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Waiting for publicly funded drug rehabs

By Emmanuel Onwubiko 
06 April 2023   |   3:00 am
The Federal government plans to build and maintain drug rehabilitation centres for addicts. The fact is that drug addiction is as pervasive as catching cold and fever.

Drug addicts. PHOTO: BBC

The Federal government plans to build and maintain drug rehabilitation centres for addicts. The fact is that drug addiction is as pervasive as catching cold and fever. If these rehabs are built, they may actually be the first set of rehabilitation centres to be so publicly funded, if my calculation is right.

Although the current administration in Lagos bragged a few years back that it will build the biggest rehab centre, it is not clear if it has been built. The News agency of Nigeria last year quoted Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu saying his government is currently building the biggest mental rehabilitation home in Nigeria. He disclosed this while receiving members of the Southern Governors Wives’ Forum (SGWF) on a courtesy visit at Lagos House, Ikeja.

The government media mouthpiece recalled that Nigeria’s first lady, Aisha, revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari suffered long-term PTSD following his ordeal as a military combatant, months-long detention and several failures at the polls. The Lagos governor explained that the mental health rehabilitation home would comprehensively address the menace of drug abuse and provide the necessary care for victims. According to him, illicit dealing in drugs and substance abuse requires serious effort and commitment of all stakeholders to tackle it in the best interest of society. He commended the governors’ wives for their resilience and support in fighting sexual and gender-based violence and drug abuse in their states.

The next question to ask is, what are the larger, long-term plan by governments at both national and sub-national levels to confront drug addictions which are hydra-headed monsters weighing down hundreds of youth? Indeed, 90% of political officeholders abuse one hard drug or the other and so some of them need to be checked into rehabs.

Few years back, The Guardian of London reported the lack of publicly funded rehab centres and alluded to the fact that religious institutions are now standing in between the gaps. I recall that long ago, Reverend Father Jack Yaki of the then-Catholic Diocese of Jos was pivotal to setting up a big rehab home for alcoholics. This Priest later migrated to somewhere in the USA and got incardinated into one of the big dioceses in the USA. So I’m not shocked that The Guardian of London of 21st September 2021 reported that with poverty deepening, state services are failing to cope with rising rate of drug addiction. The British Newspaper then stated truly that Nigeria has been grappling with a growing drug problem for several years, with cases surging since 2016.

In its World Drug Report, published in June, the UN recorded a rise in the country’s rate of abuse from 5.6% in 2016 to 14.4% in 2018, with cannabis the most commonly used drug. Ease of access to drugs, poverty, job insecurity and unemployment have fuelled the increase. Now there are concerns that lockdown restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the problem.

According to Nigeria’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the south-west of the country has the highest rates of abuse and trafficking, with more than 22% of 15- to 65-year-olds using drugs in the past year. In Ibadan, the capital of Oyo state, hundreds have passed through the same rehab centre as Kola, the Goodworker Ministry International. As well as accepting inpatients, the Christian-based centre, which says its drug treatment work was “divinely commissioned by the Lord” in 2002, organises outreach programmes to encourage people to bring their relatives to the centre.

The centre received a rise in calls during lockdown. “Requests for treatment increased by more than 300% but we could not help (everyone),” says its founder, Tunji Agboola, a Christian pastor. During the lockdown, the centre’s in-patients were discharged to their families. Many relatives were not equipped to care for them and some patients relapsed. “We suspect that it led to the increase in the usage of prescription drugs and substances such as Rohypnol, tramadol and many more,” says Agboola. Poverty and food inflation have also increased in the past year – 100.9 million Nigerians are predicted to be living in poverty by 2022 – and so has crime.  “The facts that they were hungrier at that time made them do stuff,” Agboola says. “If anything disrupts their day-to-day activities, they will come at people. That was why crime increased.

However, all these issues may become things of the past if the federal government make good its plan to build six rehab centres for drug addicts in Nigeria – one each in all the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria. Chairman/Chief Executive of the NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa (Retd), who was Special Guest of Honour at the symposium, as saying, “Substance use and abuse around the world including Nigeria is on the increase in terms of the proportion of the world’s population.

Findings from the National Drug Use Survey (2018) conducted by the UNODC revealed that 14.4% or 14.3 million Nigerians aged 15 – 64 years had used a psychoactive substance in the past year for non-medical purposes, meaning that One in Seven persons has used some substances other than alcohol and tobacco. More worrisome is the finding that among every four drug users in Nigeria, one is a woman. Above findings of the survey by UNODC give a troubling portrait of drug abuse in Nigeria and we can no longer live in denial that Nigeria has a thriving illicit drug culture.”

The NDLEA boss said the construction of six standard rehabilitation centres will begin from next year. He said three of the centres would start next year as already proposed in the 2022 budget. According to him, “There is no doubt that substance use impacts negatively on the individual, family and the society in general. Substance abuse affects the physical, social and psychological levels of the user and family members. Evidence has shown that COVID-19 infections are higher or more common with people diagnosed with Substance Use Disorders (SUD) hence addiction care must be reinforced in order to avoid complications of SUD and COVID-19.

On 29th of January 2019, the number of drug users in Nigeria has estimated at 14.4 per cent or 14.3 million people aged between 15 and 64 years according to the results of the National Drug Use Survey released today in Abuja. The data suggest that the prevalence of past year drug use in Nigeria is more than twice the global average of 5.6 per cent.

Based on data collected from 38,850 respondents in the household survey and 9,344 high-risk drug users across all states of the country, the report provides for the first time, robust data on the prevalence of drug use in Nigeria at the national level and also by geo-political zones and states. The report shows that there is a gap in meeting the needs for treatment and care for people with drug use disorders. With close to 3 million Nigerians living with some level of drug dependence, the extremely limited availability of drug counselling and treatment services exacerbates this health crisis.

“Some of the findings of the survey presented today are striking and alarming and call for concerted efforts to mitigate the negative consequences of this rising menace on the health, socio-economic and security of our nation,” said Dr Osagie Ehanire in his remarks. The report elucidates the true extent of prescription opioid use— mainly tramadol and cough syrups for non-medical purposes; with 4.6 million people using these in the past year in Nigeria. 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 are responsible for most of the negative health impacts of drug use.

In her remarks, Mrs Miwa Kato said that any response on prescription opioids should be mindful of the “need to recognise that they have a legitimate medical use”. She added that there is a need to have a nuanced approach to the issue and that it is “important to ensure that such prescription opioids are made readily available to those who have a medical need”, while ensuring adequate controls to reduce their misuse is in place.  .

What Nigerians need is to have functional state-subsidised hard drugs rehab centres in almost all the States. We in HURIWA will be excited to witness the commissioning of these rehabs promised by General Marwa.

Onwubiko is head of The Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria and was National Commissioner of The National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.

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