How to tackle substance abuse

The use of illicit drugs among our youths cannot be extricated from why there has been a heightened security concern in our country in recent times. So many people see it as a way to temporarily deal with their life challenges ranging from job stress, family pressure, economic hardship and unmet targets. This is a serious public health hazard and economic threat that has gradually permeated into the fabrics of our society, endangering mostly the lives of our young ones and their mental health.

In its 2018 report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says one in seven persons aged 15-64 years had used a drug other than tobacco and alcohol in the past year. This is in addition to its revelation that among every four users in Nigeria, one is a woman. Aside this, an estimated 4.6 million people had used opioids such as tramadol, codeine or morphine for non-medical purposes in the country. This must get every patriotic Nigerians concerned especially at a time when we are confronted with protracted security challenges, economic woe and inefficient medical service delivery.

This has not only brought about reduction in productivity from absences, reduced input and premature retirement, it has also recruited army of young people into the crime world such as the terrorism currently holding us by the jugular, arm robbery, cultism and others, causing panic among innocent citizens, making them live in fear and uncertainty. Hardly is there a day these challenges do not confront us at homes, the streets and indeed the higher institutions where cultism reigns supreme, fuelled by the continuous abuse of these dangerous narcotics among the students and sometimes school administrators.

Notable Nigerians have in the past raised concerns over this growing menace. Mrs. Aisha Buhari, Nigeria’s first lady, few years ago floated a non-governmental organisation, Future Assured Initiative which among other things seeks to collaborate with the wives of the Northern governors to frontally deal with this problem in the region which is worst hit by this menace. Part of her moves was to construct rehabilitation centres in states like Kogi and Kebbi to cater for victims of substance abuse while similar efforts are ongoing across the country. Also, the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi III, as part of his contribution to curb the scourge of substance abuse in his domain for which he has continually raised the alarm made it mandatory for all district heads, village heads and ward heads to go on drug test as part of qualification for conferment of traditional titles.

Tragically, the magnitude of the dangers of substance abuse in our national life was hitherto downplayed till 2018 when the BBC documentary titled Sweet Codeine hit the public domain. It exposed the level of addiction of codeine cough syrup among Nigerians who consume it for non-medical reasons, with two northern states being on the lead. It later became a street drug dispensed by quacks with an estimated 3 million bottle consumption daily. This is without regard to its health implication such as psychosis and organ failure which has become popular among Nigerians today.

Beyond Mrs. Aisha’s and Sanusi’s solutions, there is need to deal with this challenge from the root. It begins with breaking the supply chain and distribution network of this illicit substance. Commendably, the federal government almost immediately after the BBC documentary hit the airwave placed a ban on the importation of codeine cough syrups. Even though this may not have necessarily brought to a permanent end the practice of illicit substance consumption in the country, it has significantly reduced the rate. Expectedly, the streets are flooded with these contraband items, just like many other items with importation restriction which still by hook or crook find their way within the shores of our land.     

The regulatory and security agencies must be alive to their responsibilities in preventing the production, circulation and consumption of these narcotics, particularly cannabis sativa which has ruined the lives of our young ones and shattered their dreams. Sadly, the rot in our security cycle has been a clog in the fight against substance abuse in the country. The security agents have been fingered to be aiding and abetting the trade and consumption of illicit drugs. The police, NDLEA and relevant agencies cannot feign ignorance of the activities of notorious drug barons who conduct their nefarious activities in the full glare of residents in identified spots in Abuja and environs. The allegation that these drug lords pay huge returns to the security agents in a bid to have a field day is an allegation that their top hierarchy must duly investigate and take appropriate action.   

This destructive trend also speaks to the rot in the family system where parents pay little or no attention to the activities of their children and spot when strange attitudes are being introduced in them. This is further complicated in a situation where any of the parents is mired in illicit drug consumption. Parents must imbibe the culture of properly counselling their children to stay away from drugs and other social vices that will impose threats to their dreams of attaining utmost height in the society.

The growing number of idle young population of Nigerians has made drug trafficking and consumption to thrive unrestricted. Yearly more people continue to join the already saturated labour market, making the problem wax even stronger and more complex. Many of the youths scavenge for means of survival in anything they could lay their hands on irrespective of their legality or otherwise. The government must put more efforts in its job creation drive to engage these young Nigerians. No reasonably engaged fellow would resort to trading on illicit items including drugs or other anti-social activities as a means of livelihood. 

NAFDAC, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and other similar agencies must intensify clampdown on illegal drug outlets across the country to significantly break the backbone of this cancerous threat.  

 Enemanna writes from Abuja

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