9 February 2018

Tanzania: Drug Addicts Turn to Hospital Medications As Govt Crackdown Cuts Supply of Narcotics

Dodoma — Drug addicts are now abusing hospital drugs following the crackdown launched last year on narcotics use and trafficking, the government said yesterday.

The Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office responsible for Policy, Parliamentary Affairs, Labour, Employment, Youth and the Disabled, Ms Jenista Mhagama, told reporters that her docket was looking into ways of working with other relevant entities and address the problem of drug addicts who had resorted to abusing hospital medications. The drugs include Valium, pethidine, morphine powder, ketamine and tramadol.

A government report detailing narcotics abuse and tracking in Tanzania from December 2017 to January 2018 shows that the number of drug addicts seeking treatment has increased.

However, Ms Mhagama could not immediately provide figures. "The government will be in a position to state the extent of the increase once the database on drug users is updated," she said.

The drug control and treatment commissioner with the Drugs Control and Enforcement Authority, Dr Peter Mfisi, said NGOs funding the treatment of drug addicts had reported a sharp increase in the number of people seeking medical attention after being hooked on narcotics.

"One NGO that provides treatment using methadone has informed us that as of December, last year, the number of people seeking treatment daily had shot up to about 50 from 20 reported a few months earlier," he said.

Commenting on the abuse of hospital drugs, Dr Mfisi said there were loopholes that enabled dishonest medics to provide drug addicts with controlled medications, contrary to the medical code of practise.

"Usually, drugs such as pethidine and morphine are given to patients suffering from severe pain, and this should be done under restricted conditions, but some doctors and nurses clandestinely and irregularly pass these drugs to addicts in violation of the code of practise.

"As parts of efforts to curb this impropriety, we are now working with the Health ministry with a view to taking appropriate deterrent measures at health facilities," Dr Mfisi said.

He added, however, that care would be taken to ensure that hospital services would not be compromised as a result of the impending crackdown.

Ms Mhagama said there were currently between 250,000 and 500,000 people who abused heroin in Tanzania. Out of these, 30,000 are self-injecting drug users.

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