Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Isaac Folorunso Adewole

By Rasak Musbau

Despite efforts to prevent substance abuse and the laws that regulate drugs in the country, the use, misused and abuse of drugs is on the rise in Nigeria. Suddenly, the lists of drugs that youths now take has expanded and now include such substances as: Lipton soaked with Regal gin, Tramadol, Codeine, Dry pawpaw leaves, Hypo in Lacasera, Tom Tom in Lacasera, Spirogyra, Rephnol, Gum, 10 days Urine and Methylated spirit in codeine. Others are Methylated spirit in coke, Dry plantain leaves, Cannabis (Marijuana) in Regal gin, Burnt Tyres and Burnt Bitumen among others.

Considering simultaneous rise in crime and social problems affecting the entire country, the new wave of drug abuse has really become a bigger problem, and experts rightly believe the problem is grossly underestimated.

Even in the absence of statistics and the recent investigative documentary by BBC on illicit drug deals in Nigeria, observation of happenings on the streets and reported cases of drug usage by school children will reveal that young people today are exposed earlier than ever to drugs. It is now beyond, “taking drugs off the streets”, but ‘’off the schools as well’’.

Or, what do we think of such recent reported case of a Junior Secondary School student in Ohafia, Arochukwu Local Government Area of Abia State who was reported to have died after he allegedly took ten tablets of Tramadol tablets? He purportedly took the tablets to enhance his performance during his school’s inter-house sports competition where he was billed to compete. He could, however, not live to see the event as he died shortly after taking the drugs.

On March 2, 2018, a father and his son were arrested by the Lagos Police Command (Rapid Response Squad) for selling Tramadol and other hard drugs to primary and secondary school pupils in Itire area of Lagos. The arrest was effected after officials of the Office of Education and Quality Assurance, Lagos State alerted officers of the Rapid Response Squad about the incident. Their arrest was necessitated after officials of the Ministry of Education learned that students in the area were exhibiting a strange attitude. There are several other cases relating to use of Tramadol by students across the country. We have had cases of boys using it to enhance sexual performance, including raping of female colleagues to sign off the end of their secondary school years after WAEC final papers.

Perhaps, more horrifying is the rate at which drug abuse has broken gender, class and religious barrier and threatening generation of young ladies. Surprisingly, the presumed modestly dressed Northern Nigerian women are not an exemption. There is no need to pretend, the potential for increase in drug abuse is apparent. Cultism and gang violence have permeated schools from secondary, if not primary schools, to higher institution. Do we also need to put into debate whether Boko Haram and killer herdsmen are induced by drug or not?

From time immemorial, the use of drugs has always been an inseparable part of occultism and youth in tertiary institutions are deeply involved in this harmful practice. The criminal activities of drug users are now becoming too frequent for comfort. At most of the dark spots in major cities, banned drugs are regularly and defiantly being used. To worsen the situation, some of drug users operate like cults, carving out territories of influence where they intimidate, rape and rob innocent residents at will.

It is important to also illustrate what drugs do to the body and minds of the users from public health perspective. For instance, some of the drugs especially marijuana is toxic and can lead to cancer. The negative effects also include confusion, acute panic reactions, anxiety attacks, fear and loss of self-control. Chronic marijuana users may develop a motivational syndrome characterized by passivity, decreased motivation, and preoccupation with taking drugs. Like alcoholic intoxication, marijuana intoxication impairs judgment, comprehension, memory, speech, and problem-solving abilities.

Meanwhile, the reality in Nigeria today is that since the abusers are not limited to street urchins, bus conductors as well as okada riders as many still assume. Youths from with respectable upbringing are now quite involved. There is, nevertheless, need for change of attitudes and campaign against the substances. Knowledge of communication for development should make us to understand that all drug addicts are not necessarily criminals and should not be addressed and relate with as such.

Some are misguided teenagers who have made wrong choices. Here, the suggestion is that we should have separate messages and approaches targeting soft to extremely potent drugs with evil effects of all professionally communicated by experts in behavioural change communication field.

Secondly, tackling drug problem needs a multi-sectorial approach. We are all in the same boat. Families, educational institutions, traditional body, religious organisations, the public and the private sectors should work together to fight this menace. Though our children spend more time in the schools, it is advisable for parents to keep the lines of communication open with their children and teach them spirituality, and responsibility in a positive home atmosphere. Yes, creating positive home atmosphere that prevent youths from taking to drug is sacrosanct as drug addiction is a chronic relapsing disease.

Rather than going on social media to abuse political opponents of using Tramadol or codeine for expressing views contrary to ours, it will be more beneficial to be illustrating what those drugs can do to body and minds of young users. They need to be educated that it is a choice that could eventually land them in jail or destroy their personalities, and their inter-personal relationships.

According to a latest research, drug problem in the country is more complicated under the current democratic disposition because of the alleged usage of thugs by politicians. This partly explains difficulty in implementing laws that ban smoking in open places. It is no longer a secret that political thugs smoke hard drugs openly at political rallies.

Drug is really a problem that should be on top of everyone’s radar. It is a social responsibility none should run away from. We all have the power in us to make a difference in somebody else life despite our own challenges. This is why the theme of International Day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking 2018: “Listen First – Listening to children and youth is the first step to help them grow healthy and safe”, is quite apt as it will further promote initiative to increase support for prevention of drug use, especially among the youths.

By listening to the needs of children and young people, prevention can contribute to their safety, health and well-being, and enable them realize their potential. All our societies would be better off if more resources were devoted to supporting evidence-based drug prevention strategies, which are a sound and effective investment in families, schools and communities.

Musbau is of Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja