Isiolo resident Mohamed Salim is a frustrated man, full of regrets.
He has been abusing heroin and other drugs for the last 15 years and desperately wants to quit even though he is trapped in a serious addiction.
“Heroin is one of the drugs that no one should ever try. I got addicted after two days. Once you become an addict, you will have fallen into a lake of glue,” he said in a recent interview.
His life went south after he was lured into drug and substance abuse by some of his friends and it did not take him long before he separated from his wife when their daughter was three years old.
“I sold my car and other properties to get money to satisfy the insatiable urge for the drug. That was the genesis of my marriage woes,” Mr Salim said, saying he previously operated a business.
It pains him that he is still stuck in addiction as his daughter is about to sit for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams.
“I am living in the streets and have been surviving on menial jobs such as washing vehicles and selling scrap metals to at least get food,” he said.
“I would be so happy if I am assisted to reform. I do not know how I will educate my daughter, who will be joining Form One next year.”
Residents who know Mr Salim say he was not an “ordinary citizen” and pity him with his ordeal that shows how drugs ruin lives and families.
“A number of addicts have been arrested and jailed for stealing because an addict has to do all they can to get money to buy drugs,” he noted.
Young people find cheaper forms of heroin, locally called kete, kichuri, mzigo, kucha, chwiri or dragon, as the best solution to hunger as the drug kills appetite, enabling them to go for long without food.
The drug, which is available in powder form and has flooded drug markets in Isiolo, is placed under the lower lip like the central nervous system stimulant Kuber and causes men to experience menses like women, with blood oozing from their rectums.
Mr Salim is among dozens of youths who are battling drug and substance addiction in the region and whose reform journey is slow and unpromising partly due to lack of treatment locally.
Addressing journalists in Isiolo town, some recovering addicts appealed to Governor Abdi Ibrahim Guyo to stock health facilities with methadone, arguing this would help them recover from addiction.
Methadone is a synthetic opioid used to treat chronic pain and addiction to heroin.
Isiolo is among Northern Kenya counties most affected by drugs sneaked in from Ethiopia. Heroin is Kenya’s second most widely abused narcotic after bhang and this is reflected in the region, sources say.
A 2021 study by the anti-drug-abuse agency Nacada showed a growing market for heroin in Kenya beyond traditional hotpots in the coastal region, Nairobi, Kisumu, Kiambu, Isiolo, Uasin Gishu and Nakuru counties.
High rates of unemployment among young people in Isiolo push hopeless youths to turn to drugs in order to forget the challenges in their lives, thereby exposing them to health risks and addiction.
The youths said they were slowly getting back into addiction because methadone, which neutralises drugs in the body and purifies the blood, is not available.
Yusuf Jillo Dadacha said that while a rehabilitation centre would help addicts, ensuring medication is locally available would achieve better results.
“We want methadone to be provided at our local hospitals and not at a rehabilitation centre,” Mr Jillo said, lamenting lack of jobs to keep them busy as they try to quit drugs.
He claimed that some non-governmental organisations were holding meetings with addicts in the guise of helping them when their ulterior motive is to use them to solicit money for their own benefit.
“The government has neglected us. We do not benefit from food donations and none of our members has been registered for cash transfer programmes, making it hard for us to afford basic needs,” he said.
Many addicted youths have dropped out of school, sold their household items and indulged in crime, while others have gone berserk or been reduced to zombies, unable to perform simple tasks such as washing clothes and bathing.
The most affected must be monitored 24 hours a day, while others are tied up with chains to prevent them from hurting those around them.
Mr Noor Shariff Abdinassir has been helping the group organise themselves to agitate for their rights and seek help from the government and well-wishers.
“The county and local NGOs should prioritise dealing with drug and substance abuse by enhancing access to treatment and after-care services, which is their right,” he said.
Activist Silas Eudan asked Governor Abdi Ibrahim Guyo to help affected youths reform by placing them at a local private rehabilitation centre.
“The county should also come up with empowerment programmes for them so that they can comfortably afford basic needs and avoid returning to drugs after rehabilitation,” he appealed.
County Parents Association chair Ismael Galma said the devolved government should set up a treatment facility for drug addicts at the county referral hospital where the affected youths can access free methadone.
“The cost of treatment is high and the majority of families with addicts cannot afford it,” he said.
Asking security agencies to crack down on drug dealers in the county, Mr Galma said the people involved in the illegal business are known.
He appealed to parents to monitor their children during the December holidays to ensure they do not indulge in drug and substance abuse or crime.
“Let them be mindful who their children spend time with while at home so that they are not lured into drugs,” he appealed.
Nacada was urged to scale up its sensitisation of young people at risk of abusing drugs.