New journey and hope for a future after quitting drugs

Agnes Mgongolwa, a nurse at Itega medically Assisted Therapy (MAT) clinic in Dodoma checks a patient

Dodoma. “Don’t try this.” This is how Saddam Mkufya started narrating his personal story on how he lost Sh90 million, his house, marriage, job, hopes, and dreams due to the use of illicit drugs. He was referring to the use of illicit drugs he’d engaged in for the past seven years.

Mr Mkufya, 40, is among the other 587 drug addicts who are under treatment at the Itega Medically Assisted Therapy (MAT) Centre in Dodoma.

The centre is part of the Mirembe National Mental Hospital. He has been on treatment since 2020 after being informed by one of his relatives while in Babati.

The use of illicit drugs is one of the causes of the development of mental illness, as they can affect the brain, according to Dr Issack Gesasi at the Itega MAT clinic. Some mental disorders, like anxiety, mood swings, and schizophrenia can be caused by the use of illicit drugs.

Despite it being among the causes of mental illness, in Arusha, drugs can be accessed at every corner. Places like Ngarenaro and Sanawari are popular spots, according to Mkufya. He was among people whose mental health was affected by the use of illicit drugs.

He started his life with a humble background as a ticket agent in Babati Manyara, later moved to Arusha with the same job, and later turned into a successful miner at Mererani.

Through his rich friend, a gold broker, he was introduced to some selling points for him to be sent to buy for his friend, who never wanted to be exposed. The relaxation he saw from his friend fueled his curiosity to try drugs.

“As soon as I tried [drugs], I felt good, but later followed up by body aches. I had to re-use it to stop the pain. That was my new norm. Seven years later, life slapped me in the face. Slow but sure, I lost everything, including myself,” says Mkufya.

His wife left when she realised he had no money left in his account. Mkufya had promised to build a house for her parents. After he built his mother’s house and a family house, he never fulfilled his promise.

He sold his house for just Sh22 million to support his murder case with his friend. He was released, but his friend remained in jail for three years.

Commenting on the treatment part, Dr Gesasi says the government is using a lot of money to invest in buying the medicine. He was not ready to share the figures, but he gave an example. If 1kg of heroin is being sold for Sh50 million, then methadone is approximately four to five times as expensive.

Dr Gesasi says that for a drug addict to be completely treated, they need personal commitment and discipline. So far, the centre has treated about 82 people, but they have patients who have been treated for more than five years, as the majority of them cheat by continuing to use drugs while in treatment.

“The treatment guidelines do not allow a patient to continue with treatment if they continue to use drugs.

That is the reason the treatment takes up to two to three years for those who are committed to stopping using drugs.

We test our patients every day before giving them medicine. If the test detects the use of any other drug, we don’t give them a dose for that day,” says Dr Gesasi.

He calls for the government, development partners, and well-wishers to join hands and get a safe space for their patients to stay, as some of them come from different regions of Tanzania.

This should go with supporting them with skills they need to rebuild their lives as they are being treated.

The majority of drug addicts can work while in treatment. It will also encourage them to follow proper treatment procedures, as they will not have time to be in the streets doing nothing.

For Mkufya, he is looking for someone to support him in getting a driving job as he has a licence. If not that, someone who can support him with a motorcycle for him to do transportation business.
Mwacheni Mkumbo, 32, shares the same story with Mkufya. She abused drugs for three years after being introduced to them by her ex-boyfriend who used to sell them.

Through word of mouth from those who decided to quit the use of drugs, she also decided to start treatment.

She moved in with a boyfriend who introduced her to drugs, lying to her that it was weed. Slowly, she became addicted, and later, her boyfriend was jailed and left her alone. She could not go back to her guardians, as she wanted her freedom.

Her guardians looked for her, but they were never able to find her until the mother of her ex-boyfriend decided to intervene and inform Mkumbo’s guardians about her whereabouts. Her aunt never liked the idea of her living with a man, but she instead moved on.
“There was no way I could go back home out of the fear of missing drugs. Once my ex-boyfriend was jailed, I had to look for another man whom I had known in the smoking chain,” says Mkumbo.

She became pregnant, and the boyfriend stopped her from using drugs as she became pregnant. She decided to leave without informing the man after she stole his money and sold his music system and she went to her friend in Arusha.

While in Arusha, she continued with drugs. After her delivery, she decided to go back home. Her aunt was happy to see her again; however, she cried rivers, warning Mkumbo to stop drugs.
Her aunt focused on taking care of Mkumbo’s child, and Mkumbo continued with drugs. She met the father of her child, who had quit drugs already. The man convinced her to quit drugs and gave her Sh360,000 for her to enrol at the sober house.

“The life in Arusha was very peaceful for me. After seeing that my aunt was fully taking care of my child and I needed more freedom and I had money, I decided to go back to Arusha,” says Mkumbo.

She says her friend lost her mother. They both came for the funeral in Dar es Salaam, but she never went back home to see her family.

Forty days after the funeral, they again left for Arusha. The same day, she was informed by a friend that at her aunt’s home there was a funeral. It was her aunt who died.

“Upon my arrival, I saw that my uncle was surrounded by neighbors. When he saw me, he gave me a hug, saying my aunt had stopped them from burying her until I went back home. Even if it were to take three months,” she says.

She still recalls how she cried and remembered how she promised her aunt that she would never leave home again and that she would never continue with drugs.

She then decided to quit drugs.
It was never easy for her to manage, but with the support of her family, she is now coping well with treatment, and she will never go back to drugs. She advises youths not to involve themselves in peer groups, which comes with bad influence.

Supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation