About 40 per cent of Nigerian youths abuse drugs and this affects them and the unborn generation negatively. Getting those addicted to illicit substances out, through treatment and rehabilitation, remains an enormous challenge, writes APPOLONIA ADEYEMI
Elechi Okpara, 47, a native of Ideato Local Government Area of Imo State, sojourned in Italy for four years before getting involved in hard drugs. His persistent abuse of drugs and ‘romance’ with criminal gangs finally resulted in his arrest and detention.
The deportation of Okpara was not a surprise. Two years after returning to his village in Ideato, he has been dependent on his aged parents for living. Not only that, he has been hooked to all manners of drug, which has made him a shadow of himself.
The experience of Majek Fashek, on the abuse of hard drugs, is still fresh in memory. The reggae singer-songwriter and guitarist, that is best known for the 1988 album, ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ which included the single “Send down the rain,” was also caught in the web of drug abuse in the past years. In 2015, Majek, also known as the Rainmaker, was bankrupt due to his drug addiction.
After admitting that he needed help, he was admitted into a drug rehabilitation centre in Abuja. He has since recovered and announced plans to return to music production.
About 40 per cent of Nigerian youths are on drug abuse and the health implication of these is serious. All drugs are dangerous to health when abused. Every medical drug has side effects, according to medical experts.
Drug abuse is the use of drugs without medical prescription or expert advice. Drug abuse also refers to the excessive use of illicit drugs like cigarettes and alcohol as well as the use of drugs like cannabis, heroin, cocaine, among others.
There are different classes of drugs such as narcotic drugs also known as opiates. Examples are opium and heroin. Stimulants like cocaine and amphetamine are also abused by youths.
Depressants like barbiturates, diazepam; hallucinogens like mescaline are among drugs that are abused; cannabis also known as hemp, marijuana are similarly among drugs that are abused by youths.
Mitchell Ofoyeju , Head, Public Affairs at the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, said people who abuse drugs also inhale rubber solutions and nail polish cleaner as well as petrol to get themselves high.
Of recent is the practice of inhaling steam from pit latrine by people abusing drugs. In addition is the abuse of alcoholic beverage including beer and spirits.
Today, following the abuse of some over-the-counter drugs, the cost of medications containing codeine has sky rocketed as several people engaging in fraudulent scam popularly known as ‘419’ and ‘Yahoo boys’ now resort to drinking codeine-laden cough syrups for needed ‘high’ to embolden them in the pursuit of criminal activities.
As a result of high demands for these products, they are now out of the reach of many Nigerians who need the drugs to tackle ailments. Drug abuse is not just a problem in Nigeria alone; its impact is also felt all over the world.
In the United States, renounced artists known to have died through the use of illicit drugs include Prince Rogers , 57, an American singer-songwriter, actor, multiinstrumentalist, philanthropist, dancer and record producer.
He died on April 21 after being found unresponsive in an elevator at Paisley Park, his home and recording studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota. His toxicology tests concluded that he died from an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl, according to a report on his death by the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office.
Fentanyl, prescribed by doctors for cancer treatment, can be made illicitly and is blamed for a spike in overdose deaths in the U.S., the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, stated. Fentanyl is 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Roughly 20,000 U.S. overdose deaths in 2015 involved heroin or synthetic opioids such as Fentanyl, according to the U.S Centre for Disease Control, CDC. Other foreign artists whose deaths were allegedly linked to drug abuse are Whitney Houston, the multi-award winning American pop and soul singer, her daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown.
While heart disease and cocaine use were listed as contributing factors to the death of Houston on February 11, 2012, her daughter similarly died at the age of 22, from a combination of alcohol, drugs and drowning, according to her autopsy.
In addition, Amy Winehouse, 27, an English singer and songwriter also died from alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011. According to a new study published in September issue of the ‘Journal of Emergency Medicine’ in 2014, smoking cannabis dramatically increases a person’s risk of suffering a heart attack. It is not only a person that abuses drugs that is at risk.
An experiment using human semen found that cocaine may attach itself to the sperm of men who use illicit drugs, entering an egg at the moment of conception, damaging the fetus. Dr. Ricardo Yazigi of the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. U.S. and his former colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis published these findings in the ‘The Journal of the American Medical Association’.
Confirming this, a Consultant Psychiatrist at the Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital, FNPH, Yaba, Dr. Olamide Oluwaniyi, asserted that drug abuse damages the brain.
“With the effect of drug abuse on the brain, the individual does not feel like doing anything else. “What this means is that nothing else is important to the person abusing drugs, especially one that had become addicted.
The only thing that is important to the person is taking those drugs. The life of the person revolves round taking drugs.” Speaking further, Oluwaniyi said, “You can imagine a young man who is supposed to be pursuing his education or career, only thinking about how to take drugs and how to get money to take drugs.
There are changes that happen in the brain of that individual that make these to happen.” Explaining this phenomenom, a Clinical Psychologist at the FNPH, Akin Gabriel said, “there’s always a reason why someone uses one phycho-active substance or the other, be it cocaine, codeine, tramadol, etc. According to him, people who abuse drugs often use it to quell bad feelings or a negative condition.
“The more the condition persists the more the person’s inability to cope and more of the drugs will be needed to quell the negative feeling.” However, a Consultant Psychiatrist and former Chief Medical Director of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Dr. Olufemi Olugbile said drug abuse is a growing challenge that needs to be tackled in the country.
“Although there are countries that are in more dire straits than Nigeria, the sheer size of youth population, comprising over 33 million in our environment dictates a need for urgent and sustained action.” Given the huge challenge facing youths that have become addicted to drugs, attention is now being shifted to rehabilitating them.
Investigations have revealed that majority of these youths, without rehabilitation opportuni-ties have become helpless and permanently tied to the drugs, which is harmful and often fatal as well. Tina, whose 32-year-old brother, Johnson, has been a drug addict for about 10 years, is worried about the facility to take him to for rehabilitation.
After months of searching, she was informed of Christ Against Drug Abuse Ministry, CADAM, founded in 1991 by the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, to identify, combat and overcome the multiple cause and effects of drug abuse.
CADAM which is solely funded by RCCG, admits inmates free twice yearly for a six-month drugfree therapy that revolves around prayers, counseling, skill acquisition and total abstinence from any form of psycho-active drugs throughout the period of rehabilitation.
Tina’s brother could not be admitted because of his refusal to verbally declare willingness to undergo the treatment during which he must live in CADAM facility along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Investigations at CADAM Lagos office at the RCCG along Acme Road in Ikeja revealed that RCCG bears the total cost of rehabilitation for the six months the inmates would undergo therapy.
The burden this imposes on the religious organisation is huge. A CADAM staff who did not want to be named alleged that the church was not able to meet the financial responsibilities towards staff.
The free services attract too many inmates from all over the country, often making it cumbersome for the organisation, according to a source. Investigations at the Lagos State’s Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Centre in Isheri, Lagos revealed that drug users/addicts willing to be rehabilitated are expected to pay an initial N60,000 for six months after making a payment of N10,000 for registration, which would be approved at the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development.
Although, at the expiration six months, the inmates would pay an additional N10,000 monthly, they would be exposed to life that is devoid of drug and given a vocation to engage them in day-to-day living after graduation. Inability to pay this tuition, has denied many needed rehabilitation.
A major challenge of tackling drug abuse and addiction in the country is shortage of rehabilitation centres. There are a number of government and private rehabilitation facilities in major cities in Lagos, Abuja, and Abeokuta.
They are however limited in number. Also, the Acting Medical Director of the FNPH in Yaba, Dr. Richard Adebayo, admitted that drug abuse rehabilitation centres were not enough in Nigeria.” It means majority of drug abuse victims who choose to break the circle of drugs, may face the challenge of finding near-by facilities providing such services.
The inconvenience of inmates coming from northern states such as Kaduna, Jos, Borno, among others to access rehabilitation therapy in CADAM and other facilities in Lagos and Abuja, may deter many who would have benefitted and consequently been reformed. Long distance to treatment facilities may deny would-be beneficiaries the advantages of rehabilitation.
Investigations has also showed that shortage of facilities specifically built for the rehabilitation of people indulging in psychoactive drugs, now prompt some to take treatment in available psychiatric hospitals.
However, Oluwaniyi stated that although, people addicted to drugs were treated at the Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital, FNPH, in Yaba, the facility was not established for rehabilitating illicit drug users. According to him, when facilities were established for rehabilitation purpose as it is done in advanced countries, the outcome in terms of treatment was better.
Speaking in similar vein, a Team Doctor with a non-governmental organisation, Centre for the Right to Health, CRH, Dr. Tega Eyohwo, also affirmed that gaps about treatment and rehabilitation facilities existed and should be filled if the Federal and state governments must effectively tackle problems of drug users. On his part, Adebayo said: “The solution to drug abuse is prevention.”
He added that youths must be denied access to psycho-active drugs. The reality on ground is different. New Telegraph investigations revealed that prescription drugs were often got from over-thecounter in many pharmacies in the country.
When the Okwumo Nwabufo and Olisaeloka Ezike both of whom had been condemned to die by hanging by an Igbosere High Court recently, purchased Rohypnol, a drug with which the late Cynthia Osokogu, their facebook lover, was sedated and eventually murdered on July 22, 2012, it was bought without doctor’s prescription from a pharmacy in FESTAC, Lagos.
Rohypnol which is used for sedation, muscle relaxation, reduction in anxiety, and prevention of convulsions, is commonly abused and wrongly used as a “date-rape drug’ and placed unknowingly in the drinks of victims, often at a bar or party.
When contacted the National Chairman of the Community Pharmacists of Nigeria, ACPN, Dr. Albert Kelong, said only registered pharmacists through the Pharmacy Council of Nigeria, PCN, had approval for drug sales and through the association the practice of pharmacy was effectively regulated in the country.
He however blamed the Federal Government for lack of political will to end ‘Open Drug Market’ a factor largely blamed for the chaotic drug distribution in the country. According to him, this is the major factor that continues to bedevil the pharmaceutical sector, paving the way for drugs to be in the hands of wrong persons.
On his part, the President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, PSN, Dr. Ahmed Yakassai, similarly said the PSN had put the right system and processes in place to upgrade drug distribution system in the country so that dangerous drugs will not be in the wrong hands as well as ensure “the right patient can get the right drug at the right time for the right purpose.
He said: “PSN is commitment to the war against drug abuse and misuse in Nigeria.” He added that the organisation had been the key advocate of rational use of drugs over the years.
Furthermore, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, through its 2016 Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and Precursors Report, claimed that narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and precursor chemicals are controlled within the framework of international drug control conventions and are scheduled based on medical utility and potential for abuse.
NAFDAC’s Acting Director General, Mrs Yetunde Oni said: “The international drug control treaties are interpreted to mean improved access to controlled medicines to enable countries meet their drug needs. It simply expects member States to ensure effective and efficient regulatory control.” Sadly, despite various claims of control, access to all sorts of drugs that are abused, is still very easy. This is where the NDLEA comes in.
The head of Public Affairs at the NDLEA, Mitchele Ofoyeju, told the New Telegraph that NDLEA had consistently taken steps to address the problem of psychoactive substances in Nigeria.
Ofoyeju said: “First the antinarcotic body has worked very hard in controlling the supply of drugs through drug seizures, arrests and prosecution of suspected drug barons.
Over the years, the agency has successfully traced and destroyed several cannabis plantations.” He added that illicit cannabis warehouses have been identified and the drugs confiscated.
In spite of these claims, concerned Nigerians believe that there is still easy access to hard drugs. Corroborating these, Olugbile said: “At present a lot of ‘hard’ and other drugs including cannabis and ‘designer drugs’ still find their way onto the streets, despite the existence and operations of the NDLEA and the police.”
While calling for advocacy and other efforts at demand reduction, he said the focus of this was to keep new people from becoming drug users, and help people who are already on drugs to come off them.
Similarly, the consultant psychiatrist said the treatment of existing drug users should be done in a “non-judgmental, positive medical and social atmosphere, with a focus on long-term rehabilitation of addicts.
“There should be no effort to criminalise addiction itself, or the treatment and rehabilitation process. This is why the proposed new bill on Drug Abuse that seems to prescribe draconian measures for addiction is ill-advised and should not be signed by the President.” According to Olugbile, families should show concern and involvement in their children’s welfare, and keep an eye on their friends.
“The community and religious organisations should provide a structure for a drug-free life style by providing recreational and uplifting activities including sports to engage the youths.
Olugbile also called for the effective control of illicit drug supply, saying although, this should be the main focus of NDLEA, “which they are not doing very effectively at present.”
Speaking further, Adebayo said the acquisition of skills was important in engaging youths. He said: “If we cannot give majority of them paid employment, we can encourage some of them to sharpen their skills.
When you have millions of graduates out there that are not doing anything, a lot of them will go into criminal activities or go into drugs. “We also need to provide work for the youths and for those we cannot provide paid employment for, let’s give them opportunity to acquire skill so as not to be totally dependent on family members or their parents.” According to him, frustration and peer pressure can make an individual to sometimes go into use of drugs.