Makerere University in the heart of Kampala has been hit by a new generation of students coming from high schools and other parts of the world with a notorious background of drug abuse that later grows at the university.
The high rates of drug abuse among these students is according to experts, powered by a number of factors including, stress, and course load, peer pressure, love problems among others.
Joseph Muvunyi is a Makerere University student who spends his evenings at Caltec Academy sports ground in Kikoni sniffing petrol from a small bottle with teens of other peers.
In reporter’s interaction with these drug users, majority are Makerere students while are graduates also from the same.
However, the reporter’s attention to drug addiction was caught by the number of girls within the group.
The reporter introduced himself to them as a fellow addict seeking help. He was received by mixed reactions albeit from all willing to offer the help he wanted. Among them, Nantumbwe Shanitah, (not her real names) showed interest.
Her cheeks were slightly sunken, making her cheekbones prominent. Her open neck-blouse exposed pointed shoulder blades, a sign that she was not feeding well.
“Javix (the reporter’s nickname) you’re not alone, actually I take drugs and I am an addict,” she said without much prodding. “I cannot eat food nor do anything without taking the drugs,” Nantumbwe added.
Nantumbwe, now a finalist of Social Science, who lives in a single room at Kare Hostel, also located in Kikioni was introduced to drugs back in 2018 during her high school days by peers.
She later joined Youth Alive group and temporarily dropped the vice. However, this was short-lived as she was re-introduced to by her boyfriend during the vacation.
“My boyfriend had many friends and all of them were taking drugs and he made me to join them,” she said
She takes up to two or three bottles of cocaine mixture in a day, sometimes pouring a bottle or two inside a coke plastic bottle to deceive her friends who are not addicts. The habit has affected her relationship with men and she finds it difficult keeping steady relationships.
“I cannot stay with a guy who does not use drug or who cannot buy for me. We cannot be compatible,” she declared
The reporter asked her whether she doesn’t feel embarrassed purchasing drugs herself. However, Nantumbwe said that, at first her boyfriend used to buy for her but later when the relationship ended, friends introduced her to drug suppliers in Kansanga, a Kampala suburb.
The other girls in the group are Claire Atuhaire and Linda other name protected, Claire is a 2014 graduate of Bachelor of Arts in Arts at Makerere University while Linda preferred anonymity. The two are addicted to “Shisha” smoke and they do hangout every evening to bashes “Bufunda” in Bwaise’s Eden Pub, in the outskirts of the capital Kampala and others around town.
However, majority of these youth are Makerere students while others are unemployed graduates. These students are addicted to different types of drugs including but not limited to Alcohol, Petrol, Tobacco, Cocaine mixture, Marijuana, Mairungi-narcotic drug leaf, shisha, among others.
They usually meet behind Caltec academy at the sports ground in Kikoni, despite the fact that this place is known to security operatives, nothing has been done to stop them.
According to a source who is a drug addict but preferred anonymity, “Jackson Abaho” also a resident of Kansanga supplies Cocaine and Mairungi to students in different hostels in Kikoni, Nakulabye and Wandegeya.
The story of Nantumbwe, Claire and Muvunyi, exemplify the serious drug addiction problem facing many students at Makerere and within many other institutions.
At the start of this investigation, the assumption was that the problem was unique to boys, but at the end of it, the conclusion reflects that the drug problem could be even worse among girls.
Recently, Kampala Capital City Authority –KCCA seized shisha, closed and arrested many shisha addicts, among them, majority were students from higher institutions of learning including Makerere.
Before COVID-19, recently visited Club Ambiance at Bakuuli where he saw young girls openly smoking Shisha and taking alcohol.
According to Albert Ainebyona, a counselor at “Ask without Shame” an NGO, anyone suffering from drug abuse is no longer a normal person and is referred to as “suffering from significant loss of function” which manifests in the person’s behavior.
Mr Ainebyoona called for serious sanctions against drug imports sitting the increasing statistics of related cases in his organization.
“We often receive cases of drug abuse among youth and majorly university and college students, the government should put strict laws against drug dealers,” Ainebyoona said.
In 2015, Makerere University Council, introduced policies that require students to desist from masterminding or participating in strikes, sexual and drug abuse, use of vulgar language and indecent dressing. However, sections of the society strongly criticized the institution for introducing what they called policies that violate students’ rights though some sided with the administration.
According to Dean of Students Cyriaco Kabagambe, the university aimed at restoring sanity at the country’s higher institution of learning and to nurture good leaders.
Kabagambe says the university was not ready to revise the policies and that any student who fails to comply, would cease to be a student at Makerere.
However, the drug addiction vice is continuing to grow each and every day, but the government remains silent.
Researchers speak out
Girls may be more vulnerable to the effects of drug abuse than boys and require personalized help to bounce back from addiction.
A new study shows girls and young women get hooked faster and suffer the consequences of abuse and addiction sooner than boys and young men.
The report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) suggests that unisex prevention programs — often designed with males in mind — fail to reach millions of adolescent girls, and new public health efforts are needed to help young women stay away from tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs.
Researchers say that when it comes to drug and alcohol use, the gender gap between boys and girls is quickly narrowing. Despite recent declines in overall youth substance abuse, more than a quarter of university girls smoke or binge drink, and a fifth use marijuana.
But researchers say girls’ substance use can sink into abuse more quickly than boys and the health consequences are more severe in many cases. Early substance use also increases the odds that girls will smoke, drink or abuse drugs in the future.
Researchers say girls face many unique risks that can make drug abuse potentially more dangerous for them, for example:
Girls are more likely than boys to be depressed, have eating disorders, or be sexually or physically abused — all of which can increase the likelihood of substance abuse.
Girls using alcohol and drugs are more likely to attempt suicide.
Substance use can lead to abuse and addiction more quickly for girls than boys even when using the same amount or less of a particular substance.
Girls are more susceptible to lung damage as a result of smoking and alcohol-induced brain damage.
Girls and young women who frequently use drugs or alcohol are more likely to engage in risky sex or be the victim of sexual assault.