By Evelyn Usman
Drug trafficking and substance abuse have reached an alarming level all over the world. In Nigeria, substance abuse has become a threat to public health, national stability, peace, and security, as well as an embarrassing scourge afflicting both individuals and the society at large.
It has destabilised families, truncated the promising future of most Nigerian youths, some of whom are seen roaming the streets as lunatics.
Substance abuse has remained a negative force driving anti-social behavior and the increasing deterioration of societal values and norms.
For instance, the escalating wave of crime and criminality such as banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, militancy, terrorism and other forms of societal decay which are confronting Nigeria, today, are rooted in the pervasive consumption of drugs.
Before any robbery operation or violent crimes take place, perpetrators would have inhaled a large proportion of substances into their system, as they believe it emboldens them during operation. Sometimes, they kill at will. They are high on drugs.
The challenge is further compounded by the ever-increasing number of Psychoactive Substances of abuse and the use of prescription drugs such as Tramadol, Cough syrup with Codeine, Rohypnol, and the locally blended Skushi drink by youths between 18 and 35 years. This has become worrisome indeed, owing to its devastating effect on the health of users.
Global prevalence of drug use is 5.6% but in Nigeria, it is 14.4% (14.3 million people)
One in seven persons in Nigeria between the ages of 15 and 64 years use at least one psychoactive substance as against the global average of one in 20 persons, according to a report.
Study has shown that one in five persons who use drugs in Nigeria are suffering from drug use disorders, a figure considered higher than the global average of one in eleven persons.
Drug use in Nigeria cuts across gender and age, as one in every four drug users in Nigeria is a woman.
Report shows that an average of 2.5% of women use cough syrup containing codeine, more than men (2.3%) are involved. This portends grave danger even to the generation yet unborn.
Women involvement in substance abuse has more implications than men, especially considering the critical role of women in child nurturing from the womb
One of five high-risk drug users injects drugs, using needles and syringes. The most common drugs injected are known as pharmaceutical opioids. Unfortunately, this method had its multiplier health consequences.
Nigeria ranks 5th in suicide rate
Reports recently ranked Nigeria as 5th in the world with the highest suicide rate of an average of six suicides per month. Substance use has been attributed as a major factor that leads people to commit suicide.
Also, the increase in cases of sudden deaths among youths in the country is reportedly connected to opioid overdose, which is the most common drug injected by youths.
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Going by the recent trend, and if nothing is urgently done, Nigeria stands the risk of losing more than 100 youths daily to opioid overdose. This is because Nigeria’s population is said to be about 3% of the world population but 6% of the world population of cannabis users.
Again, report has also revealed that 14% of the world population who misuse pharmaceutical opioids are reportedly in Nigeria, thereby making Nigeria one of the countries in the world with the highest population of people who misuse tramadol and codeine cough syrup. From the foregoing, substance abuse may become one of the leading causes of death in Nigeria.
Also worrisome is the increasing drug supply via the internet including the anonymous online marketplace known as the “darknet”.
Another frightening dimension is drug manufacturing in Nigeria! Not too long ago, some laboratories where Methamphetamine were manufactured, were uncovered by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA.
As if that was not enough, a new version of manufacturing has reared its head, with the introduction of a Hydrophonic outfit, where Cannabis is manipulated into the production of Hashish and Canaboil, both of which are illegal, since they contravene the extant NDLEA Act.
Surprisingly, these laboratories which were uncovered in Jos, Plateau, and Lagos states, were discovered to be owned by a Chinese, a German, and a Nigerian.
NDLEA and drug war
In its bid to discharge its constitutional responsibility of eradicating illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA disclosed that 9,444 persons were arrested for drug related offences in the year ending 2019.
Out of this figure, 584 offenders were arrested in Lagos State alone. So far, the agency said it had convicted 1,195 persons while 795 drug dependants were counseled during the period under review.
A total of 612, 903.484 kilograms of drugs, out of which Cannabis was 310.1 tons, were recovered.
Cannabis mostly abused
From the statistics, Cannabis ranked the most used and trafficked by Nigerians. The lockdown and restriction on interstate movement, due to the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world, did not stop those who indulge in the illicit business from trafficking them to other states of the country.
For instance, operatives of the anti-narcotic agency apprehended 6,465.23 of Cannabis which were been conveyed from Kano to Kogi.
Another seizure of 3, 962 kilograms of cannabis was made en route Kano at Benue; another seizure of 1, 960 kilograms of Cannabis was made in Edo.
Also, 621.0857 kilograms of Cannabis was recovered in Imo and 267.123 kilograms of Cannabis in Abia state, all during the lockdown period.
Records further showed that between 1990 and 2017, 59,173,798 cannabis were seized, a figure that also placed it as the highest seizure among other substances.
Cocaine, ranked second in seizure between 1990 and 2017, with a seizure of 22,242.79, while heroin ranked third with a seizure of 3,6458.9 tons.
In 2018, Cannabis seized were 273,249.08 tons; Cocaine was 124.86 tons and Heroine, 59.62tons
Last year 602,654.49 tons of Cannabis, 112.996 tons of Cocaine, and 23.894 tons of Heroine were seized.
So far, 157,879 offenders were arrested between 1990 and 2017, out of which 147,825 were males and 10,045, females.
In 2018, 9,831 suspected drug traffickers were arrested and an additional 9,444 suspects in 2019.
In order to collectively fight this scourge, June 26, was set aside as International Drug Day, by the United Nations, to highlight to the global community the dangers associated with drug trafficking and abuse.
It is also a day when nations of the world are required to assess their performances in drug control and are expected to re-invigorate their efforts at curtailing the drug menace.
In his address during the commemoration of this year’s event, themed ‘Better knowledge for Better Care’. the Chairman/Chief Executive, NDLEA Col. Muhammad Abdallah rtd, explained that this year’s “Commemoration encourages on and all to get involved in the campaign against the illicit consumption and use of drugs not administered by Clinicians.
“This opens the channel for dry dependent persons to access interventions, including health care, social support, and education”.
He attributed ignorance, as the major impediment militating against the lofty goals set by the UN. The absence of information, misinformation, and outright disinformation, according to him, had each played parts in varying degrees.
He said, “Effective responses to the extant problem, require many more and varied hands-on-deck: Policymakers, NGOs, CSOs, Corporate World, Community Leaders, Religious Leaders, Educators at all levels and increasingly service providers.
All of these diverse assemblages of groups must work together to understand drug disorders are a multifactor health issue.
Summarily, it is a health-related issue desirous of compassion and help, rather than a moral stigma to be punished”, Abdallah said.
COVID and drug dependants
In the light of the prevailing atmosphere of COVID 19, drug-dependent persons, according to the agency’s boss, were more acutely at risk because of their usually attendant underlying health issues, social stigmatization, and the death of access to health care.
“Making matters worse is the fact that the front burner currently, is the exclusive pressure of COVID 19. That is why there has never been a time much worse for drug-dependent persons. The lockdown merely accentuated the dilemma.
“Chances are newer forms of addictions hitherto unknown may be contended with. Remember also withdrawal Syndrome might occur having cut short the supply chain as a result of the lockdown”,
He, therefore, called for the need for stakeholders to identify and aggressively mobilize the public and private sectors and other strategic partners for a holistic response against the trafficking in, and use of illicit substances. The essence he explained, would be, to complement the Federal Government’s funding in the light of competing national interests.
On his part, Founder/Executive Director, Global Initiative on Substance Abuse, GISA and Global Trainer, Drug Demand Reduction, Dr. Martin Agwogie, emphasise on the need for evidence-based substance use prevention through capacity building.
Substance use prevention measures in Nigeria according to him, should be community driven, adding that to avoid more harm in Nigeria drug control efforts, only those who had received adequate training in evidence based substance use prevention should provide prevention services.
He also called on the need for collaboration across board, as well support to the professionalization of drug demand reduction in
Nigeria, adding that there was also the need to introduce substance addiction as a course of study in Nigeria higher institutions of learning.
Also on his part, Founder/President, Silec Initiatives, who attributed abuse of drugs to the spate of rape and murder of defenseless victims in the country, called for the need to declare a state of emergency in drug abuse and rape in Nigeria.
He said, “If a boy or girl of four months can be molested, we are doomed as a people. As a civilized society, we must not go to sleep.
“Therefore, all hands must be on deck to stem the tide of rape in our society. We hereby, call on the federal government of Nigeria to declare a state of emergency in tackling drug abuse and rape in the country
Also, families, schools, churches/mosques, civil society organizations, the police, and all concerned Nigerians, must all play pivotal roles in this collective fight to restore sanity and moral to our society.
“We must all come together to fight this societal scourge to save the future for our children”.