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Drug Abuse: An Epidemic Going Untamed

By Chinelo Eze
26 June 2022   |   6:00 am
Every year on June 26, the United Nations (UN) observes International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking with the aim of  attracting global attention to the dangers that illegal and misuse of substances pose to society. Globally, about 200 million individuals use illegal substances like cocaine, cannabis, hallucinogens, opiates, and sedative-hypnotics, according to the…

Every year on June 26, the United Nations (UN) observes International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking with the aim of  attracting global attention to the dangers that illegal and misuse of substances pose to society.

Globally, about 200 million individuals use illegal substances like cocaine, cannabis, hallucinogens, opiates, and sedative-hypnotics, according to the United Nation Office on  Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In marking this year, with the theme ”Addressing Drug Challenges in Health and Humanitarian Crises”, the UN general secretary Antonio Guterres emphasises on the need to treat and support drug users through science based treatments.

Amid the UN’s strategies to curb this social menace, cases of drug abuse have been on a rise in recent years. It is fast becoming a  bigger threat than anticipated, especially among young people in Nigeria. 

A UNODC 2018 report said that drug use was most prevalent among people between the ages of 25 and 39, while rates of use in the previous year were lowest among people under the age of 24. In another 2018 report by the National Drug Use Survey, there were approximately 14.3 million drug users in Nigeria when it was executed, of whom about three million had a drug use condition. 

Meanwhile the 2021 World Drug Report, by the UNODC, shows that around 275 million people used drugs globally in the past year, and more than 36 million people experienced drug use disorders. It noted that 14.4 per cent of the drug usage is visibly high in comparison to the global average of 11 million people.  

UNODC described the abused drugs in Nigeria as psychoactive substances. This includes cannabis, the non-medical use of prescription opioids (mainly tramadol, and to lesser extent codeine, or morphine) and cough syrups (containing codeine or dextromethorphan).

Other drugs like methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug, also known as “mkpuru mmiri” became more in and around  Anambra, the eastern part of Nigeria in 2020.

The World Drug Report also revealed that in Nigeria, the prevalence of drug usage during the past year is estimated to be 14.4%, or 14.3 million people between the ages of 15 and 64. When compared to the global yearly prevalence of any drug use among adults of 5.6% in 2016, Nigeria’s level of drug usage is considerably high.

A 20-years old student, who preferred to be called Grace said she battles staying off tramadol, a substance she started consuming alongside codeine and alcohol three years ago as a teenager.

“When you start taking drugs, a lot of times, it is just difficult to stop,” Grace told Guardian Life. “I resort to taking them when I am just less busy or feeling unstable emotionally – I use drugs as an escape tool.”

Grace said she was introduced to drugs by her peers and so is Opeyemi Micheal, a 28-year-old, artisan, who said the feeling of being a loner among his friends pushed him to using drugs.

Micheal said he has mixed feelings about using drugs. 

“It was a case feeling among with guys and not being the odd one in their midst,”  Micheal said. “A lot of times, I don’t even know how I feel. I can be excited one minute and so sad the next time.”

Like Grace, there are millions of Nigerian students who have been out of school for more than five months and the ongoing Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike is serving as an enabler to abuse drugs, a parent told Guardian Life.

But Sam Ejiwunmi, a lecturer in the Mass Communication Department at the University of Lagos disagrees.

“Definitely, the strike has affected the disclosure of classrooms, but most parents are busy and work from 9am-7pm,  this leaves these unsupervised youths. But when it comes to drug abuse, it is not a one off thing, it is a habit that is picked up overtime,” Ejiwunmi said.

“Someone who has not been using drugs will not just pick it up over time and start abusing drugs because they are not in school.”

He argued that many parents are “not observant enough to pick up some of the signs” to detect that their child is exposed to drugs.

Spokesman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Femi Babafemi said like peer pressure, socio-economic factors (poverty, unemployment), moral decadence, and poor parenting are the major contributing factors to the rise in cases of drug abuse.

Babafemi, however, stated that social media is another avenue where young persons are finding drug abuse as attractive. 

“These young minds are yet to fully understand the concept of life are thus moved to pick and believe the things they see on social media as the right things, and so they want to live that way, consequently falling into a rabbit trap,” Babafemi told Guardian Life.

“You see music, videos, movie skits glorifying the abuse of drugs, and so some of the innocent minds watching these things on social media think those are the futures of the generation, as things they need to do to make up. At the end of the day, they end up getting ruined.”

A Lagos-based clinical psychologist Kim said drug abuse thrive due to a combination of factors but said intimate parental care can alter peer pressure influence and other factors.

She explained that drug abuse to addiction follows a “cycle of change” which is “pre contemplation stage” and “contemplation stage” where an individual makes a decision to give into drugs.

“Some of them identify the problem, and want to stop but do not know how to stop. So they need a push, some people are quite determined to stop while others are not but it all depends on the patient’s determination,” Kim told Guardian Life.

Raising A Drug-Free Generation

In June 2021, the chairman of the NDLEA, retired Brig. Gen. Buba Marwa, proposed a mandatory drug test for people intending to be married with a view to dissaprove the union in an instance where either or both persons tested positive for drugs.

Clerics from the Christian and Islamic faith said they were in support of the idea they thought could make Nigeria have a drug-free generation in the coming years.

NDLEA has since extended its grounds to schools, urging universities to compel existing and new students to a mandatory drug test “to sanitise the society.”

“I am also aware that some state governments, federal ministries, law enforcement agencies, and the military, in partnership with NDLEA and are carrying out this advocacy initiative to purge the use of drugs in the society,” Babafemi said.

Kim, however, stated that achieving a total recovery for drug abusers in a society can be a complex task but achievable. 

“We can only try but after the rehabilitation and the therapy, what next when they leave the rehabilitation facility? Majority of these people go back to it because addiction is a lifetime recovery.”

Marwa in June said NDLEA has rehabilitated 11,000 drug between 2021 and 2022 while 10 drug barons have been arrested and one of them convicted already. He noted that the world was looking more at the dangerous health issues posed by drug trafficking and abuse rather than criminalising users.

As Nigeria and the world grapples with the menace of drug abuse and allied matters, it is important to stress, especially for the youth who are deeply ensnared by the evil habit, that breaking the addiction is the only way to triumph over the problems of drug abuse which has led to an increase in criminal activities, violence, corruption, destruction of individuals, families and communities, and the undermining of national economies.

The stark reality of the havoc that drug abuse could unleash on the world, if not properly checked, calls for urgent actions among all world stakeholders.

Without a doubt the rise of drug abuse in the Nigerian space is one public health and security concern that needs immediate attention from all works of life.