Over the years I was overwhelmed with the thought of staying away from my mother who lived in Mbeya. A friend of mine advised me to use drugs to stop the feelings towards my mother; and that was the start of my addiction,” says Fadhili Ibrahim (32), who is now registered for doses of methadone at a Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) clinic.
Ibrahim, who was once in prison, said that after using drugs for a while, he wanted to quit but did not know where and when to get the proper drugs to recover.
Later, he met a peer educator in the Mbeya area who advised him to register for a methadone dose at the MAT clinic – an intervention implemented by the Henry Jackson Foundation Military Research International (HJFMRI) in the under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funded by the Walter Reed Army Research Institute (WRAIR – TZ).
Ibrahim said that when he started taking methadone, he also met addicts who took the same dose and they progressed well.
“It encouraged me to keep going to the clinic. I become healthy and stronger; I see myself changing little by little. I am grateful for the service I receive from peer educators, which includes counseling and behavioral therapy,” he remarked.
Ibrahim, who has already been in prison for two and a half months, said drug addicts serving prison sentences or in pre-trial detention face various challenges as some police and prison officers have limited information about drug addicts, especially those taking doses of methadone.
“It was kind of hard for me to deal with the side effects of methadone in prison; I often felt body pain and high body temperature. I continued with the dosage and followed the instructions believing exactly that I would recover from the addiction,” he said.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), illegal drugs commonly used in Africa include khat, heroin, cocaine and cannabis. Young people have been identified as the most vulnerable and heavily affected group.
Drug abuse has economic, social and health effects, including; mental retardation, lung disease, heart disease and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), adolescent disorders, young adults and the general public.
Janeth Mwamtobe is a peer educator and substance abuse recovery program recipient; she was drugged by her male partner who was a drug dealer.
“I used drugs for twenty years before deciding to register for methadone treatment at a Dar es Salaam-based clinic at Mwananyamala Referral Hospital. I had to take medication for five years to become who I am today,” Janeth said.
She added, “I had a passion for helping and supporting other addicts; my dream came true when the Henry Jackson Foundation Military Research International (HJFMRI) provided me with the required training, and so, I started helping drug addicts both at home and in prison.
According to Janeth, what prompted her to start taking methadone was the kind of abuse women who use drugs experience on a societal level. She said the desire to help them and ensure they recover is being fulfilled by HJFMRI as she can now support them by visiting them in their homes, in prisons and in the courts.
“Drug addicts experience a lot of abuse in their communities and even from their loved ones. Many are brought to justice or imprisoned for lack of support. I wanted them to have their rights at the stages of methadone use, to get treatment services similar to what other people receive even when they are in police custody or in prison,” he said. – she said, noting that sometimes peer educators are forced to bail them out so they can continue treatment
She acknowledged the efforts of HJFMRI, Drug Control and Enforcement Authority (DCEA) and WRAIR – TZ in providing training to prison and police officers as they now cooperate when dealing with inmates and defendants taking doses of methadone.
The head of Rwanda’s central prison, Ahmad Selemani, said that at first he viewed drug addicts as unworthy of society. He said that after the training in February this year HJFMRI, Drug Control and Enforcement Authority (DCEA) and WRAIR – TZ, he now has a good understanding of drugs and the kind of help that people who use drugs have. need.
He said according to the country’s laws, drug use is illegal, but community members should help drug addicts get back to normal.
“Here in Rwanda, we always make sure that drug addicts, prisoners and detainees, have the opportunity to go to their clinics,” Selemani said.
Andrew Kantimbo, head of criminal investigations in Mbeya region, said that the harm reduction training given to them by the above-mentioned organizations has helped to increase officials’ understanding of drugs and has helped to reduce stigma. .
“Drug use is a criminal offense and we have always been considered criminals. After the training, I realized that there were people who had their professions like teachers, servants and doctors who used to be drug addicts,” he said.
Kantimbo stressed the need to provide drug addicts with appropriate drugs to control infection of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Hepatitis C.
He added: “We have plans to provide education to the community, we want young people to have a variety of activities including sports that will keep them busy,” the official said, calling for more training for young people. executives, especially those involved in criminal justice. .
HJFMRI Executive Director Sally Talike Chalamila said their interventions aim to help people who use drugs through medication in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, which are effective in treating addiction-related disorders. use of opioids.
She said the foundation is working closely with the government at different levels as well as partners with the aim of achieving the goal of eradicating HIV/AIDS by 2030. In the southern highlands, the HJFMRI operates in the regions of Mbeya, Songwe, Rukwa and Katavi.
Sally said they also support two MAT clinics at Mbeya Zonal Referral Hospital and Tunduma in Songwe and operate in 21 of the Tanzania People’s Defense Force (TPDF) health facilities across the country.
“We help addicts get treatment (methadone) at our MAT clinics. We also have a system that allows them to get other types of medications when needed,” Sally noted.
She said that HJFMRI has also established drug treatment centers in Mbeya where drug addicts can meet and participate in various social activities. She said that the centers, too, are equipped with behavior change cancellations to help them return to normal and contribute to the development of the country.
UNODC’s World Drug Report 2022 indicates that approximately 284 million people aged 15-64 used drugs worldwide in 2020, a 26% increase from the previous decade.
Overall, the report estimates that 11.2 million people worldwide inject drugs. About half of them were living with hepatitis C, 1.4 million were living with HIV and 1.2 million were living with both.