Still on drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking
Drugs have been part of the human culture since the middle of the last century. Popularized in the 1960s by music and mass media, they invade all aspects of society. It is estimated that 208 million people internationally consume illegal drugs out of which about 76.3 million struggle with alcohol use disorders contributing to 1.8 million deaths per year.
In the 80’s drug use and abuse became an unprecedented problem of great concern to the global community which warrants the United Nations General Assembly in 1987 to designate June 26 of every year the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. This day serves as a reminder of the goals agreed to by the Member States of creating an international society free of drug abuse. It aims to raise awareness of the major problems that illicit drugs present to society and at the same time, remind youths and adults not to make the mistake of experimenting with drugs.
A drug is a substance used for medical purposes that changes the state or function of the body. On the other hand, drug abuse is a situation when a drug is taken more than it is prescribed. It could be seen as the use of illicit drugs, or the abuse of prescription or over-the-counter drugs. It could further be defined as the deliberate use of chemical substances for reasons other than intended medical purposes and which results in physical, mental emotional or social impairment of the user. World Health Organization (WHO) defined substance abuse as “the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs”.
Twenty-nine years after global declaration and effort at creating an international society free of drug abuse, the impacts has not been encouraging. In Europe, recent studies among 15- and 16-year-olds suggest that use of marijuana varies from under 10% to over 40%, with the highest rates reported by teens in the Czech Republic (44%), followed by Ireland (39%), the UK (38%) and France (38%). In Spain and the United Kingdom, cocaine use among 15- to 16-year-olds is 4% to 6%. Cocaine use among young people has risen in Denmark, Italy, Spain, UK, Norway and France.
In Nigeria, even in the absence of statistics, observation of happenings on our streets will reveal that young people today are exposed earlier than ever to drugs. Substances such as alcohol, cannabis, amphetamines among others are now being taken frequently and in large quantities by our youth. School children now go to school with various types of drugs, ranging from local and refined alcohol, Indian hemp, ogogoro and their likes. For the commercial drivers especially okada riders, drug use has become a usual ritual they perform before setting out for the day job. Bus Conductors, street urchins, artistes, civil servants, politicians etc. are other abusers. It is sad that the rate of prevalent is in spite of an unending desire by governments at all levels to sensitize the citizens, especially the youths, of the evil of drug use and abuse with various anti-drug use campaigns.
Drug use and abuse are the primary reason why many youths ended up homeless and on the streets, begging and struggling to feed themselves. As a matter of fact, many of these youths have been arrested for drug offences, and/or have a drug abuse problem. Some of the factors contributing to this arrest are the public awareness of the danger of drug abuse and the “war on Drugs” declared by the Federal Government using various agencies like the NDLEA, NAFDAC, NOA, Ministries of Health and Information etc.
There are lots of reasons why people take illegal drugs. Some take them to escape their problems while others are bored, curious or just want to feel good. People may be pressured into taking drugs to “fit in” with a particular crowd (such as is the case with street urchins, road unions, cult group etc.) or they may take drugs to rebel or get attention.
People can become addicted to illegal drugs as well as drugs prescribed by doctors. When prescription drugs are taken the right way, they are safe and there is usually little chance of addiction. However, prescription drugs can be dangerous if they are abused (for example, taking too much or taking them when they are not needed). Moreover, it is most heart-rending to know that there are tons of drugs in circulation which are either adulterated or have old NAFDAC numbers on them, or expired but are still being consumed by ignorant and unsuspecting Nigerians. It is not uncommon this day, for some drugs to have manufacturing date legibly inscribed and having expiry date written illegibly.
From ancient times, the use of drugs has always been an inseparable part of occultism and the youth in tertiary institutions are deeply involved in this practice. The criminal activities of the drug users are now becoming too frequent for comfort. At most of the dark spots in major cities, criminals openly use banned drugs. To worsen the situation, some of them operate like cults, carving out territories of influence where they intimidate, rape and rob innocent residents at will.
It is important to illustrate what drugs such as marijuana do to the body and minds of the users. For instance, marijuana’s smoke is toxic and can lead to serious health disorders, including cancer. The negative effects also include confusion, acute panic reactions, anxiety attacks, fear and loss of self-control. Chronic marijuana users may develop a motivational syndrome characterized by passivity, decreased motivation, and preoccupation with taking drugs. Like alcoholic intoxication, marijuana intoxication impairs judgment, comprehension, memory, speech, and problem-solving abilities.
Of particular worry is the permanence of its ill-effect among people who began smoking in adolescence. Aside the smokers, every one of us, as a passive smoker is a potential victim of some of the ill-effects. Yet, there is hardly any area in Nigeria free of this drug problem and the subsequent criminal behaviour of its users.
No doubt, when you give people a foothold, it might become a stronghold. Thus, the gory tale of open use of marijuana is an indictment on the part of our security operatives, especially the anti-narcotic agency. Ironically, some security agents legalized this illegal drug through their own illegal act of extorting money from traders. Some of them are also criminals in uniform who smoke at same spots where criminal activities are planned and executed by hoodlums.
The traditional standards and values that place additional responsibility on holder of public offices in a sane society are a almost nil here in Nigeria. The NDLEA can still raise the tempo of its effectiveness by investing on technological devices that can enhance its ability to detect drug traffickers or consumers to thwart and frustrate their efforts.
In sum, the anti-narcotic agency must step up the clampdown on the production, control of the sale, distribution and use of illicit drugs.
Musbau is of Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.