1 November 2017

Nigeria: Rising Drug Abuse

Everyday, over a 500,000 bottles of codeine are consumed by young Nigerians across the country, same with the intake of tramadol, rohypnol, marijuana, and other opioids, an alarming trend that has subtly eaten deeply into the Nigerian fabric with children of all classes having a field day abusing these drugs. But parents, stakeholders and the society continue to live in self-denial as a time bomb waits to explode.

When Franklin and his siblings were growing up, they never thought any of them would go into drugs. They are from a Christian home where drug abuse is regarded as the worse sin to commit. He even hated those who smoke cigarette not to mention marijuana. The smell was a complete turn off for him.

But at 15, while in his final year in secondary school, he got influenced by his celebrity idol, who would come on screen with beverage bottles, talk fluently, and sometimes mention how he gets inspiration through highness.

Franklin soon realised what his idol carries about in his bottle is a mixture of opioids and beverages. This looked absolutely glamorous to him. He then tried it out and loved the feel. That is how Franklin, who otherwise came from a well to do responsible home got hooked to tramadol and codeine.

Franklin, now 18 years old believes the day he stops taking tramadol he may die. "I used to take 100 milligram daily, but I realised my body is becoming resistant to it. Now am on 200mg daily. I know I am treading a terrible path, but I have tried stopping but it hasn't worked out. The more I try the more I take it."

Surprisingly, no member of his family knows till date he is into drugs. "I often mash it into soft drinks, and no one has noticed in my house, not even my mum who is very interactive and observant."

Twenty-three years old Jasper from Abia State, who was very brilliant back in secondary school started smoking marijuana at age 17, the same year he got admission into the university.

Jasper started well in class until he was introduced to smoking cigarette and then marijuana. "At a point I wasn't getting satisfaction from marijuana. That was how I decided to look for substances that will give me a stronger feeling. I then decided to be living on tramadol, rohypnol and codeine," he said.

Like the euphoria it gave him, Jasper started missing classes, started spending all his school money on drugs because he needed to maintain the certain level of that 'highness' constantly. Exams came and he couldn't cope until he was advised by the management to withdraw; all within his first year in school.

"Like a second opportunity, I got another admission a year later in Rivers State to read Law. But because I had been deep into drugs, it was easier for me to identify drug addicts and cultists in school from the very beginning, and quickly, I pitched tents with them. We were always together constantly living on drugs.

"I would go to class 'high', I would read 'high', and I would even write exams in the same state. There were times during my exams, I would go to class with so much substance in my blood stream, and the next thing will be that I would sleep off during exams."

Jasper, who spent three years of his school fees on drugs, again couldn't cope with classes. "While my class mates are done with Law education now and are set for their National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) posting, I am still in 300 level in the school because I couldn't meet up with them because of the lifestyle I was living. I have deferred my admission now because I needed help first to tackle the addiction problem. I just wanted to be free from the addiction that almost ruined me.

"My Dad is a Bishop and I was not just a brilliant child, I was very close to God, but drugs took everything my parents cherished in me away. There were times I even fasted and prayed that God should take this addiction away from me. But while I was fasting and praying, I would still go out to take the drugs on empty stomach. I couldn't even leave tramadol during fasting and prayer time. It became a spirit controlling me until now that am into rehabilitation," Jasper told THISDAY in Lagos where during his graduation from a rehabilitation school, House of Joy owned by the Redeemed Christian Church of God.

Hard drugs is no respecter of persons

"Hard drugs can reduce a Professor or President of a country to the level of a mechanic who is also on drugs. It does not discriminate, it will reduce you to its level until you become a scum to the society," these were the words of a former drug addict, a 65 years old Professor of French and English Semantics, Prof. Ayo Adegoke-Craig, who learnt his lesson the hard way.

Adegoke-Craig, who spoke to THISDAY said he started taking hard drugs from his secondary school days, and then when he got admission into a UK university, cocaine intake became part of him 24 hours a day. "Initially when I started taking it, I felt it was helping me write, it was much later I discovered it wasn't the reason, I was naturally a good writer.

"A while later, I got married and had a child, but they all ran away when they discovered I couldn't eat, think or continue discussions without the influence of hard drugs. At a time I had to come to Nigeria to stay," he said.

Revealing that as a Professor who had made name for himself, he came back to Nigeria to live as a pauper, a bachelor and a reduced human, he said, "It was at this point I started looking for help, because I was fast losing my pride. Food became my worst enemy, and I could wear one shirt for days because I only had one interest, which was to satisfy my body. The professor, whose quest for solutions took him to three different countries, said he first went to Asia where they told him with acupuncture he would be fine and free from the addiction, but the more he took the treatment, the more he was getting the urge to keep abusing drugs.

"I then had to continue my research until I discovered there was a therapy in Bolivia. I embarked on another journey to Bolivia where I was told the coca leafs would be used for my treatment.

"After the treatment, I didn't just continue the life, I even bought cocaine in large quantity in that country, which I brought back with me to Nigeria. I went to Bolivia to get help, but I left there with more cocaine. I was becoming more miserable by the day."

But luckily, Prof. Adegoke-Craig has been able to tackle the addiction. He however paid the price of losing his job and family for that to happen.

In Niger Delta, drug use is a time bomb waiting to explode

"Leave me o, oga journalist," said 25 years old Rose, a regular visitor to one of the lounges on Ingbi Road, off Mbiama/Yenagoa Road, who was quite reluctant to talk about her consistent round of "boozes" at the popular lounge which also serves as a night club, but on further persistence, the ordinary National Diploma holder eventually decided to open up.

Rose's story wasn't markedly different from those of many in the same shoes as hers around the world whose only source of joy, as Senator Ben Murray-Bruce recently put it, is to find solace and escape from reality in the abuse of what is supposed to be regular over-the-counter drugs or outright consumption of narcotics. She was influenced by a peer.

Now fully relaxed with a bottle of her favourite beer, puffing away a stick of cigarette from a pack on the table, Rose narrated how her school boyfriend about five years ago influenced her to taste marijuana for the first time.

From then onward, Rose became hooked to marijuana, then graduated to tramadol and other opioids.

Like Rose, many youths from the Niger Delta region are hooked on the high that taking hard drugs brings, even if ephemeral.

Statistics show that since the past 10 years, there is significant increase in the use of substance by young Niger Deltans between the ages of 14 and 30, a scenario that suggests the region is on a time bomb waiting to explode if nothing is done to tackle it.

Kano is hub for substance abuse in the North

A university Don and Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Nelson Ochekpe, has disclosed that recent research suggests that over 60 per cent of substance abuse occurs in Northern Nigeria with Kano State being its major hub.

No wonder the former Director General, NDLEA, Olarewaju Ipinmisho, once raised the alarm that there is rising incidence of drug abuse in the North, saying specifically that seven out of 10 youths, especially in Kano are on drugs.

He believed no matter what government does for its people, if the youths are on drugs, effects of government benefits will not be felt. "That is why we are not moving forward in this country. The President may rule for four years and achieve nothing because he is pouring water in a basket and this predicament is the drainage through which the efforts are lost.

The wife of Nigeria's President, Aisha Buhari, recently raised an alarm early in the year when she visited Kano State. She said Northern youths, including women, were wasting their lives with drug abuse. She urged political and religious leaders in the region to urgently find a solution to the menace.

Recently, Kano State raided markets and discovered hard drugs worth millions of naira. The Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, recently confirmed the seizure of more than five tons of Benilyn this year alone, adding that a major seizure was from a warehouse whose owner alleged that he got his supplies from Onitsha Market in Anambra State.

Some school of thoughts believe the high unemployment rate and the Boko Haram insurgency in the North is part of factors fueling the menace.

A consultant psychiatrist, Bayo Aduwo says over half a million bottles of codeine are consumed by Nigerians daily, with about 300,000 of such bottles sold in the North alone.

How Second World War fueled production of hard drugs in South-west, others

Drug abuse among Nigerian youths is as old as human existence. The habitual effect derives from unmitigated peer influence, parental negligence and government's inability to stem the tide for ages, are major concern threatening the wars against its control. Drugs are known to induce social vices, civil upheavals and other forms of criminalities.

In South-west Nigeria however, like other parts of the country, reports say the problem of drugs began to assume very worrisome dimensions at the end of the Second World War following the return of some Nigerian soldiers from mainly, Burma, India, where they had fought.

One of the negative consequences of the war was the return of the soldiers with some seeds of cannabis sativa, also known as Indian Hemp, which they in turn experimented and discovered that the illicit plant could do well in some parts of the country. With time, the cultivation of cannabis sativa began to grow and so was the trafficking and abuse of the cannabis plant.

Drug barons soon discovered that the geographical location of Nigeria, its thick population, bustling commerce, and vibrant air transportation hold so much attraction for a thriving drug business. This led to the experimentation with category 'A' drugs such as cocaine, heroin and other psychotropic substances; a situation that has made the country a drug trafficking/transit point. In order to address this growing problem of illicit drugs, Nigeria has remained proactive in its counter-narcotic initiatives.

In view of the fact that the drug menace continued to rise in profile, the Federal Government of Nigeria established a new body, independent of other existing law enforcement agencies in the country called the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), way back in 1989.

The establishment of NDLEA was Nigeria's deliberate effort at evolving an institutional framework for the suppression of the drug cankerworm. This is also in fulfillment of the country's international obligation, as a signatory to the 1988 UN Convention, which recommended separate bodies to lead the onslaught against the ravaging drug menace in many parts of the world.

Until the advent of the NDLEA, the Board of Customs and Excise (now Nigeria Customs Service) and the Nigeria Police were the major drug interdiction organs of government, while the Federal Welfare Department was charged with the counselling, treatment and rehabilitation of drug dependent persons.

Tobacco companies lure youths into smoking

Researchers have uncovered how tobacco companies are luring unsuspecting Nigerian youths into smoking at a tender age.

Findings by two research groups; Nigerian Tobacco Control Research Group and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria revealed this after comprehensive researches in selected public secondary schools and states of the federation.

The groups which have been conducting researches on the effects of tobacco use particularly on children made this known during a public presentation of a report carried out in five of the six geopolitical zones in the country.

The report, titled: 'Big Tobacco Tiny Targets, tobacco companies targeting of school children in Nigeria', sampled 221 schools in cities like Ibadan, Kaduna, Enugu, Lafia and Lagos representing the various geopolitical zones of the country.

Dr. Adebiyi Akindele at St. Pauls School, Yemetu Ibadan disclosed that there are evidences of a pattern of the sale of tobacco products, including cigarettes, within 100 metres of school environments across selected towns in the country linking the practice to leading tobacco producers in the country.

The findings also revealed a number of themes that clearly identifies the deliberate use of marketing strategies to stimulate the interest of children and youths in tobacco products. It added that only in a few stores and kiosks were the warning signage on the prohibition of sales to minors seen and even in these instances, they could not have served as a strong deterrent because of their often obscure placement.

According to the report which condemns the use of systematic approach of targeting youths through visual appeal methods and such other placement of tobacco products on the counter and other positions easily accessible to youths, the researchers noted that the practice is a vagrant contravention of Article 16 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which specifies the prohibition of sale of tobacco products in any manner by which they are directly accessible to minors.

They have therefore advocated for concrete actions and continued watchfulness of major stakeholders including parents, education authorities, teachers, women groups, professional groups and media on the grave harm of getting children hooked on tobacco.

In its recommendation, the report disclosed that the location of a point of sales for tobacco within 100 metres of schools is a deliberate ploy of tobacco companies like BAT, PMI and ITC to stimulate children and youths into early interest in tobacco products.

"The delay in the implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 with provisions banning the placement of tobacco products at educational establishments and access of youths to tobacco products is particularly worrisome and if this situation is not quickly checked, we may likely experience an increase in the number of tobacco users as predicted by the WHO.

"The enforcement of the comprehensive prohibition of tobacco advertising and sponsorship (TAPS) including point of sales and product display should be enhanced by the National Assembly urgently approving the regulations guiding the implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015.

"The Federal Ministry of Health and the Federal Ministry of Education should work together to ban the location of point of sales of tobacco products within 100 metres of all schools. This should be enforced at state and local government levels by state ministries of education and local education authorities.

"We further advocate for concrete actions and continued watchfulness of major stakeholders like parents, education authorities, teachers, women groups, professional groups and media on the grave harm getting children hooked on tobacco would cause."

BAT's response

In countering the research material above, an Area Corporate Affairs of BAT, Abimbola Okoya responded to THISDAY email thus: "We are proud to state that we are a reputable and responsible law abiding corporate organisation, who market and sell our tobacco products in a responsible manner and strictly adhere to our own self-imposed International Marketing Principles that govern, regulate and monitor our marketing approach, within our controlled marketing universe, in countries in which we operate.

"Our principles aim to prevent youth access and smoking at point of sale and discourages the sale of tobacco products near schools. It also strongly discourages the use of child labour at tobacco retail points to prevent minors from selling and promoting the use of tobacco products and we strictly monitor our trade partners with a view to ensuring we do not partner with anyone who engages under aged persons to sell our products.

"Guided by our principled position, we are and remain an international organisation of repute who continues to contribute positively to the Nigerian economy in a responsible manner. We are committed to ensuring adherence to the Tobacco Control Act and regulations governing the sale and promotion of tobacco products in Nigeria. We will continue to advocate and drive for compliance to our International Marketing Principles now and in the future," he added.

Girls and the growing love for tramadol, cough syrup

A recent research done by a non-governmental organisation, Saving Youths, showed that there is a growing use of tramadol, benylin, cough syrups, and shisha, among young girls in Nigeria.

The study conducted in four Northern universities showed that most of these opioids are mixed with beverages.

The Nigerian Senate, recently, also raised alarm over the increasing use of substance by girls and women in Nigeria, as they see it as means for escapism. They believed some girls have even induced their mothers into the use of these cough syrups as an escape from abusive relationships.

Entertainers glamourise substance use

A music producer, Kelly Wise says many teenagers and young adults in Nigeria have gone into drug use simply because they hear their super stars talk about how drugs give them inspiration and make them confident to mount stages to entertain crowds.

"You see them openly smoking and drinking in their musical videos. Fans adore these guys to the point they want to do what they are doing. I can tell you for sure many young Nigerians are into drugs because their superstars openly glamourise it. They make it seem cool.

He said one common thing musicians do now is that they put drugs in their water bottle, or coke bottle missed with water or soft drink and you see them sipping it. Obviously, most of them put codeine, tramadol, and other opioids into those bottles. A mere look will suggest they are taking coke or water.

"This is becoming a huge challenge. These substances they add to water or their soft drink is very accessible and affordable," he said.

46 per cent of Nigerian youths have taken drugs at least once in their lifetime

To underscore the urgency required to tackle the malaise, several assorted works carried out by academics and professionals interested in psychosocial behaviour in relation to the menace of drug abuse in the Niger Delta, buttress the growing cases of the scourge.

In their work published in the Journal of Public Health Research on the 'Prevalence of Drug Abuse Amongst University Students in Benin City, Nigeria' in 2016, a group of researchers; Adeyemo Florence, Ohaeri Beatrice, Pat Okpala and Ogodo Oghale agreed that abuse is becoming an increasingly disturbing problem in the region.

Aged between 20-25 years, the study revealed that a whopping 46.6 per cent of the sample respondents had taken drugs for non-medical purposes at least once in their lifetime, resulting sometimes in risky behaviours such as unsafe sexual practices.

It concluded that some youths depend on one form of drug or the other such as tobacco, Indian hemp, cocaine, morphine, heroine, alcohol, ephedrine, madras, caffeine, glue, barbiturates and amphetamines for their various daily activities.

Yet in another seminal work published in the International Journal of Scientific Research in Education, on 'Drug Abuse: A Study of Selected Secondary Institutions in Bayelsa State', Stephen Ekpenyong of the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, notes that most Nigerian youths will experiment with drugs at some point, particularly alcohol and nicotine.

Most disturbing was the fact that the study established that 31.4 per cent of student respondents had a positive perception of drug abuse, meaning that they did not find anything wrong with taking or abusing drugs.

It also indicated that a sizeable number (33.8 per cent) of the study participants admitted to abusing drugs, alcohol and cigarettes frequently used along with miraa and bhang, local substances grown by farmers, which experts say could lead to mental issues.

It said that while boys had a higher proclivity to abuse drugs, the number of girls using drugs was on the rise among school children.

Is NDLEA doing enough?

When contacted on why there has been increase in the use of hard substances, the authorities of the Agency in Bayelsa said they would need clearance from the Commander in the state to make public comments, noting that the insinuation of an increase in cases of drug abuse remains disputable.

"How are you sure there is an increase in drug abuse?" Osakwe Ikenna, the command's spokesman asked.

But the facts in the public space are glaring, though the execution of punishment prescribed by law for trafficking in hard substances remain suspicious.

In a raid recently, the Delta State Command of the agency revealed that they had destroyed a massive cannabis farm measuring over 100 hectares (the size of some villages) in Ndokwa West Local Government Area of the state.

In the same vein, the agency uncovered a huge methamphetamine-making laboratory in Asaba, the capital of the state. Eight suspects, four of them Mexican nationals, were apprehended.

Surprisingly, the NDLEA said the methamphetamine laboratory resembled those found in Mexico, adding that it was the first lab of its kind to be discovered in Nigeria, revealing that the factory had a capacity to produce between 3,000 kg and 4,000kg of methamphetamine per production cycle.

Decrying the latest trend, the Agency said "Nigeria methamphetamine is now competing with others in Asia and South Africa markets. The super laboratory does not need ephedrine because it uses the synthesis method.

"Drug cartels are now shifting from simple method of methamphetamine production to a more complex process."

The effects of methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant, could range from disturbed sleep patterns, hyperactivity, nausea, delusions of power to increased aggressiveness and irritability, insomnia, confusion, hallucinations, anxiety and paranoia.

In Bayelsa, just last month, September, 38 suspects were arrested with 29.75 kg of illicit drugs, a statement by the command's Principal Staff Officer and Superintendent of Narcotics, Ikenna, said a few weeks ago.

The suspects included 26 male adults and 12 female offenders. While the illicit drugs seized comprised cannabis sativa, psychotropic substances, heroin and cocaine.

He decried the use of Tramadol by both old and young people in communities across Bayelsa and high rate of abuse of the drug in the state by women and youths.

In South-east, NDLEA is upping its game

"I'm here to get myself rehabilitated from my addiction to drugs. My smoking habit started when I was in the secondary school, it grew to the level of addiction. I had tried very hard to stop it but it didn't work out. This is why I was brought to this place in search of help. I've been here for about a year and am willing to stay even longer. My situation really worsened, my spending habit was so much. I found it very hard to settle down and have my own family but am happy am getting better now with the counselling we receive here especially on coping skills.

"For me, I was addicted to smoking cannabis. I almost went mad as my behaviour changed terribly. I became almost a lunatic before it became obvious to me that I need something extraordinary. My parents had to hurriedly rush me to this rehabilitation centre. I'm glad my life has turned around for good after staying here for eleven months without those terrible friends who influenced me badly.

"Drug addiction brought me here. It rendered my life almost useless. All my dreams about life got shattered, no thanks to cannabis. I was to be a Catholic Priest, went to seminary school but drug made me to be bundled out of the seminary when I was in the finals. I eventually got married but again, drugs almost ruined my marriage. It's really unfortunate but I still give God thanks for giving me a second chance through this rehabilitation."

The above accounts came from inmates of NDLEA, Enugu State Rehabilitation Centre.

The Commander, Dr. Anthonyy Ohanyere, who led THISDAY correspondent to the facility said the rehabilitation was part of the process for social and societal reintegration of the about 21 inmates.

Most of them obviously from well-to-do families had clearly "destroyed" their lives before they were eventually taken to the rehab home. An appreciable number of the inmates are suffering from addiction to either psychotropic or narcotic drugs which had either endangered their nervous system or the psycho system of their bodies with the resultant nervous or mental breakdown.

One of the inmates is a medical doctor whose parents are both Professors of Medicine.

"This is a medical doctor who ought to counsel others not to engage in drug abuse but here he was brought here a lunatic. This shows this issue is not just restricted to those in the streets. As you can see, most of us here are graduates from different fields. Am an Engineer for instance, we have lawyers, businessmen from very good backgrounds but here we are in rehab home," the inmate simply identified as Yomi (not real name) explained.

At the moment, an appreciable percentage of mentally challenged persons roaming the streets in either Umuahia, Abia State, Owerri, Imo state, Awka in Anambra, Abakaliki in Ebonyi or even in Enugu are said be as a result of drug abuse.

It has become so bad that there's hardly any week that passes without a story of how a young man has gone bunkers as a result of excess consumption of drugs.

The Commander of NDLEA, Ohanyere who insisted that the pictures and names of the inmates at the rehabilitation centre should not be taken in order to preserve their fundamental human rights said but for the limited capacity of the centre, the place would have been flooded with mentally challenged persons whose cases were drug induced.

"Our capacity is simply 21 but if you use this to judge the number of people who pass through here, you will be making serious mistakes. We really don't have the facilities that would accommodate more people but I can tell you that the number of people that pass through here, respected people in the society, political office holder s, top government functionaries, professionals from different backgrounds, it's really amazing," he said.

According to him, several young people have completely ruined their lives as a result of drug dependency.

"Ordinary Valium five when abused can make one mad or even kill such a person. It has ruined lots of people. It has become a challenge to modern society.

"We can even see it on the streets of Enugu. Most of the people you see that are mad, its not natural madness, majority of them are drug-induced. Even those who are engaged in prostitution do so under the influence of drugs. These people freely sleep with different classes of men and you think it is just normal, far from it. They get their boldness and courage from drugs and the after effect is better imagined.

"In our rehabilitation centre here, we don't have motor-park touts. We have doctors, engineers, graduates, undergraduates, professionals from different parts of the country. These are people who can afford the treatment. These are people who can afford it. There are many people out there who have taken to the streets because they can't afford it. No street in Nigeria today without drug abuse cases," he stated.

He however noted that despite the enormity of the problem, the situation could still be brought under control through drug education and enlightenment, expressing dismay that so many people engage in drugs apparently as a result of peer group influence and adventure or to ward of frustration in the case of the elderly.

He further challenged parents and guardians to rise up to their parental challenge of ensuring that the moral upbringing of their children is not thrown overboard.

On his part, the NDLEA Commander for Abia State, Bamidele Akingbade expressed worry at the rising case of the menace, noting that the agency was on top of the situation with a view to ensuring that the society was free from such pandemic.

He said the story of drug abuse was the same and was more prevalent among young people especially those in higher institutions praying for government to equally rise to the occasion so as to stamp out such challenge from "our national life".

The situation is equally not different from Anambra State where NDLEA is engaged in intensive advocacy to check the prevalence of drug abuse. Though the State Commander could not be reached but officers of the agency claimed they work round the clock to rid the state of drug-related mental health.

Police: We are not empowered squarely to tackle drug abuses, only NDLEA can

A senior police officer in Lagos, who do not want his name in print because he was not authorised to speak on behalf of the force said the job of tackling drug abuse in Nigeria is enormous, adding that their major challenge was that there is duplication of duty between them and NDLEA which in turn discourages them to move against these elements squarely, since NDLEA by law is empowered to effect arrest, investigate and prosecute drug offenders in the country.

"But because as police officers we can't watch crime happen around us and not effect arrest, we sometimes raid these joints and arrest hard drug users, but majority of these people are now enlightened, they will argue with you that it's not your job to arrest them. At the end of the day, we will transfer them to NDLEA where the matter will die a natural death. The next day you will see these same drug users walking around freely. So what do you expect us to do in this regard? Arrest them again and send to NDLEA? This is our challenge.

"One of the things we resolved now is that hard drugs retrieved from drug users will be destroyed. An example is the recent destruction of cannabis by the new Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Mr. Imohimi Edgal in Ojota, Lagos. So we make sure these hard drugs are destroyed, just as we transfer culprits to NDLEA for further action

"This frustration is even more compounded because NDLEA saddled with that responsibility is highly understaffed. They have just few staff, not only in Lagos but all over the country. They can't do more than 10 per cent of the job. We understand this and we try to compliment their job, but we are not empowered to tackle this square. Government should do something in this regard," the police officer said.

He said one of the frustrations in the fight against drug abuse was that many drug users no longer take Indian hemp which can be noticeable by parents, the society or even law enforcement agents, but could be deep into drugs without smoking them.

"When you go to clubs you see so called big boys sipping water. My brother, don't attempt to ask them to give you from it, because you might end up being consumed in the drugs in the bottle. With a very small amount of money, our young youths can get drugs that put them in the state they want. This is worrisome."

But what is the way out? The police boss said those mostly involved are between the ages of 14 and 40 years, adding that many go into it because they are unemployed. "Let's even assume employed people are into drugs, but because they have to be at work morning to close night, the possibility of them enmeshed in the act all day is very unlikely, unlike the jobless ones who go to joints, stay there all day getting high. So I believe to a great extent, job creation will tackle drug abuse in Nigeria," he said.

He said parents should not underestimate their children. "Like my son, he got admission at age 14 into the University of Ado Ekiti. If you think they are still small, then you are missing it. You need to give them close marking. Visit them in school unannounced. Know their friends."

He cautioned parents not to expose their children to excess money. "By the time your child of 14 or 15 years, he or she is already controlling N200,000 or N300,000 as pocket money, apart from school fees, what do you expect the child to be doing. Mentally will she/he be able to control that freedom?"

Churches should take a front row in fighting drug abuse, Says RCCG Pastor

"We are beginning to get to the point where preachers and parents should be involved in researches on drug abuse and how to prevent them," says an Assistant Pastor, Flourishland Assembly, The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Ilupeju, Pastor Dare Adanri.

He believes the role of curbing it should not be left in the hands of the government alone, adding that conscious efforts should be made by church to address the growing trend.

He told THISDAY that during sermons, preachers should continuously raise awareness on this. "The risks and consequences should be talked about, not only to the youths, but to parents as well. The reason is, if parents are not informed about the signs, dangers and prevention of the habit, they may not be able to monitor their children and put them in check appropriately.

"We often times mistake those using drugs to mean people who go to bus stops or under the bridge to smoke marijuana. Right under our very nose, a young adult or teenager could be on drugs without us knowing. Many have now moved beyond smoking marijuana. With as low as N30.00 they can get high on drugs. That is the challenge."

Giving an instance, Pastor Dare said about 10 years ago in his former parish, a nurse came from the United Kingdom and approached the church that she wanted to do a project on curbing drug addiction for church members. "Then we said to ourselves what was the point, since our youths are children of God. We then reluctantly gave her the opportunity, but we were surprised that one of the teenagers, who is a son of a minister in the church was actually into drugs. The nurse's programme afforded us the opportunity to liberate the young teenager through counselling.

"Whatever you pray or talk about most times reverberates in the mind of people. If every church makes it a point of duty to talk about drug abuse, and pray against it all the time, it will, whether consciously or unconsciously, registers in the minds of culprits or would-be culprits. This will also make people know it is a serious thing because it's being talked about from time to time. Even God will also know it's a serious matter because he hears it as prayer point all the time. He will then answer the prayer," Pastor Dare said.

He called on other churches to emulate RCCG who has established drug rehabilitation centres. This is becoming a national issue, as more people are indulging in the practise. Churches should take front row in this.

"The consequences of drug abuse are enormous. These youths might not see it immediately, but in future the consequences are often vey obvious. Do you know churches can also do mini adverts in this regards? For instance, you know the way we write some things on paper or banner and paste in open places in churches for worshippers to read. We can also write something like, 'do you know addiction is a sin? Stop drug abuse today', and put it out conspicuously in church. This will convey the message."

He called on churches not to stigmatise drug addicts so they won't run away from coming out, adding that ministers and parents should continue to engage these youths, as being close to them can give a clue to whether they have changed or not.

Drug use reduces quality of life, social relevance, ambition

A Senior Registrar at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Dr. Mustapha Maruf , disclosed that use of psychoactive hard drugs have reduced the quality of lives of many users, such that social interaction and societal relevance begins to depreciate overtime because of the effect the substances have on the mental and psychosocial health of users.

He said apart from the several physical and mental health consequences of drug use, including psychosis, liver cirrhosis, asphyxia, respiratory distress and even death, the social and economic consequences are enormous, leading not only to increasing crime rates, but also poverty and a markedly reduced quality of life.

"What substance abuse does is that it rewires circuitry of the brain in a semi-permanent way, especially at the frontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for planning, judgment and other higher executive decisions, such that everything the brain will be thinking about will be how to obtain psychoactive drug so they can continuously get that feeling. This is the science and neurology of addiction, and this makes it clearly a medical problem, not a behavioural or spiritual problem.

"The consequences of drug abuse are in phases. Not everybody who tries drug for the first time is addicted. Not everyone who gets addicted requires hospitalisation. Not everybody who gets hospitalised recovers from it. So the consequences come in different forms for different people.

"You will find out such person won't do well in school. He or she may have difficulty holding down jobs. The person may start stealing, keeping bad company, and probably having a forensic file, and then gradually, the person starts to decline socially. What this means is that the person who is supposed to be a goal getter will start becoming a nuisance and will not achieve optimal capacity for his or her life."

He said when some drugs, especially opiates, are used in overdose, they may lead to the depression of respiratory centre in the brain, and the person can die from asphyxia. This happens when the brain is unable to coordinate breathing, leading to suffocation.

"We know especially for teenagers, they like to experiment with one form of substance or the other. The commonest is alcohol, but the fastest trend now is the use of opioids like the tramadol, codeine. Some will take once and then stop using without it affecting their mental functioning. Others will take it, and then continue until it starts affecting their functioning. At that point, they won't be able to function well in their day to day activities, thereby leading to a decline in their quality of life or futuristic plans," he added.

On the factors responsible for the increase of drug use in Nigeria, Maruf said drug abuse is now endemic in Nigeria owing to all or some of three factors, which are biological, psychological or social factors.

He said even though the biological factor may not be so prominent, researches have suggested that there are certain genetic predispositions to substance taking behaviour, adding that the most relevant factors in Nigeria are the psychological and social factors.

"Drug prices are coming down, and accessibility to them is increasing and those into drugs know exactly where to go. They know which street to go to. They know which time the sellers will be out. Despite other substances like alcohol and cannabis maintaining their popularity (and notoriety), what is even more worrisome is the rapidly emerging trend of adolescents and young adults engaging in newer and fancy psychoactive drugs that cost just little amount to purchase. These substances are very accessible. They are the tramadol, codeine, and other opioids, and also, rohypnol, diazepam and other benzodiazepenes. Some go as far as sniffing glue, petrol or even smell from soak away pits.

"In the United States, the President just declared an emergency on opioid abuse, though the reason for the emergency is due to over prescription of the drugs by their healthcare system. But here, some people just go to the pharmacies, buy these controlled drugs without prescription and get high on them," Maruf said

According to Maruf, the society has also contributed to the rising incidence of the scourge. "A lot of people who just finished secondary school are jobless, they can't get into school, and this is the period for experimentation. At that stage, they are very vulnerable to willingness to try new risky behaviours.

"The educational system has also played a role in this. The incessant strike actions by tertiary institutions, poor monitoring by both parents and teachers has contributed as well. Imagine a situation where the parents think the child is in school, and the teacher thinks the child is at home, whereas these children are somewhere experimenting with different vices. All these have created a perfect environment for the rising trend in the use of substance abuse."

Maruf wants the government to put strict regulations on locally made opioids or imported ones, adding that when it is not well regulated, these opioids will be readily available in the country.

"And for those reading this who may be having problems related to their use of these substances. Do not be afraid to seek expert help in any recognised health facility with psychiatric services. The journey to recovery from the negative effects of drug use only begins when we take ownership of the problem and begin to take steps to fix it. Please seek prompt expert medical and psychiatric rehabilitation as soon as possible, and do not be afraid of stigmatisation or victimisation by the society or law enforcement agencies, some of which have their own rehabilitation services," he added.

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