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14.3m Nigerians aged 15 to 64 years abused drugs in 2018, says UNODC report

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Drug abuse. PHOTO: BBC

3m persons living with illicit medicines dependence with limited availability of counselling, treatment services

No fewer than 14.3 million people (14.4 per cent of Nigerian’s population) in the age group of 15 to 64 years abused drugs such as tramadol, codeine and cannabis in 2018.

According to the first ever National Drug Use Survey in Nigeria in January 2019 conducted by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse (CRISA) and the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) with the support of UNODC and the European Union (EU), the data suggests that the prevalence of past year drug use in Nigeria is more than twice the global average of 5.6 per cent.

The report, released yesterday, from Vienna, Austria, showed that alarming is also the considerable use of prescription opioids (mainly tramadol and to a lesser extent codeine) and cough syrups for non-medical purposes – with 4.6 million people using these in the past year. “This places Nigeria among the countries with high estimates of non-medical opioid use globally. While cannabis is the most widely used drug globally and in Nigeria, use of opioids is responsible for most of the negative health impacts of drug use. Over the past 20 years, West Africa has become a transit point for cocaine trafficking; worryingly the data now shows cocaine has become a drug of choice for use by a sizeable number of Nigerians.”

According to the report, “while the misuse of these substances is worrying, we have to also recognise that they have a legitimate medical use and it is important to ensure that such prescription opioids are made readily available to those who have a medical need. Any response at the policy and intervention level will need to be nuanced and be mindful of this complexity.

“The gender dimension is an important, yet lesser known aspect of drug use in Nigeria. One in four drug users in Nigeria is a woman, yet less than five per cent of those in treatment for drug use are women. A key question is whether enough is being done currently to support Nigerian women to deal with their drug use?

“There is a clear gap in meeting the needs for treatment and care for people with drug use disorders. With close to three million Nigerians living with some level of drug dependence, the extremely limited availability of drug counselling and treatment services exacerbates this health crisis.”

As part of efforts to address the rising cases of substance and drug abuse and misuse in Nigeria, the UNODC at Vienna, Austria, has demonstrated how to evolve drug control response in the country through informed new data. The recommendations were revealed by the Director, Division for Operations of UNODC, Ms. Miwa Kato, in an document made available to The Guardian said: “Drug dependence takes a terrible toll on an individual’s health and well-being. However, the consequences of drug use are not limited to the individual – the illicit use of drugs can be emotionally, socially and financially catastrophic for the families of drug users and the communities where they live and work. These adverse effects are universal and not bound by geography, culture, religion or gender.

“Drug dependence and its impact on Nigeria has been a visible part of public debate in the past few years, but due to the clandestine nature of drug use, credible information that could inform evidence-based responses on this issue has not been readily available.”

Kato added: “Any response on drug use needs to be rooted in an understanding of the nature of the condition. Drug dependence is a chronic relapsing medical condition. The reasons why people use drugs are complex and are based on various social and health vulnerabilities – not on factors such as personal weakness or lack of morals.

“In the past, drug responses have focused mainly on criminalisation and law enforcement. However, globally and in Nigeria the approach to drug control has shifted treating drug use first and foremost as what it is – a health issue. In the pursuit of a ‘balanced approach’ the focus has been increasingly on drug use prevention, treatment and care. In Nigeria, this balanced approach is an underpinning principle of the National Drug Control Master Plan 2015 – 2019 and should be even further strengthened in the new National Drug Control Master Plan 2020-2024 presently being developed by Government.”

She said the release of the National Drug Use Survey is an opportunity for Nigeria to evaluate its national response to drugs and to take it to the next level.

Recognising the seriousness of the issue, in late 2018, President Buhari inaugurated the Presidential Committee on the Elimination of Drug Abuse. Under the leadership of First Lady Aisha Buhari and Brigadier General Buba Marwa, the committee is tasked to provide recommendations on addressing the issue of drugs in the country in all its dimensions. Furthermore, the Federal Ministry of Health has established a Drug Demand Reduction Unit that works in collaboration with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). The NDLEA itself has taken positive steps to improve its counselling services through capacity building and monitoring of staff. Indeed, since 2014, with EU funding, the UNODC has trained over 2,000 Nigerian health professionals in evidence based drug treatment and counselling methodologies.

Kato said effective action would require evidence based and integrated responses that are sustained in the long term and utilize the considerable expertise and experience available in Nigeria. The extent of the problem is such that it cannot be addressed alone by any single entity within the government or indeed even by the government alone. In particular, in the area of drug counselling and treatment, there is a need to move from the hospital-based model to models that are affordable and offer integrated treatment in the community. These community-based services should offer access to a menu of ethical, evidence-based treatment options from which clients can choose depending on their level of drug use and dependency.


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