Sierra Leone declares national emergency over drug use

Apr 29, 2024

Earlier in April, Sierra Leone’s president, Julius Maada Bio, declared a national emergency over the rampant use of the deadly synthetic drug kush. The drug is comprised of an addictive mix of cannabis, fentanyl and tramadol.

So far, kush is linked to hundreds of deaths, as well as psychiatric hospitalizations since it first appeared in Sierra Leone approximately four years ago. While there has been no official statement on the number of deaths caused by the drug, data released by the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital shows that between 2020 and 2023, admissions due to kush use surged by almost 4,000%, reaching 1,865 deaths in 2023.  

Moreover, since human bone is one of the ingredients used to create the drug mix, the government has tightened security at cemeteries to deter individuals from digging up skeletons. In his interview with BBC News, Deputy Mayor of Freetown Kweku Lisk said his office had requested security from the police in order to tackle gravediggers.

Bio has also created a National Task Force on Drugs and Substance Abuse with the aim of combatting the drug crisis, stating that staffed centres will be set up in every district to offer care and support to individuals suffering from drug addiction.

According to Dr Abdul Jalloh, head of the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital, Bio’s emergency declaration is “the right step” in addressing the widespread drug use. “It signifies the prioritisation of resources, attention and intervention to combat this growing epidemic,” he said in his interview with BBC News. It is estimated that 63% of the psychiatric hospital’s current patients were admitted due to kush-related symptoms.

However, the country’s current government administration has been criticised due to its lack of strategy to effectively address kush abuse. Currently, Sierra Leone has only one functioning drug rehabilitation centre located in Freetown and has 100 beds.

“Such is the vacuum left by the lack of adequate response that communities have often had to take the law into their own hands and have responded to the crisis sometimes in a disjointed and crude manner”, said a foreign diplomat in Sierra Leone in an interview with the BBC.