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Sierra Leone- ‘Zombie drug’

Sierra Leone- ‘Zombie drug’


What’s in this Article?

  • Table of Contents
    • Why in the News?
    • In Short
    • About Sierra Leone (country in West Africa)
    • Sierra Leone’s President has announced a state of emergency
    • Kush: Sierra Leone’s new illegal drug
    • Instructed to establish a National Task Force
    • How does the ‘Zombie Drug’ affect human body?
    • What is Xylazine
    • Conclusion

Why in the News?

  • A psychoactive drug crafted from human bones is leaving addicts in the West African country of Sierra Leone digging up graves in order to get their fix.
  • The West African country has declared a national emergency after addiction to a drug, kush, made from human bones, has led thousands of youths to dig up skeletons from graves to get intoxicated.
  • “Our country is currently faced with an existential threat due to the ravaging impact of drugs and substance abuse, particularly the devastating synthetic drug Kush,” Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio said, per the outlet.

In Short:

  • The menace has escalated to a point that the Sierra Leone government has deployed police officers in large numbers to guard cemeteries to stop people from digging up skeletons. A task force has also been constituted for prevention and social services support.


  • Visuals on social media showed groups of mostly young men, almost incapacitated, sitting on streets with swollen limbs due to kush abuse.
  • The drug causes people to fall asleep while walking, bang their heads, and to walk into moving traffic. Users have complained of pounding sensation in the head and pain in the neck and joints.
  • Such is the crisis that young men have started stealing from homes to buy drugs. “I sold my clothes and books to satisfy my addiction. I started stealing house-hold items, phones, pots and dishes to buy drugs,” an addict told The Telegraph.
  • Around 63% of the hospitals in Sierra Leone have been swamped with young addicts, the BBC reported. However, kush abuse in nothing new. Between 2020 and 2023, admissions linked to kush abuse have surged by almost 4,000%.
  • The drug is mainly made up of ground-up human bone, which is then mixed with a chemical called Fentanyl, cannabis, and disinfectants. As per a kush addict, the drug provides a “hypnotic high” that takes users out of reality for several hours, a New York Post report said.
  • The drug is extremely cheap. A single joint can cost 5 leones (around Rs 19). A Daily Mail report said young people were spending as much as £8 (Rs 840) per day on the drug.
  • Experts blamed the crisis on the very high unemployment rate in the country. Youth unemployment stands at 60%, one of the highest in West Africa, as per a report in The Guardian.
  • The authorities have launched a nationwide crackdown on dealers and users of the drug in an exercise called ‘Operation Zero Tolerance’.
  • The menace is now spreading across the border as well. Guinea and Liberia, which border Sierra Leone, have also reported an increase in kush consumption. 

About Sierra Leone (country in West Africa)


#Map Credit: Britannica & MapsOfWorld

  • Sierra Leone, officially known as the Republic of Sierra Leone, is positioned on the southwest coast of West Africa.
  • It borders Liberia to the southeast and Guinea to the north.
  • Spanning 71,740 square kilometers (27,699 square miles), Sierra Leone features a tropical climate and diverse landscapes encompassing savannas and rainforests.
  • As per the 2015 census, its population stands at 7,092,113, with Freetown acting as the capital and largest urban center.
  • Sierra Leone is administratively organized into five regions, each comprising 16 districts.
  • Capital and largest city: Freetown
  • Official languages: English
  • Recognised national languages: Krio
  • Government: Unitary presidential republic
  • President: Julius Maada Bio
  • Currency: Leone (SLL)

Sierra Leone’s leader has announced a state of emergency due to widespread drug misuse

  • Kush, a mix of addictive compounds affecting the mind, has been widespread in the nation for an extended period.
  • President Julius Maada Bio labeled the drug as perilous, expressing concern about its threat to the nation’s very existence.
  • Among the various components of this drug are human bones, prompting increased security measures in graveyards to prevent addicts from exhuming skeletons.
  • It’s a familiar scene in Sierra Leone to encounter groups, mainly comprising young men, on street corners, visibly affected by the harmful consequences of kush abuse, with swollen limbs being a common manifestation.




Kush: Sierra Leone’s new illegal drug

  • An official death count is unavailable, yet according to a doctor interviewed by the BBC, numerous young men in Freetown have succumbed to organ failure attributed to kush in recent months.
  • Additionally, kush negatively impacts mental well-being. The Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital, the nation’s sole facility of its kind, reports a staggering increase of almost 4,000% in admissions related to kush from 2020 to 2023, reaching 1,865 cases.


The president has instructed to establish a National Task Force

  • The president has instructed officials to establish a National Task Force on Drugs and Substance Abuse, with a key emphasis on addressing the “kush crisis.”
  • He announced plans to create centers in each district, staffed by well-trained professionals, to provide care and assistance to individuals struggling with drug addiction.
  • At present, Freetown is home to the country’s only functioning drug rehabilitation centre. The 100-bed facility was hurriedly set up in an army training centre earlier this year.
  • Dr Abdul Jalloh, head of the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital, said Mr Bio’s emergency declaration is “the right step” and will be “crucial in addressing drug use”.
  • “It signifies the prioritisation of resources, attention and intervention to combat this growing epidemic,” he said.
  • Approximately 63% of the individuals currently in the hospital were admitted due to issues related to kush.
  • Marie, a mother who tragically lost her 21-year-old son to kush, remarked, “There are numerous actions the authorities need to take beyond what was mentioned in the president’s recent speech to tackle this serious problem.”



How does the ‘Zombie Drug’ affect human body?

  • The substance induces a hypnotic state that can last for several hours. Allegedly known as the ‘Zombie Drug,’ it prompts users to fall asleep within the first 20 to 30 minutes of consumption, leading to deep sedation for an extended period.
    • Prolonged immobility can result in pressure sores and other complications.
  • Research indicates that unconsciousness induced by this drug can lead to sudden death.
    • It severely depresses the normal functioning of the central nervous system, causing individuals to relax to such an extent that they may inadvertently choke on their tongue.
  • Moreover, individuals may suffocate on their vomit without experiencing any distress signals to prompt movement or awakening, as they would with a less potent substance.
  • Xylazine, a substance employed as a sedative, pain reliever, and muscle relaxant in veterinary practice, serves as a tranquilizer for animals.
    • However, its misuse, particularly when mixed with heroin and fentanyl, has led to significant issues in the United States.
    • This combination, often referred to as ‘tranq’ or ‘tranq dope,’ poses serious risks by potentially reducing breathing and heart rate to dangerous levels.
  • According to CDC, xylazine can cause:
    • sedation
    • difficulty breathing
    • dangerously low blood pressure
    • slowed heart rate
    • wounds that can become infected
    • severe withdrawal symptoms
    • death

What to do in case of xylazine overdose?

  • According to the CDC, administering Naloxone is essential when there’s suspicion of a drug overdose to counteract potential opioid effects.
  • While Naloxone may not counter the effects of xylazine, it’s advised to administer it because xylazine is frequently used alongside opioids such as fentanyl.
  • Simultaneously, it’s crucial to promptly seek emergency medical attention for the individual.


  • The frenzied pursuit of the so-called “Zombie Drug” in Sierra Leone has reached alarming levels, with addicts resorting to extreme measures such as grave robbing in search of the flesh-rotting substance known as ‘Kush’.
  • The gravity of the situation prompted the President to declare a state of emergency.
  • This underscores the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address the root causes of drug addiction and to provide support for those affected by this devastating epidemic.

Facts about Sierra Leone

  • Sierra Leone, situated in West Africa, is embraced by Guinea to the north and east, Liberia to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.
  • Its landscape predominantly features lightly wooded hills, complemented by mangrove swamps dotting the coastline.
  • The country is traversed by several significant rivers such as the Rokel, Taia, Moa, and Sewa.
  • Colonized initially in 1787 by emancipated individuals from England, Sierra Leone saw subsequent waves of settlers from Nova Scotia in 1792.
  • Initially overseen by the Sierra Leone Company until 1808, it transitioned to British governance as a crown colony.
  • Gaining independence from the UK in 1961, Sierra Leone operates as a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a single-chamber legislature.
  • While English serves as the official language, Krio is widely spoken among the populace.
  • Freetown, the capital, boasts one of the world’s largest natural harbors.
  • While agriculture sustains much of the population, Sierra Leone’s economy also thrives on its mineral wealth, with substantial deposits of diamonds, gold, bauxite, and rutile (titanium dioxide).

Disclaimer: The article may contain information pertaining to prior academic years; for further information, visit the exam’s official or concerned website.

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