What you need to know:
- Some users who spoke to the Nation revealed that the drugs are so potent that some of their peers die after consuming them.
- Another patient at a rehabilitation centre said the mixing process, which is closely guarded, is limited to suppliers who have mastered the technique and are doing it on a large scale.
- “They purchase large quantities of different drugs, estimate the measurements, and use blenders and ovens to mix and dry the drugs,” she said.
A visit to drug rehabilitation centres can be a mentally jarring experience, and at the coastal region it is not different. The mood changes once you set foot inside; with patients fighting to get their life back together.
In rehabilitation centres in Kwale County, we met young men and women in their late teens and early twenties whose physical appearances seemed a far cry from their real ages.
A number of them said they started using hard drugs as teenagers in high school, leaving them malnourished with sunken eyes, drooling from time to time, and even suddenly losing consciousness while in public spaces.
It was in one of these centres where we came face-to-face with the reality that nowadays, the youth are no longer using known hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Drug addicts have turned to lethal mixtures of narcotics with over-the-counter drugs, including a mix that they refer to as ‘Nairobi Flower’.
Maria, (not her real name), one of the patients at the rehabilitation centre says she began abusing drugs as a teenage student in a secondary school in Kwale County. She was introduced to drugs by her friends, whom she would meet at the salon where she worked part-time.
"I grew up in Naivasha, but my parents asked me to move in with one of my aunts in the Coast region. So I changed schools and started living with her while working at a salon," she explained.
Like many addicts, she started with marijuana before moving on to harder drugs that are commonly supplied in Ukunda.
Eventually, she became a drug tester – being the first one to try out the drugs and determine their potency before they were sold to others.
Years later, she is now trying to recover, having gone through the worst experiences as an addict, including a near-death encounter.
"As a drug tester, I would be called whenever there was a new supply in the market and would consume the drug. My reaction would indicate its strength. One time, I almost died after inhaling a potentially dangerous drug and had to be rushed to the hospital," she recalled.
Many addicts have since turned to a mixture of drugs which is said to be less expensive than other known hard drugs.
According to Maria, ‘Nairobi Flower’ is adulterated heroin, which is a mixture of the drug with another cheaper prescription drug.
It is believed that peddlers do this in order to increase its volume and potency and that it got its name from claims that it originated from university students in Nairobi.
According to a report released a few weeks ago by the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada), the supply and use of mixtures of drugs, commonly referred to as polysubstance or poly abuse, is on the rise across the coast region.
The state agency’s Acting CEO John Muteti said they based their report on a study conducted by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, Government Chemist, and the Interior ministry.
Most of the drugs used are meant to be antidepressants to treat anxiety, depressants to address sleeping problems, strong pain relievers, and veterinary animal tranquilisers used for sedation and anaesthesia.
“Some of these drugs serve as an alternative to heroin that users and dealers are actively seeking,” states the report.
The government and experts believe that these stronger drugs may be responsible for the increasing number of addicts who appear zombie-like on the streets.
Some users who spoke to the Nation revealed that the drugs are so potent that some of their peers die after consuming them.
Another patient at a rehabilitation centre said the mixing process, which is closely guarded, is limited to suppliers who have mastered the technique and are doing it on a large scale.
“They purchase large quantities of different drugs, estimate the measurements, and use blenders and ovens to mix and dry the drugs,” she said.
The solid mixture is then weighed, cut into smaller pieces, and sold to buyers, often at drug dens known as ‘maeneo’.
A single potion can cost as much as Sh1,000 and can provide a full day's dose for a user. Whoever has the strongest concoction has the most customers.
According to Ahmed Mohamed, the director of Kwale Network of People Using Drugs (KwaNPUD), frequent visits to drug dens reveal that users are transitioning to synthetic drugs.
"You will find that most of them are completely asleep and unwilling to wake up. Even a high dose of heroin never used to have this effect on people," he explained.
Omar*, another recovering addict from Mombasa County, said they have specific pharmacies where they purchase these drugs.
"The attendants recognise us and sell the drugs to us. They are not willing to sell to anyone who is not an addict, although we have heard that some of these drugs are actually prescription drugs," he stated.
He said some of the over-the-counter drugs are sold for as low as Sh10, in contrast to heroin, which costs a minimum of Sh300 for the smallest quantity. This is what makes the polysubstance drugs cheaper.