Rich families in fear of shame as drugs consume their children

Vicky Kones recalls the darkest day in her life; when she met her father in the streets of a town in the United States of America. After years of alcohol anddrug addiction, Vicky was not the daughter her parents had known. So when they met, her father posed the question: “What happened?”

“The hurt in his face was just too much,” recalls Vicky. “My father was normally a jovial man, but that day he was crushed inside when he saw how I had turned out.”

Vicky is the daughter of the late Cabinet minister Kipkalya Kones, who died in a tragic plane crash in 2008. She is a recovering drug addict. Her story is perhaps the tale of hundreds of well-to-do families grappling with relatives with drug addiction, but who prefer to remain silent for the shame it brings. The silence by this top echelon of society has made drug addiction seem a problem of the poor, says Dr Frank Njenga, the Chairman of the National Authority for Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse, (Nacada). Though drug addiction among the rich is prevalent and well-known, only a few would brave the social stigma and admit that their children have the problem.

Addict of drugs

Among them is former Solicitor General Wanjuki Muchemi, who admits that his son, who died in January, had been an addict of drugs and alcohol for years.

Ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela, for example, admitted that his son Makgatho had died of HIV/Aids complications in 2005. Some of his clansmen did not agree with him, but by doing so, Mandela said he hoped it would help his country be more open about HIV/Aids, which was almost a taboo subject.  Long before that, David Ogot, a son of former MP Grace Ogot and Moi University Chancellor Bethuel Ogot had tried to raise awareness on the hardly-spoken topic of drug abuse among the rich.

“The silence by our prominent members of the society on this issue is our national shame,” says David. He adds, “I know of several rich families with this problem and I have pleaded with them to share their stories, but in vain.”

David was an alcohol and drug addict for 27 years, and is the founder the Goinghomedotcom Trust, an organisation dedicated fight substance abuse among the youth.

No shame

But while empathising with their pain, Joseph Kaguthi, a former director of Nacada, says “There should be no shame in speaking about a condition that is increasingly claiming the lives of so many of our youth.”

Drug addiction is an expensive habit and Nacada CEO William Okedi says easy access to too much cash by children from rich backgrounds contributes to its prevalence.

Drug abusers in the gated estates have their doses supplied to them by traffickers who operate in neighbourhoods. Alternatively, some of them decide to live in dungeons where the drugs are sold, occasionally appearing at home when they run out of money. A former MP who requested not to be named admitted that his son is hooked on drugs. “I have lost him to the streets. We (family) are enemies. I am trying everything to save him but it is a hard fight,” he says.  Statistics confirm the grim reality of the drug menace in the country. Nacada says there are some 4 million alcohol users, 2.7 million tobacco users and 700,000 drug abusers in the country.

A seemingly innocuous sip of whiskey on the Christmas Day of 1990 when she was just 12 and in Standard Six set Vicky on the path of alcoholism that wrecked her life.  When she got to secondary school, she was suspended twice and finally expelled for taking alcohol. But Vicky says her parents downplayed what was clearly becoming a growing problem.

“My parents defended me saying it was just bad company influencing me. They made excuses for me all the way. I was never on the wrong,” she recalls.

In 1998,to get her far away from the ‘bad company’, they enrolled her at NorthwoodUniversity, a private university in Florida, US.

Unsupervised, Vicky found the opportunity go full steam on alcohol. She left university just after registration and took to the bottle harder than ever, sustained by a constant flow of cash from home. In 2001, she was introduced to heroin and cocaine by her boyfriend. “I left alcohol, hit the drugs and ran away with it.” Her boyfriend, with whom they had a daughter, was later arrested and jailed for 12 years.

By then she had developed a 120-dollar-a-day drug habit that, without gainful employment, she could only satisfy by engaging in crime.

Fake cheques

She started forging and cashing fake cheques. When the long arm of the law caught up with her, she was to be deported. But by chance a relative working at the Kenyan embassy in the US got hold of the deportation papers in time and informed her father. Her father rushed to the US where Vicky had been traced by the family member. That meeting prompted the soul-searching question by the father to a wayward daughter.

“I had nothing to say to him. I had sold them a pack of lies for far too long and my moment of reckoning had come,” she says. But despite her wishes to return home, her father insisted that she stays and find treatment in the US. And seeking to do right by a father whose trust she felt she had cruelly betrayed, she stayed clean for more than two years until Mr Kones died in the plane crash in June 2008.

“I was devastated. You see all I was doing I was doing to please my father, not even my kids. When he died, I lost the reason to continue the treatment. I relapsed,” she says. But even after learning of his daughter’s addiction, Mr Kones had kept the news secret from his family.

“I held myself together for the period of the funeral,” says Vicky.  “Immediately the ceremony was over, I think around 5pm, I went to Bomet town and drank myself silly.” It was then that her 10-year long drug and alcohol addiction in the US was revealed to the rest of the family. “It was an extremely embarrassing moment for all of us,” she says.

For Vicky, it took a personal tragedy to mend her ways. In 2011, her brother, also a recovering alcoholic, got a seizure associated with withdrawal symptoms, fell, hit a stone and died.

“In his death, I literally saw my own death. After the day we buried him I took myself to a rehabilitation clinic.”

She has been clean for two years now and is currently pursuing a degree course in Psychology and Counseling at Nazarene University.  She is thinking of starting a foundation to fight substance abuse in memory of her father.

- The Standard



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