Zimbabwean youths taking embalming fluid as drug

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Zimbabwe’s constituency of drug addicts is swelling as most have taken their abuse a notch higher by getting intoxicated with embalming fluid and powders, used for preserving dead bodies.

With all the country’s economic indicators — inflation, unemployment rate, interest rates and gross domestic product per capita, spiralling poverty — headed southwards due to misrule and failed policies, who can blame Zimbabweans for preferring to stay intoxicated and drown their sorrows?

At first it was marijuana, better known as mbanje, then cough syrups such as Histalix (Hiss) and Bron Cleer (bronco), together with other illicit concoctions, but it seems the cash-strapped Zimbabweans are constantly in search of cheaper but more intoxicating substances.

A snap survey by the the news crew revealed that drug dealers, particularly those who supply marijuana, have gone a notch up in providing “killer joints” as part of efforts to ensure that the user remains on a high for a longer period, commonly known in street lingo as ‘kusticker’.

The embalming fluid, which is now popular among locals, is used to lace cigarettes and marijuana, which are then dried before being sold to addicts.

The fluid is a chemical compound consisting of formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol and other solvents. According to chemistry experts the embalming fluid is not the drug itself, but largely a solvent or “carrier” for the real drug, phencyclidine (PCP) whose development for human medical use was discontinued several decades ago.

Oscar Manyumbwe, a health expert also noted that a moderate amount of PCP often causes users to feel detached, distant, and estranged from their surroundings.

“Numbness of the extremities, slurred speech, and loss of coordination may be accompanied by a sense of strength and invulnerability. A blank stare, rapid and involuntary eye movements, and an exaggerated gait are among the more observable effects,” Manyumbwe said.

He added that it could cause users to lose the bounds of their egos and to lose touch with reality.

When asked for comment, Petronella Murambinda, Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (Mcaz) senior regulatory officer said the issue did not lie in Mcaz’s purview. “Kindly note that the matter is beyond Mcaz’s jurisdiction as the Authority only regulates medicines and medical devices.

“The mentioned compounds are industrial chemicals therefore any abuse issues surrounding these embalming fluids will be dealt with by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).” While police do not track the recreational use of embalming fluid, a legal substance, local health experts say they are seeing more cases of the substance being mixed with drugs for a hallucinogenic — and often violent — high.

Charity Charamba, the police spokesperson declined to comment on the matter. “I am not going to comment on something I do not know. I am only hearing it from you,” she said before referring the writer to Harare Central Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID)’s drugs section whose numbers were not being answered.

Investigations by the Weekend Post revealed that the embalming fluid is imported from South Africa while some of it is reportedly provided by employees from local funeral parlours and hospital mortuaries who are cashing in due to high demand from drug peddlers.

With several cases on its widespread use in most high-density suburbs, some of the users are reportedly mixing a drop of the fluid with illicit brews to ensure a sustained eerie feeling, as they call it.

Following a tip-off, a visit to Huruyadzo Shopping Centre in one of Chitungwiza’s oldest suburbs – St Mary’s – showed a group of unemployed young men visibly behaving awkwardly after a session of long puffs with marijuana sticks laced with the embalming fluid.

Sitting along a drainage gully without much to do, they exhibited deplorable levels of intoxication. Unemployment, coupled with idleness, has led many young Zimbabweans to become drug addicts just to fend off the boredom and are using a wide array of drugs that include bronco, hashish and nyaope among others.

“Sometimes, a tragedy has to happen to make people aware there is a larger problem. We have to be proactive and ensure we prevent this abuse,” said a local health worker who refused to be named for professional reasons.