Hooked on drugs – Thisday

All the stakeholders could do more to address the problem of drug abuse

The menace of drugs in Nigeria has become very disturbing not only to the authorities but to the citizenry especially with its prevalence among the youth. To underscore the challenge, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire recently disclosed that an estimated 14.5 million people are addicted to various forms of drugs. The minister, who spoke at a national summit on menace of drugs and substance abuse among the youth, said many Nigerians between the ages of 15 and 64 are addicted to cannabis, amphetamines, opioids and cocaine.

To underscore the gravity of the problem, another report by the European Union (EU) put the number of drug users in Nigeria within the same age bracket at 24.4 per cent or 14.3 million people. The data, from the results of the National Drugs Use Survey for 2018 by the European Union, reveals that the prevalence of drug use in Nigeria is more than twice the global average of 5.6 per cent. The report further highlights a considerable level of abuse of psychoactive substances like cannabis and the non-medical use of prescription opioids (mainly tramadol, and to a lesser extent, codeine).

Indeed, in Nigeria today, hard drugs, ranging from cannabis–often called Indian Hemp, to cocaine, heroin and amphetamines – are increasingly available on the street and abused by both the young and the old. Although there are no reliable statistics, there is no doubt that drug abuse is linked to the continued upsurge in criminal activities across the country. Many cases of rape, cultism, kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, banditry and even car crashes feed on the ready availability of these illicit substances in the street. Many homes, families, relationships and careers have been shattered by those who find it difficult to wean themselves of the stuff. The menace has created an unacceptable burden on individuals and the society at large. As the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) Professor Mojisola Adeyeye put it, drug abuse is undermining efforts to deepen socio-economic development and “is associated with crime and lawlessness.”

A dichotomy in the prevalence of drug use was found between the North and South geo-political zones. The highest prevalence of drug use was found in the southern part of the country. People who inject drugs, according to the report, constitute a sizable proportion of high-risk drug users in Nigeria with one in five high-risk drug users injecting drugs. The most common drugs injected in the past year were pharmaceutical opioids, followed by cocaine and heroin while overall, more men were injecting drugs.

To address the rising wave of drug menace especially among the youth requires the proactive efforts of both government and the citizenry. There is the urgent necessity to develop awareness programmes to address issues of substance use and abuse and to remove barriers towards seeking care for these problems. These programmes should also address the inability of the youth to perceive addictive behaviours as a health risk. Parents and support persons’ involvement and engagement in youth programmes should be strengthened further as it improves communication and better decision-making for youth health issues. Family-based prevention programmes emphasising parenting skills, training or improving family functioning, communication and family rules regarding substance abuse also need to be introduced.

It is time we woke up to this challenge that poses danger to the future of the country. More should be done to create awareness on the danger of drug abuse. And as drug experts have suggested, the authorities should strengthen drug control policies while more counselling and treatment services should be created.

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