Demystifying dangerous drugs: Part One …are drugs a post COVID-19 scourge in Zimbabwe?


IN recent years, many families in Zimbabwe have been physically, morally, economically and spiritually torn apart by a ‘new’ dangerous drug known on the streets in the local lingo as mutoriro.

It is known scientifically as crystal methamphetamine; a strong and highly addictive drug that can cause extensive bodily damage.  

It affects the central nervous system and causes severe psychological problems which can also lead to suicide.

A popular party drug, it comes in clear crystal chunks or shiny blue-white rocks also called ‘ice’ or ‘glass’.  

Usually, users smoke crystal meth with a small glass pipe (substituted in Zimbabwe with a piece of broken off LED bulb), but they may also swallow it, snort it or inject it into a vein.  

Users claim they have ‘a quick rush of euphoria’ shortly after using it. 

But it is extremely dangerous and there is no legal use for it. 

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this grim and highly addictive synthetic drug emerged on the streets of suburban and peri-urban areas of Zimbabwe in the form of crystal meths.  

It soon became pervasive and widespread in our communities and socially destructive.

  According to a report by Dr Michelina Andreucci: “The COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe was part of the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19, caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).  It was confirmed to have reached Zimbabwe, via Victoria Falls, in March 2020. 

 The COVID-19 pandemic had a far-reaching impact on the socio-economic livelihoods and well-being of large sections of the global population including Zimbabwe….More than half of urban households and two-thirds of rural respondents surveyed by ZIMSTAT between March and July 2020 reported that they had to skip meals because of lack of food and resources to obtain any. The COVID-19 pandemic has also had far-reaching effects on the right to education and social well-being of children. …. The closure of schools during lockdown took away the protective sanctuary for children offered by schools, leaving them exposed to sexual exploitation and abuse, including wide-spread and rampant drug abuse, which has continued to escalate.” 

The increased illicit substance use among Zimbabwean adolescents and youths during the COVID-19 era had dire consequences for families, health, education, crime and employment.

 While evidence suggests a rise in substance use was fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdowns — so much so that it was labelled an ‘impending public health disaster’ — the ease of availability of substances, together with a lack of recreational activities for young people during lockdowns was cited as potential reasons for the increase.  

However, even prior to the pandemic, drug use, particularly among the youth in Zimbabwe, was already reported to be reaching alarming levels, with concerns around drug use in vulnerable populations such as children living on the streets.

 The significant socio-economic challenges experienced in the country are most likely linked to substance use issues. Indeed, poverty is endemic in Zimbabwe, affecting over 70 percent of the population, and has been identified as a risk factor for substance use.  

Socio economic challenges are also linked to increased rates of stress, trauma and mental health challenges which all increase risk for substance use.

What is this demonic drug that has seized our youth, tormented families and wasted many lives in Zimbabwe?

Methamphetamine is a man-made stimulant that has been around for a long time. During the Second World War, soldiers were given meth to keep awake during combat. 

The drug is also taken to lose weight and ease depression. 

A chemical called ‘dopamine’ in mutoriro floods the parts of the brain that regulate feelings of pleasure. 

Users also feel abnormally confident and energetic (much like drinking Sting, Dragon or other energy drinks), amplified with sound and hallucinations.  

Users (especially if socio-economically disadvantaged) quickly become addicted and soon will do anything to have the ‘rush’ again. As addicts continue to use the drug, they build up a tolerance and need higher doses to get the same ‘high’ — the higher the dose, the higher the risks. 

One of the ingredients used in making crystal meth is also found in many cough syrups containing codeine to help ease congestion; hence the pervasive use of cough syrups by youths in Zimbabwe such as Broncleer, Bronchiolitis, Solphylex and Histelix, among other brands locally called ‘ngoma’.  Because it is used to make meth, the US Federal Government closely regulates products with this ingredient. 

The use of medicinal syrups and illicit substances to get ‘high’ usually cause serious withdrawal symptoms. The most common symptoms include feeling emotionally very low, unworthiness or uselessness. 

This can result in suicidal feelings as an end to their problems.

Suicide is the deliberate act of taking one’s own life. 

Globally, suicide rates for men are just over twice as high as for women. In 2017, WHO presented that the global suicide rate for women was 6,3 deaths per 100 000; for men, it was just over twice that figure at 13,9 per 100 000.

WHO’s statistics show that worldwide, suicide accounts for at least 700 000 deaths annually.  But because of under-recording, the number is likely to be higher.  

Suicide has become a defining health and societal issue in many countries, including Zimbabwe.  According to WHO, Zimbabwe has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.  In 2019, the rate was 14,10 per 100 000; showing an increase of 0,71 percent from 2018 where it was 14 per 100 000.

The production of drugs may be divided into three categories – those processes which require only plant products;  those involving a semi-synthetic process where natural materials are partly changed by synthetic substances to produce the final product and processes which use only man-made chemicals to produce consumable drugs.  

Examples of these are: opium gathered in the fields for home use, coca bush leaves processed to make cocaine and narcotic or psychotropic drugs made entirely in the laboratory or factory like methamphetamine/mutoriro.

Most of the crystal meth used in the US comes from Mexican ‘superlabs’. But there are also many small labs in the US — some right in people’s homes — including in Zimbabwe where the percentages of pharmaceutical substances are highly unregulated!  However, due to the hazardous effects of the chemicals involved, making meth is a dangerous process.  

Along with being toxic, they can cause chemical explosions with far-reaching consequences.

Estimates of illicit drug production come from several sources. 

Systematic attempts to provide information about the amount of opiates or coca produced may employ high technology satellite mapping, ground surveys, agronomic characteristics or consumption figures. 

Political factors may also affect the process of preparing estimates. Experts have called the production estimate process one of making ‘best guesses’.  

 A study based on integrated information from nine countries provided gross estimates of illicit drug production for coca, cocaine, opium, heroin and cannabis for major supplier countries; opium 3 045 tonnes (excluding Afghanistan which had an estimated cultivation of 19,470 ha in 1992 and produced 640 tonnes of opium that year according to the US Department of State); heroin 246 tonnes.  

In contrast to opium production, coca leaf and cocaine production take place in relatively few countries.  

If alcohol and tobacco production amounts were added to those of opium, cocaine, cannabis and psychotropic drugs to form an aggregated estimate of addictive substances production, the picture that emerges is one of enormous supply of these substances.

Long before the world economy felt the impact of globalisation of money, markets and products, illicit drugs moved internationally from producer countries in less developed areas of the world to consumer countries that were usually more developed.  

Production in rural areas was transported to and sold in other continents with enormous price increases along the way; providing high profit and risk incentive to traffickers. The end user is often a poor person who buys drugs before the necessities of life.  

 Dr Tony M. Monda BSc, DVM, DPVM, is currently conducting veterinary epidemiology, public health and agro-economic research in Zimbabwe. E-mail:


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