scientific name- cannabis sativa- which can cause changes in the user including appetite, heightened sensory perception, relaxation, impaired memory, blood pressure as well as impaired concentration and coordination.

The policeman however counts himself lucky for getting a second lease on life after he was enrolled in rehabilitation and training at the Kenya Society for the Blind by the National Police Service which he says helped him overcome the denial stage and accept his new situation but admits that adjusting to the new reality was difficult.

The father of three says his new condition ushered in a new chapter in life- that of campaigning against drug and substance abuse among the youth.

Seated next to Hinga is 50-year-old Joseph Kimondo Kimani who is equally blind.

When he visited an illicit brew den at Kabatini village three years ago in the company of a friend, Mr Kimani had no inkling the worst would befall him.

The events of that fateful Sunday afternoon will remain etched in his mind forever.

Mr. Kimani says that he and his friend ordered their ‘favourite brand’ and enjoyed it as they chatted away the evening.

After he had enough, he started experiencing an excruciating headache and stomach pains and hastily left for his home. On arrival, he retired to bed and when he woke up in the morning, he realized he had a blurred vision.

His neighbours rushed him to Bahati Health Center where he was immediately put on drip because he was dehydrated from a running stomach. That is how he survived but he eventually completely lost his sight before being discharged from the health facility.

Kimani is lucky to be alive as most of his friends who patronized the den that day died at their respective homes. He is now an avowed crusader against alcohol consumption in the Sub-County.

In the same room Allan Wachira, 44, a recovering alcoholic, opens up about his long and windy journey to hell and back for the sake of every person battling the shackles of alcoholism.

Wachira’s relationship with alcohol started in his teenage years. It brought untold pleasure, excitement, and relief at first. Little did he know that he had started on a path that would lead to over two decades of alcoholism.

A Jacaranda Primary School teacher reveals that he stepped into a relationship, which he thought was promising and would end up in marriage. He was 25. However, the relationship could not be sustained due to his alcoholism. He broke up and this affected him so much that he got into depression.

As a response, Wachira confesses that he engaged in excessive drinking.

The teacher reveals that it came to a point where he could no longer hide his condition and started drinking openly, sometimes sleeping on the streets or in clubs. Wachira vividly recalls that his parents and other family members tried to help him but in vain. He ruefully adds that he couldn’t keep any friends as everyone avoided him.

In 2023, he reflected on his life and realized that he was wasting himself.

“I had a job but could not save even a cent. From the time I got out of college in 2001, I got a well-paying job but I spent all my salary on alcohol. I realized I had destroyed my life, I had nothing, not even clothes. I decided it was time to change.

Constable Hinga, Messrs Kimani, and Wachira are driven by unity of purpose. They engage students and youth and have discussions on the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse.           The trio uses their experiences to tell the youth about what happens when one becomes a drug addict.

This way, Constable Hinga adds, they have seen a positive change in over 3,000 students. They also hold motivational talks in other schools.

“We tell the youth that bad company corrupts good behaviour. We always remind them to avoid bad company as much as possible. Walk with people who will shape your life positively. Peer pressure has destroyed many lives”, offers the police officer.

As the three conclude their tales of difficult journeys they have traveled, barely 100 meters away, parents and religious leaders embark on a ‘crisis’ meeting at a nearby chief’s camp over increased consumption of illicit brews and narcotic substances in the Country.

As they weigh on the subject, bearing in mind what is happening to the country’s youth, they affirm that the time has now come for a fundamental change in attitude by all Kenyans and acknowledgment of the pervasive and pernicious role drug and alcohol abuse play in the country.

The parents through their spokesman Mr Peter Tena say alcohol and drug abuse pose a threat to national security.  They call for concerted efforts between law enforcement agents, community leaders, and religious fraternities to eliminate drug and substance abuse across the country.

Mr. Tena regrets that consumption of bhang (cannabis sativa) in Kenya has risen by 90 per cent in the last five years, becoming a major concern.

“Based on the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) 2023 report nearly a million Kenyans are using cannabis sativa; that is, one in every 53 people is using this drug in the country,” he indicates

According to Mr. Tena drug abuse ranks third after terrorism and armed banditry as a threat to national security.

“We cannot overlook the impact that substance and drug abuse have on our society. We must focus on eliminating drugs to safeguard our national security,” he says.

He calls for deeper collaboration between the Ministry of Interior, the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada), and county governments in strengthening the collective fight against drugs and substance abuse in a bid to expand treatment and rehabilitation services.

Mr. Tena points an accusing finger at gluttonous cartels who he claims are operating with the full knowledge of some unscrupulous state agents tasked with ensuring drinks are safe, fueling the trade in lethal alcoholic beverages.

“For lives to be lost and alcohol addiction to grow day by day, it means somebody somewhere is not doing their work since we have policies in place and institutions are well staffed. Somebody must take responsibility,” he demands.

He wants the Kenya Revenue Authority and law enforcement agents to investigate the origin of poisonous ingredients used to manufacture lethal brews and alleges that some of the substances were being sneaked into the country from a neighbouring state.

Mr Tena also urges the Court system to issue stringent bail terms and deterrent fines to offenders contravening the provisions of these laws to completely eradicate and discourage illicit brew consumption.

“Some dealers of killer brews had walked scot-free after being slapped with fines as low as Sh 10,000 after pleading guilty to the offense. We need to have strict laws and deterrent fines that will ensure the complete eradication of illicit brew consumption in the country,”

He urges members of the public to exercise vigilance and caution while purchasing and consuming alcoholic drinks and desisting from excessive consumption of alcohol.

According to Reverend Harrison Mwangi who is representing the religious fraternity, second-generation alcohol brewers and sellers are running genuine traders out of business and denying the government revenue as they don’t pay taxes.

Reverend Mwangi regrets that the illegal substances are causing havoc in the community and even leading to the death of mostly young consumers.

“We are right behind the government in the war against the manufacture and sale of these drinks which have caused a lot of pain among families. We are also parents and hence concerned by the unhealthy alcoholic substances being sold,” He states.

He urges Kenyans to contact the Anti-Counterfeits Authority (ACA), Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), and Kenya Bureau of Standards (KBS) for appropriate action if they suspect an alcohol outlet is selling counterfeit products.

Reverend Mwangi calls on liquor manufacturers to monitor their products in the market in a move aimed at exposing killer brews.

“Looking at the pattern of illicit alcohol trading and looking at how widely it is spread, there is absolutely no doubt there is a heavy cartel in operation. To move such volumes of illicit alcoholic drinks requires a lot of planning, coordination, concealment, and so on. There is a cartel and a huge one. We need to reform our institutions massively and a coordinated approach by all relevant agencies to defeat these cartels,” he observes.

Speaking on behalf of women, Ms Wanjiru Mburu calls for the weeding out of rogue law enforcement agencies from the police, national government offices, Nacada, and others.

She alleges that illegal traders import and successfully clear methanol disguised as ethanol by carefully deleting the letter ‘M’ from the container so that the products appear to be ethanol.

Ms Mburu regrets that many youths have been destroyed by drugs and alcohol saying that it is easier to build a boy than to repair a man.

She says that the police are sometimes frustrated in discharging their duty and calls for a multi-agency approach to the matter.

“When they are called because of an alcohol-related case they sometimes find that the bar is duly licensed by the county government and therefore it would be useless to take such a person to the court. Then the few who are arrested with opening bars before time and such like offenses are released on ridiculous cash bail terms,” Ms Mburu notes.

She urges the county government to have a clear record of the licensed bars.

By Anne Mwale  and Dennis Rasto

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