Nigeria faces harder times over rising drug use


As of Friday, various worrisome images and video clips suspected to be those of Chidinma Ojukwu, an undergraduate of Mass Communication Department at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, who is alleged to have murdered the chief executive officer of Super TV, Michael Ataga, surfaced on the social media.

One of such clips shows the 21-year-old smoking what looks like cannabis, and puffing intermittently.

Though PREMIUM TIMES could not independently confirm the identity of the smoker, but the suspect confessed on camera that, alongside the late sugar daddy, she had taken some intoxicants before struggles over sex led her to stabbing Mr Ataga to death.

That this matter takes the centrestage of public discourse in Nigeria few hours to the 2021 edition of International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, is a confirmation of the experts’ view that the country, and Africa by extension, sits dangerously on a keg of gunpowder over rising cases of drug use and drug abuse.

Various research outputs by experts and relevant national and international organisations have consistently revealed the dangerous rising cases of drug use in the country and the damaging consequences of violent crimes, abuses and health complications.

Today, like all over the world, the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime (UNODC) says many Nigerian adolescents no longer see the harmful effects of cannabis despite its biting consequences.

Global statistics

On June 24, ahead of today’s celebration, UNODC launched its 2021 World Drug Report, noting that “around 275 million people used drugs worldwide in the last year, while over 36 million people suffered from drug use disorders.”

According to a consultant psychiatrist at 68, Nigerian Army Reference Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, Akin Oguntuase, some of these substance-induced disorders include; delirium, dementia, amnestic disorder, psychotic disorder, anxiety disorder, sexual dysfunction, among others.

TEXEM

The document gives a damning account of rising drug use in Nigeria, noting that as of the time of the research, 14.3 million Nigerians aged between 15 and 64 years engaged in drug use.

Of this figure, the survey added that about three million were drug dependent and suffering from substance-induced disorders.

But the latest report by the UNODC hints of a sharp degeneration above the global average in the near future.

According to the report, instead of the expected 11 per cent increase in the global number of drug users by 2030, the projection is 40 per cent in Nigeria, and the whole of Africa.

“In Nigeria, this would signify that the country will have to grapple with approximately 20 million drug users by 2030, further deepening the public health and public security challenge,” the report stated.

The statistics also says 11 million Nigerians took to cannabis as of 2018 while 4.6 million and 2.4 million others were said to have used opioids and cough syrups, respectively.

Other substances said to have been commonly taken in Nigeria include tranquilisers and sedatives, solvents and inhalers, among others.

According to the data, the prevalence of drug use in Nigeria on a geopolitical zonal basis reveals that the South-west tops the chart with about 4.382 million users amounting to 22.4 per cent of Nigeria’s total figure of 14.3 million users. The South-west comprises Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states.

The North-west zone, comprising Kano, Sokoto, Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina and Kebbi States closely follows the South West with 3 million drug users as of 2018, while the South-south region of Edo, Delta, Rivers, Cross River, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom States ranks third with 2.124 million users.

The country’s region that is already ravaged by long years of conflict, that is, the North-east, comprising Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Taraba, Adamawa and Gombe States, recorded 2.09 million users to rank 4th on the log.

The South East zone of Abia, Imo, Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi States recorded about 1.55 million drug users while the North Central zone of Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Niger, Nasarawa and the federal capital territory recorded 1.5 million users to take 5th and 6th positions respectively.

Expert presents worse reality

Mr Oguntuase, who is the head of the psychiatric department at the military hospital, explained that the statistics may have recorded less than what seems obtainable in the country, especially in recent time.

According to the psychiatrist, about 90 per cent of the patients on the beds in his hospital have their cases linked to drug use one way or the other.

“The reality today, unlike in the past, is that we now experience more dual diagnosis for our patients because in one way or the other, they have something to do with drugs,” he said.

Mr Oguntuase said apart from conventional drugs taken by many Nigerians, those who are illiterates and poor now take to other substances including sniffing petroleum, septic tank, drainages, latrine or burning rubber materials.

“When you notice that your children or house helps are in the unusual habit of taking the keys frequently to wash your cars they may be sniffing fuel,” Mr Oguntuase cautioned.

Reasons for rising statistics

The expert listed many reasons for the rise in the cases of drug use and abuse in Nigeria to include poor economic condition, rising cases of illiteracy, marriage crisis, polygamy and large family, among others.

He said findings through the patients have shown that anywhere the male parent is absent or has less economic power, which he described as super-ego, the children tend to take substances.

The immediate past registrar of the University of Lagos, Taiwo Ipaye, linked the crisis to the breakdown in the country’s socio-cultural values. She said the family value is no longer entrenched as was the practice in the past.

Way forward

As part of its recommendations towards averting the projected glooming future, UNODC recommended increased awareness campaigns.

This year’s annual awareness campaign is themed: “Share facts on drugs, save lives- end drug abuse”.

The global body said; “COVID-19 has triggered innovation and adaptation in drug prevention and treatment services through more flexible models of service delivery. Many countries have introduced or expanded telemedicine services due to the pandemic, which for drug users means that healthcare workers can now offer counselling or initial assessments over the telephone and use electronic systems to prescribe controlled substances.

“In Nigeria, 130 healthcare professionals trained by UNODC under the EU-Nigeria Partnership Project “Response to Drugs and Related Organized Crime” formed DrugHelpNet providing over-the-phone counselling and assistance to more than 1800 drug users during the height of the COVID-19 related lockdown. This innovative approach to providing much needed help to drug users often in desperate situations also constituted an important step toward reducing the stigma associated with accessing drug counselling and treatment services, in particular for women and girls.”

While a senior assistant registrar at the Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), Lagos, Saheed Saliman, enjoins religious institutions to preach to their disciples the dangers inherent in consuming intoxicants, Mrs Ipaye wants schools’ curriculum to accommodate issues of attitudinal change.

Mr Saliman, who is one of the deputy imams at the YABATECH mosque, said Islam forbids the use of intoxicants and that any substance that intoxicates must be avoided by Muslims, as a matter of faith.

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