Nigeria has a rising drug problem and we can no longer afford to sit still and do nothing about it.
In recent times, we’ve experienced astronomical increase of opioid use among Nigerian youths. Three experiences have brought this reality closer home.
Osahon was my former colleague. He always had a bottle of coke on his desk and I kept teasing him about his coke addiction not knowing it was laced with tramadol. Tolu and Uche were corps members in Enugu. On their Passing out parade day, they came to a pharmacy shop beside Polo park mall and bought over 10 bottles of cough syrup. I had come to purchase ear drops. I imagined the dispenser would question them or at least ask for doctors’ prescription, but no, he was all too happy to make his sales! John was a local tax collector at a park in Slaughter market, Port Harcourt. One evening a fight broke out between him and some drivers. With the heavy influence of tramadol, he began to have tremors. His friends did a cold compress and carried him away to a clinic.
These stories are just a few compared to everyday experiences people have with drug use and users; with the addiction most common in youths between 18-20 years old, several of whom are on a combination of substances.
Drug dependency is an adaptive state that develops from repeated drug administration and which results in withdrawal upon cessation of drug use while drug addiction is defined as compulsive, out-of-control drug use despite negative consequence (Source: Wikipedia). According to Dorcas Oluremi Fareo*, abused drugs are categorized as follows: stimulants, hallucinogens, narcotics, tranquilizers, sedatives and inhalants.
The most commonly abused drugs and substance are opiate based painkillers such as tramadol, rohypnol, Exol and Benzodiazephines, and Cough syrups like benylin and codeine. Others include Shisha, heroin, cocaine, crack, cannabis, alcohol and tobacco. There is also the practice of inhaling methamphetamine, glue, nail polish, perfumes, gutters & refuse dump. It is estimated that over 500,000 bottles of codeine are being consumed everyday by over 40% of the population on one form of substance abuse or the other.
The days of looking at drug offenders as dirty touts on the streets are now over. A great percentage of the offenders are professionals: bankers, doctors, Engineers, just about anyone. Because people have mastered the art of covering their tracks, parents are unaware when their children and wards become drug users. Fancy private schools do not provide a shield while government schools have become major trafficking centres. Teenagers even hail themselves as “science students” following the words of Olamide (popular Nigerian hip-hop artist)- “Science” meaning the ability to combine several of the drugs mentioned above.
In looking for solutions, NAFDAC becomes the first port of call. There is the need to regulate and, in some cases, ban the importation of such drugs legally into the country. Drugs such as tramadol is so common that every aboki on the street sells them. NAFDAC must rise to its primary role of drug administration and control. Forget about press releases and work the talk, Nigerians will see results for themselves.
The Nigerian Custom service also has a great role to play in the fight against drug importation and circulation. By plugging supply channels, the circulation channels can be reduced. The national drug policy recently launched did not address this menace. Hence the ministry of health should as a matter of all urgency have a review of the policy to include issues bothering on drug use, dependency and addiction.
We must begin to look at sustainable solutions rather than criminalizing drug users. I visited a prison recently where I learnt that most of the juvenile cases were drug and petty theft related. Several persons will agree with me that the prison is no place for drug addicts. I would rather they are committed to rehabilitation centres built across the country. Also, if a prison term is inevitable then segregation of prisons based on offences should be adopted instead of lumping everyone together. Our prisons do not have the facility to carter for such rehabilitation process.
Finally, I’ll address the parents (family). Never hold brief for your child and say “I know Junior, he’ll never do a thing like that” Always be on the look out for behavioural changes in your children. Some red flags could be mood swings, aggression, withdrawal to oneself, insomnia, loss of appetite, depression, weight loss and tremors. Also look out for slow motor coordination, lethargy, poor performance in school and hypersensitivity. These drugs are often colourless so you may not detect them. But when you see your child or ward always carrying bottles of water, lacasera or coke around, you may want to probe further to know the real content of those bottles. Don’t live in denial, seek help as soon as possible.
Consequently, the government through the ministry of health must seek to build more rehabilitation centres to accommodate the coming tsunami if nothing is done to stop these youths.