The terrible effects of the “H”, the drug that eats away at the poorest in Ecuador
Rina wanders half-naked and barefoot next to a garbage dump in the port city of Guayaquil. You are under the effect of “H”a cheap, addictive and booming drug among the poorest in Ecuador.
The image was recorded on video on New Year’s Eve and found its way into the hands of municipal health officials who came to rescue her.
“When I consume, I hear voices”, tells AFP the 24-year-old, who does not give her real name. She is now bedridden in a clinic in the city where she is undergoing detoxification treatment, the second in less than a year.
Rina stole and prostituted herself to buy “H”, a heroin-based white powder that sells for one dollar per gram, while cocaine ranges between three and five dollars.
The “H” is cheaper but also more toxic.
“We have found lime, cement, ether, rat poison and even ketamine, an analgesic used in horses”explains the psychiatrist Julieta Sagñay, from the Institute of Neurosciences, an NGO from Guayaquil that cares for addicts.
In Guayaquil, with almost three million inhabitants and a logistics center for drug trafficking, 162 kilograms of this synthetic drug were seized in 2022, according to official data.
Sagñay receives more and more “H” consumers, afflicted by a deterioration worse than any of his other patients.
“If anyone has seen the zombies in Philadelphia (in the United States), where there are addicts walking bent over, we already have that in Guayaquil,” says the specialist, with more than 30 years of experience in addictions.
After six months of consumption, a “axeman” moves his legs incessantly, scratches himself, does not sleep or eat.
And the “mona”, or withdrawal syndrome, is so lethal, says Sagñay, that it cannot be supported without drug treatment for at least eight days.
Guayaquil has three public clinics for addictions that cannot cope. The private offer exceeds thirty, but they can cost up to 700 dollars a month in a country with a minimum salary of 450.
For this reason, when addiction eats them away, some “axemen” give themselves up in desperation to clandestine detoxification centers.
“They beat me, they put me in a bucket of cold water and we ate chicken heads every day,” recalls Hugo Mora, who about four years ago was in a dirty, gloomy, windowless illegal clinic where he paid $150 a month for stop sniffing or smoking “H”.
He didn’t make it.
This 24-year-old informal vendor has been hospitalized at the Bicentennial Municipal Hospital of Guayaquil for a week, after going through two “Nazi” clinics, as he calls the clandestine ones due to their macabre methods: blows, confinement and starvation diets.
There are frequent fires, caused by the patients themselves in attempts to escape. In 2019, 18 people died, after mattresses were set on fire in a cry for help.
Mora feels more relieved since he is at the Bicentennial, according to what he told AFP from his stretcher in a spacious room with white walls and 14 beds, eleven of which are occupied.
This hospital receives up to 150 patients daily and 90% is for consumption of “H”authorities said.
The cocktail of the “H” contains less than 3% heroinestimates Segundo Romero, a forensic psychologist and retired police officer.
“As there is so little pure drug, the addict needs to consume more and buy more,” he says.
From one gram of heroin, the micro-trafficker obtains 40 of the “H”, a concoction that causes psychotic symptoms and hallucinations.
In Durán, a city located opposite Guayaquil, Cerro Las Cabras is known as a drug supermarket, where the sale of “H” moves up to one million dollars a month, according to official calculations.
From his police days, Romero keeps in his memory a sinister postcard of the “H”.
In a prison he found several subdued inmates with their faces covered in dust. “Since they didn’t have any more drugs, they had scratched the walls and put white paint up their nostrils,” she recalls.
According to the Insight Crime research center, the “H” was installed in Guayaquil around 2011, by the hand of Colombians who sought to expand the heroin market. Local gangs are profiting from the current boom that are fighting over the business with blood and fire.
A 13-year-old gang member, emaciated and who made his debut in drugs with the “H”, answers the doctor’s questions in the Bicentennial.
A native of the province of Esmeraldas, on the border with Colombia, he arrived a few days ago imploring help due to his addiction to multiple substances.
Relatives fear hospitalizing him and that he will be easy prey for drug traffickers.
“The older brother was already killed and now he is being persecuted by the opposing gang,” deplored his uncle on condition of anonymity.
(By Karla Pesantes, AFP)