The EU report on drug abuse in Nigeria

The report of the National Drug Use Survey, released in Abuja last week, to the effect that 14.3 million people (14.4 per cent of Nigerian’s population) abused drugs such as tramadol, codeine and cannabis in 2018 is quite worrisome.

The report is even more alarming on the backdrop of the fact that the number of drug users in Nigeria is higher than the entire population of some European countries. The statistics showed that those involved in drug use are mainly between 15 and 64 years of age. One in every four is also a woman.

The first ever drug use survey in Nigeria in January 2019 was conducted by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse (CRISA), and the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) with the support of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the European Union (EU). The survey showed that the rate of drug use in Nigeria in 2018 is more than twice the global average of 5.3 per cent.

According to the report, close to three million of the drug users are drug dependent and cannot access help due to lack of health facilities. Speaking at the public presentation of the report, the Minister of State for Health, Osagie Ehanire, said drug use in Nigeria has become a public health challenge.

He said “the extremely limited availability of drug counseling and treatment services has intensified the health crisis in the country. Women drug users often do not get specialised attention in the country because most of the limited facilities are targeted at male drug users.”

 The survey is the first ever large scale nation-wide survey to examine the extent and pattern of drug use in the country. It involved 38,850 respondents in the household survey and 9,344 high-risk drug users across all states of the country.

The report provides for the first time, a robust data on the prevalence of drug use in Nigeria at the national level and also by geopolitical zones and states.

 Ehanire thanked UNODC and EU for supporting the Nigerian government to conduct the survey and emphasised the importance of having statistically sound and relevant data on the pattern of drug use, including high-risk drug use, to inform policy formulation and implementation.

According to the report, “While the misuse of these substances is worrying, we have to also recognise that they have a legitimate medical use and it is important to ensure that such prescription opioids are made readily available to those who have a medical need. Any response at the policy and intervention level will need to be nuanced and be mindful of this complexity.

As part of efforts to address the rising cases of substance and drug abuse and misuse in Nigeria, the UNODC at Vienna, Austria, demonstrated how to evolve drug control response in the country through informed new data.

 The recommendations were revealed by the Director, Division for Operations of UNODC, Ms. Miwa Kato. He said drug dependence takes a terrible toll on an individual’s health and well-being.

However, the consequences of drug use are not limited to the individual – the illicit use of drugs can be emotionally, socially and financially catastrophic for the families of drug users and the communities where they live and work.

These adverse effects are universal and not bound by geography, culture, religion or gender. Drug dependence and its impact on Nigeria has been a visible part of public debate in the past few years, but due to the clandestine nature of drug use, credible information that could inform evidencebased responses on this issue has not been readily available. Kato said any response on drug use needs to be rooted in an understanding of the nature of the condition. Drug dependence is a chronic relapsing medical condition.

 The reasons why people use drugs are complex and are based on various social and health vulnerabilities – not on factors such as personal weakness or lack of morals.

“In the past, drug responses have focused mainly on criminalisation and law enforcement. However, globally and in Nigeria the approach to drug control has shifted treating drug use first and foremost as what it is – a health issue. In the pursuit of a ‘balanced approach’ the focus has been increasingly on drug use prevention, treatment and care.

 In Nigeria, this balanced approach is an underpinning principle of the National Drug Control Master Plan 2015 – 2019 and should be even further strengthened in the new National Drug Control Master Plan 2020-2024 presently being developed by government.”

We commend the effort of the Buhari administration in tackling the menace of drug abuse and trafficking which is a global phenomenon. However, it is pertinent to advise the federal government not to treat the report on the drug use survey with levity as is wont with most government’s reports.

In fact, government needs to urgently devise a holistic framework to stem the rising tide of drug abuse in order to save Nigeria from being a country of mad people in the next 20 years.

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