Drugs user

Kenyan youth are abusing both prescriptive as well as some new illegal drugs. 

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Ya-Ba, happy water, meow... list of drugs abused by the youth keeps growing

What you need to know:

  • The drugs have found their way into the country, with most of them coming in through the port of Mombasa. 
  • According to the National Authority for the Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada) the drug market is extremely dynamic.

Whereas cocaine, heroin and bhang are highly abused in Kenya, the range of illegal drugs is growing. 

Though given innocuous names, the drugs are lethal. They include Ya-Ba, happy water, mephedrone, spice/K2 and ketamine. 

Despite joint efforts by the Kenya Police Anti-Narcotics Unit and the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, the drugs have found their way into the country, with most of them coming in through the port of Mombasa. 

The National Authority for the Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada) admitted to the Saturday Nation that the drug market is extremely dynamic, necessitating early identification of emerging trends to inform evidence-based responses. 

An assessment done between December 2019 and January 2020 across 18 counties showed that other than the aforementioned narcotic drugs, there was increased abuse of prescription drugs. 

Diazepam, benzhexol (artane), flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), amitriptyline, chlorpromazine and codeine syrup were listed among the most commonly abused prescription drugs in Kenya. The study showed that the drugs are mostly abused by the youth aged between 10 and 35. Rohypnol, also known as the “date-rape drug” or “mchele” locally, is commonly used to spike drinks in clubs. 

Nacada also decried the increased use of cannabis edibles, especially cookies, mabuyu (baobab seeds) and sweets. 

“The assessment showed that the prescription drugs were mainly supplied by unethical persons running pharmacies as well as unethical healthcare providers in hospitals and mental facilities,” said Mr Victor Okioma, the Nacada CEO. Most of the hard drugs, however, are imported from various parts of the world.

Mephedrone, also known as meow, miaow-miaow, kitty kat, m-kat, bubbles, drone or plant food is a synthetic stimulant of the amphetamine and cathinone classes. It possesses chemical compounds found in khat and is popular for its stimulant effects. 

Often sold in capsules, crystals, or white powder, the drug can be snorted or swallowed by mixing with liquids. Should you see a young person rolling some powder in cigarette paper, there is a likelihood it is miaow-miaow. 

Memory loss

The drug causes euphoria, alertness, talkativeness and empathetic feelings. Hallucination, agitation, nose bleeding, palpitations, paranoia, vertigo and short-term memory loss are some of the risks associated with it. 

“The risks are higher when it is combined with alcohol, mixed with over the counter medications, snorted or injected,” a report published by Nacada stated. 

Mephedrone, just like ketamine, can be easily bought online. The Saturday Nation ordered the two drugs from an online store via email and was shocked to get a response in two minutes. 

“Yes, we have ketamine. We are ready and willing to supply high quality ketamine, which is 100 per cent effective. We do direct transportation of package...” the email response read. 

The prices were calculated in euros, indicating the drugs are coming into the country from Europe: 100g of ketamine was €600 (about Sh77,200) and a kilo at about Sh257,400. Prices for liquid ketamine are lower, with a quarter litre going for Sh77,200 and a litre for Sh231,660. 

The drug, also known as special K, K, vitamin K or cat Valium is used medically in hospitals, including for short procedural sedation, particularly for children. Taken in large doses, ketamine causes delirium, amnesia, impaired motor function, high blood pressure, depression and potentially fatal respiratory problems. 

Common party drug

Mephedrone was out of stock at the time of our inquiry, but was in stock less than 20 minutes later, after the “client” explained he was in dire need of it. The email detailed the prices, packaged from as little as 35g for €340 (about Sh43,700) up to a kilo at Sh257,300. 

After negotiations, it was agreed that 100g of m-kat and 100g ketamine powder would cost €1,200 (roughly Sh154,380). 

With ecstacy being quite highly priced, dealers have derived a cheaper version called Ya-Ba (meaning “crazy” in Thai), which originates from Thailand. Reports from Thailand indicate that the drug is now bigger than heroin in the country. 

It is much easier to produce locally as the main ingredients include salt, household cleaning products, distilled cold medicines and lithium from batteries. It is 30 per cent methamphetamine and 70 per cent caffeine. 

Ya-Ba is a common party drug, often packaged in green, yellow, pink and blue tablets that are usually crushed and sniffed. The drug causes a disturbing hallucination, with users believe that bugs are crawling under their skin and go crazy trying to get them out. Users also get increased sexual desire and excess energy that can keep them awake for days. 

The drug can be ordered online with ease. It is as simple as filling a personal document and signing it then sharing it back with the dealer to make it “legally binding”, as one website selling the drug stated. Interestingly, the document that one must download to get the drug lists all its effects. 

One then prints the form, signs it, then sends it back to the dealer via a secure Internet connection. There is even a mobile phone application designed to make the rigorous process less stressful. It goes for as little as Sh400 a tablet with a dosage of four tablets going for Sh1,500 (converted from US dollars). 

Happy water is a potent new drug that is a combination of ecstasy, ketamine and other types of drugs. Originally manufactured in China, it is an opiate classified with other stimulants of the amphetamine extract. 

A publication by a Chinese journal on drug abuse in 2011 showed that the drug’s sample tested positive for methamphetamine, caffeine, ketamine and other illegal components. 

Spice/K2, also referred to as fake weed, Yucatan fire, skunk or moon rocks, is a synthetic cannabis that is quickly gaining acceptance among adolescents and college students, according to Nacada’s report. “The drug is sold legally on the premise that it is a mixture of traditional aromatic herbal incense,” the report said.

Like marijuana, spice is abused mainly by smoking, mixed with marijuana or prepared as a herbal infusion for drinking. It produces euphoric effects like marijuana, which includes elevated mood, relaxation and altered perception. Some users have psychotic effects like extreme anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations. With regulations varying over its legality, the drug is sold online on Amazon for as little as Sh1,500 a pound (453g). 

Mr Okioma cautioned that anyone found to be in possession of prescription drugs for any use other than medical purposes is guilty of an offence and risks imprisonment for 20 years. 

“Any person who traffics any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance is liable to a fine of one million shillings,” he said. “The court could also fine him or her three times the market value of the drug... in addition to imprisonment for life,” he concluded.