Freetown, Sierra Leone – Leaning against a wall, his eyes red and glazed over, Patrick Hindowa described how he spends his days getting high. “I got no job here,” he explained. “Whatever [drugs] I’m going to be able to do, I’m going to do. Because I really don’t have nothing.”
Huddled at the end of a narrow alleyway downtown, Hindowa and two friends shared stories of addiction and life on the street.
“My mother died, my father died,” recalled Bakar Sesay. “Since then – since I was a kid – I chose the street life. Coke and all that.” The 20-year-old said that he has used drugs since he was seven.
The group listed heroin as their favourite, with freebased cocaine a close second. When hard drugs were not available, they turn to marijuana, alcohol, amphetamines, or prescription pills – anything, really. “From the time we wake up, ’till the time we go to sleep,” one said.
Substance abuse has long been a problem for the impoverished West African country. Throughout the 1990s, a civil war gained international notoriety for the role played by drug-fuelled teenagers, who committed atrocities and launched an anarchic attack on the capital. The effects of marijuana, alcohol, and amphetamines contributed to the violence. When the conflict ended in 2002, many combatants returned home addicted to those substances.
In recent years, harder drugs – cocaine and, to a lesser extent, heroin – have become increasingly available, authorities and health practitioners say. They blame West Africa’s growing role as a transit route for the global narcotics trade. Cocaine comes from Latin America and heroin from Southeast Asia, officials explained, and through such countries as Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The drugs then continue on to Europe and North America.Read more