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No, people in this photo aren’t digging up graves to make illicit drugs – they are burying mudslide victims

IN SHORT: A photo has been posted on social media in January 2024 with the claim it shows young people in Sierra Leone digging for human bones to make the illicit drug kush. But the photo was first published in 2017 and in fact shows people digging graves for a mass burial following a mudslide.

“DRUG ADDICTS DIG UP GRAVES!” warns a shocking post on X (formerly Twitter) from January 2024, showing a photo of people standing in a series of rectangular ditches. 

“A drug called Kush has got young people in Sierra Leone desecrating graves for bones which they use to make the drug!” the post continues. 

The post has been viewed more than 17,400 times and was met with outrage on social media. “Sickening,” one user wrote. “That’s hell on earth,” said another. 

Others simply responded with a series of shocked emojis. “On its way to SA now”, someone else commented. We looked beyond the outrage, at the facts behind the photo. 

GravesDrugs_False

Photo originally from 2017 BBC article

A quick online search showed that the photo was not recent, and was initially published in 2017 on the BBC News site. Above the photo, a headline read “Mass burial for Sierra Leone mudslide victims”. The article said the photo was taken in Waterloo, Sierra Leone. 

The BBC article and various others at the time described how mortuaries had been “overwhelmed” by hundreds of dead bodies in the aftermath of a mudslide in a mountain town on 14 August 2017. A Reuters article estimated the disaster killed more than 400 people, with “hundreds more still missing”. 

A drug made from human bones?

While this photo doesn’t show people digging up bones to make a drug, there is a kernel of truth in the story. The drug kush, not to be confused with the name of some cannabis strains, does exist in Sierra Leone. It can reportedly be made from a wide variety of prescription drugs, plants and a range of other mystery ingredients. 

Like many other substances that are not regulated, the ingredients in what is sold as kush may vary. But health authorities have reportedly raised alarm about the effect it is having on those who take it, who are usually poor.

Many media organisations have reported on the shocking claim that human bones were one of the ingredients used to make kush. But these appear to be based on rumours, and Africa Check could find no evidence for it. 

News articles from August 2023 reported that four people had been arrested for allegedly attempting to dig up graves for this purpose, but these were also unverified.

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