Fact Check

Old photo shows graves for flood victims, not drug addicts robbing the dead

Copyright © AFP 2017-2024. All rights reserved.

Sierra Leone is battling an epidemic of drug abuse by its youth. Recent social media posts claimed that a photo of people digging graves showed addicts removing human bones to grind into a synthetic drug called “kush”. But the claim is false: AFP Fact Check found that the photo showed graves being dug for the victims of a mudslide in the West African country in 2017.

“SIERRA LEONE: DRUG ADDICTS DIG UP GRAVES! A drug called Kush has got young people in Sierra Leone desecrating graves for bones which they use to make the drug,” reads a post shared more than 110 times on X since January 8, 2024.

A screenshot of the false claim, taken on February 2, 2024

The post was published by a South African account with a history of sharing anti-immigrant content.

Synthetic drug abuse

Kush, a synthetic drug that mimics the effects of cannabis, is wreaking havoc among young people in Sierra Leone and neighbouring Liberia.

It differs from the drug called kush in the United States (archived here).

The drug found in West Africa induces a hypnotic high that can last hours and has been blamed for multiple deaths (archived here).

The drug surfaced about six years ago, although its exact composition remains uncertain (archived here).

Kush is made from a variety of ingredients, including dried leaves and a mix of chemicals. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl and the disinfectant formalin are believed to be among the chemicals used (archived here).

“The drug is an amalgamation of the various chemicals and plants that mimic the natural (cannabinoid) THC found in cannabis,” Abdul Sheku Kargbo, head of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, told AFP.

In a January documentary on the use of kush in Sierra Leone, British broadcaster Channel 4 reported that police suspected ground human bones are now mixed with the drugs.

The report showed several graves in a cemetery that were allegedly ransacked by kush addicts and interviewed locals who had set up a vigilante group to ward off grave robbers.

However, the claim that the photo shows young Sierra Leoneans digging up graves to steal human bones is false.

Burial for mudslide victims

Using a reverse image search, AFP Fact Check found that the BBC published the photo in a report on August 17, 2017.

The report said the photo showed people digging graves for a mass burial of mudslide and flood victims in Waterloo, about 32 kilometres from the capital city of Freetown (archived here).

A screenshot of the BBC report showing the picture, taken on February 9, 2024

AFP reported that at least 300 people died in the disaster (archived here) with many of them buried in Waterloo.

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