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Kush- the zombie drug of Sierra Leone

With youth unemployment at 60% and monthly inflation in July alone at 45%- times are hard in this country, especially for the younger generation. There are very few jobs and the ones that do exist, don't pay enough to survive. For many young people that leaves the informal economy and black market jobs such as- commercial sex work, drug dealing and begging.

Is it any surprise in this setting that a cheap, new and powerful street drug has exploded in use in Salone, especially in the capital Freetown. The drug is called KUSH but that's all people agree on about it. Where it comes from, where it's made and importantly, how it got to Sierra Leone remains a mystery. What isn't a mystery is what it does to the mostly young people who take it as a form of relief from their daily lives. It puts them into a trance like state, some refer to users as zombies staggering through the streets and parks of the city.

What is KUSH- nobody seems to know. It appears to be a combination of various street drugs, fentanyl and lab-made cannabinoids included. Is it addictive- yes, it is. Can you overdose using it- yes, you can and many do in Freetown where deaths are adding up quickly.

A joint of KUSH costs about 5 leones or 0.00025USD. Dealers are everywhere, on every street and in every back alley. They are also in luxury beach clubs and hotels, no part of society is not touched by KUSH. Including the police who have been filmed using it while on duty and are known dealers as well.

At the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Teaching hospital in Freetown, they have seen a dramatic increase in KUSH users from 47 patients in 2020 to 1,101 in 2022. They are currently building an addiction rehabilitation center to counter this explosion of drug use. So far, the government response has been muted other than seemingly random crack downs and police raids arresting groups of users. However, there are plans to add a Ministry of Mental Health which will house an addiction treatment team.

The prevalence of this drug has made an increasingly desperate economic situation even more dire for the most vulnerable girls we work with at SGUW. For the girls who live day-to-day, on the street, we see addiction, exploitation, violence and criminality leading to police involvement increasing while programs to help these girls are few and far between. We hope to change that as we look to how we can help. More to come....

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