One reporter, who has researched this problem, Al Jazeera's Bansal, says, “Soon after heroin entered the Tanzanian port city of Dar es Salaam in the 1990s, its cruder form—brown instead of white—snaked its way into bustling urban neighborhoods where a dose of brown heroin, known on the street as brownie, costs as little as a dollar.”
According to United Nations estimates, this realignment in the drug trade has created more than 500,000 heroin users in East Africa, most of them in Tanzania. Faced with this growing crisis, the government has launched a major initiative to prevent and treat heroin addiction. As part of its program, junkies are now provided with methadone, a narcotic pain reliever that has proven effective though controversial in a nation still rooted in conservative tribal doctrine and general mistrust of government intervention, particularly where modern medicine is concerned.
On a continent where drug treatment is, for most purposes, non-existent, Tanzania's methadone clinics are a first for mainland sub-Saharan Africa. One international agency that works with African heroin users, Médecins du Monde, says that, “very few governments, donors, or nonprofits in Africa work with heroin addicts. They further state that, "fewer than 1 percent of drug users on the continent have access to support services, let alone treatment plans like methadone.”
The United States through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), backs Tanzania’s program because heroin users tend to spread HIV/AIDS by sharing needles. While only 5 percent of all Tanzanians are HIV-positive; Tanzanians who inject drugs see that percentage rise to 40 percent.
This marked increase is not only generally found in addict communities throughout the world, it's enhanced in East Africa by “flashblooding”. Needle users "flashblood" when one user shoots up, then draws his own blood and gives it to a cash-strapped buddy for a secondhand high. “A walk through a dusty heroin shooting gallery in Temeke…gives an indication of how common this practice is,” writes Bansal. “Several addicts drifted by with blood-filled needles attached to their limp arms, eyes glazed and mouths agape.”
While the overall picture appears bleak, the methadone clinics seem to be helping. In the last four years, more than 2,000 heroin users have begun the program, and most have stuck with it. Youth Volunteers Against Risky Behaviors, an NGO, hands out clean syringes in places where drug users hang out, helping to steer addicts to the clinics.
Interestingly enough, methadone clinics are not the only treatment method adopted from the West. Former addicts have introduced 12-step programs to the island of Zanzibar a few years ago and there are now 13 recovery houses and more than 3,200 addicts have received treatment.
It is apparent from this report that drug demand by the West has spread its insidious reach throughout the rest of the world. It is a problem not likely to go away. Recently it has been well reported that heroin use is finding its way into America's smallest communities, supplanting decades of cocaine and meth abuse. Mexican Cartels are now producing the stronger, white heroin where years before they handled a less potent brown variation. In order to avoid problems with South American cocaine cartels, the Mexican drug lords have turned to heroin production. On top of this dismal fact, drug agencies are warning that Afghanistan, long the world’s top exporter of heroin, is pulling in a record opium harvest this year—which will likely send even more of the drug flowing through Tanzania and then on to the West, where the increased supply and corresponding demand makes Western addicts prone to the same debilitating effects now surfacing in East Africa. There can be no doubt that the problems are international in scope and the only permanent solutions -if indeed there are any - will only be found by cooperation of all the world's nations.