Tuesday, July 13, 2010

African heroin addicts inject others' blood

Heroin users in some African cities have begun engaging in a practice that is so dangerous it is almost unthinkable: they deliberately inject themselves with another addict’s blood in an effort to share the high or stave off the pangs of withdrawal. The practice called flashblood or sometimes flushblood has been reported in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on the island of Zanzibar and in Mombasa, Kenya. It puts users at the highest possible risk of contracting AIDS and hepatitis. The use of heroin is growing in some African cities, and experts are warning that flashblood — along with syringe-sharing and other dangerous habits — could fuel a new wave of AIDS infections. Increasing use of heroin in parts of Africa has the potential to magnify the AIDS epidemic. In Tanzania, about 42% of addicts are infected with the HIV virus. The rate is even higher — 64% — among female addicts and since most support themselves through prostitution, they are in two high-risk groups, and their customers are at risk of catching the disease. There have also been reports in East African newspapers of addicts selling their blood and there have been scattered reports of flashblood-type practices in other countries with large numbers of heroin addicts including Pakistan. Until recently, heroin use was uncommon on the continent because most Africans were too poor for traffickers to bother with. But in the last decade, smugglers have begun using port cities like Dar es Salaam and Mombasa and airport cities like Nairobi and Johannesburg as way stations on their routes: law-enforcement officials can often be bribed, and couriers from countries with no history of drug smuggling may escape searches by European border officers. The couriers may be paid in drugs, which they resell. With more local users, more heroin is being sold in Africa. In the last decade, heroin use has increased especially in Kenya and Tanzania, South Africa and Nigeria. Brown heroin that must be heated and inhaled — “chasing the dragon” — has given way to water-soluble white heroin that can be injected. Prices have fallen by as much as 90%.

No comments: