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Curbing drug abuse and addiction

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DRUG addiction and substance abuse in Nigeria has become an epidemic, especially among the youth. As Nigeria joined the world to mark the Drug Abuse Awareness Day last week, the burden of drug abuse and addiction calls for sober reflection because of its magnitude.

By far the most commonly abused and misused drugs in Nigeria today are Tramadol and Codeine. Tramadol is a synthetic opioid analgesic used to treat moderate and severe pains. In prescribed doses it has no negative effects on the respiratory system but an overdose causes arrhythmias, cramps, coma and eventually death.

Codeine is commonly prescribed as a painkiller because it is relatively mild when compared with many other opioid painkillers. It is nevertheless dangerous and habit-inducing. Prolonged and frequent codeine abuse can lead to mal-adaptive behaviours and health problems, including death.

In April 2018, a documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Africa, on codeine syrup addiction portrayed the plague of drug and substance abuse in the country. The documentary highlighted the scale of the problem and underlined the failure of major stakeholders including pharmaceutical manufacturers, the National Agency for Food & Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN), the Federal Ministry of Health among others.

Prior to the codeine syrup saga, the menace of the level of abuse and illicit use of Tramadol had been a source for worry. Tramadol use disorder is associated with physical withdrawal symptoms and compulsive behaviour. In Nigeria, Tramadol is regulated as the 50mg and 100mg dosage strengths, but very high dosage forms of 200mg and 225mg have infiltrated the market. There is also a noticeable increase in smuggling of Tramadol capsules.

The abuse of drugs in Nigeria is caused by many factors ranging from the proliferation of quacks in the drug trade, lack of regulatory control and dispensing among other factors. The scenario is worsened by smuggling through the nation’s seaports and land borders, compromises at the points of entry and weak penalties for those found culpable.

To address this public health and social problem, the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary must synchronise with health, educational and religious institutions. Society as a whole needs to take up the issue with more seriousness and vigour through active collaboration among strategic agencies.

With the return of NAFDAC to the ports and borders, it has also become necessary to strengthen the regulatory alertness and diligence in the control of importation and the distribution of drugs and food substances. This should be followed with sustained advocacy and public awareness campaigns.

We must review the nation’s obsolete drug laws to enable the judiciary apply suitable penalties to serve as deterrents.


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