•Beyond codeine, Nigerian youngsters get high on tramadol, meth, faeces, sanitary pads
Amid the stench oozing from a nearby refuse hill, a gaunt-looking man, Yinka, sauntered inside one of the makeshift cafeterias, locally known as buka. There were several others lining the length of Canoe Bus Stop adjoining Ajao Estate in Isolo, Lagos.
Looking like a famished man just set loose from a kidnappers’ den, the young man staggered towards a bench and sat with a thud.
“Give me two wraps of fufu and egusi soup. No meat,” he bellowed.
As soon as he was served, he devoured every bit of the meal, licked the plate clean with his tongue and belched loudly to the consternation of other customers.
Yinka thereafter demanded a sachet of water and a big bottle of Coke, popularly known as Orobo. After guzzling the water, he poured the coke into an empty bottled water container, fished out two green-and-white capsules from his wallet and dropped them into the water. He then shook the bottle vigorously before taking a long gulp. Then he became still.
Within minutes, the young man metamorphosed into a hyperactive chatterbox. Rummaging through his pockets, he briskly fished out some crumpled naira notes, paid his bill and walked away with an unusual vibrancy in his steps.
“Don’t mind that small boy,” the food seller hissed. “I hope this Tramadol he takes every time will not kill him one day. He would still come back in the evening to take another one. I wish there is a way he could be reported to his parents. I heard they are very wealthy.”
Yinka is just one of the many young persons who daily live on dangerous drugs and other illicit substances. The aim is to attain temporary euphoria. This is another menace that has crept into the lives of the nation’s young population.
According to concerned Nigerians, drug abuse among teenagers has become the new pop culture.
Weeks back, shock, outrage and outcry greeted the exposé by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on the dangerous codeine addiction of a high population of Nigerian youths. The video clip extensively highlighted the sickening quest of youths to get high, to their peril.
While the dust raised by the investigative piece was yet to settle, Daily Sun went to town and discovered that, beyond codeine, marijuana and heroin, several other substances are widely in circulation that are far deadlier than the known narcotic substances.
Youths who cannot afford the ‘big’ ones and must satisfy their urge to get high have devised absurd means and cheaper drugs to achieve just about the same result.
These addictions are the opium, which they constantly ingest to get giddy and light. The dangerous drugs defy class and tribe, and users appear to have found a unifying front in their consumption.
A recent walk through most of Lagos streets and dingy alleys revealed a vivid and horrifying story of Nigeria’s drug crisis and an already enshrined drug culture that appeared to have snowballed out of proportion. Teenagers and minors between the ages of 14 and 17 are becoming hooked and lost to the world of drugs.
The dangerous substances
The drugs causing this pandemic include tramadol hydrochloride, rohypnol, cinol, ephedrine, diazepam, methamphetamine, flakka and more. Those that cannot afford these substances have discovered new sources for a quick fix, which they variously refer to as poor man’s pot, laughing gas, bolt, air blast or hardware.
They inhale gum, contents of septic tanks and pit toilets, old sanitary pads, black base of drainage, bleach mixed with soft drink, nail polish removal, shoe polish, glue, petrol, kerosene and a cocktail of fermented banana leaves. They also get high by inhaling exhaust fumes of generators, tear gas, gunpowder, Kafra, urine kept for days or beyond, burnt tyres, bitumen, lighter fluid, spray paint, lacquer thinner and correction fluid, among others.
To achieve this euphoric feeling, they inhale these toxic vapours directly from open containers or breathe the fumes from rags. Some also spray the substance directly into the nostril or mouth, or dab it on their collar, sleeves or cuffs to sniff periodically. In what is known as ‘bagging’, users may inhale fumes from substances inside a paper or plastic bag.
Another habit is the smoking of burnt lizard tail, the whitish part of lizard faeces, pawpaw leaves and seed, Moringa leaves and dried banana leaves. Also, a seasoning cube dissolved in a malt drink, mentholated spirit and codeine, mentholated spirit mixed with coke and algae (scooped and drenched in a bowl of water to extract the toxins) are also substances that young addicts embrace.
Ronke Ashiru, a pharmacist, said most of these substances produce effects similar to anaesthetics, which slow down the body’s functions. She noted that the initial high comes with a loss of inhibition, drowsiness, light-headedness and agitation.
“The chemicals are rapidly absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream and quickly reach the brain and other organs. Most times, they cause irreversible physical and mental damage,” she said.
The easiest killer drug to come across on the street is tramadol hydrochloride. It is an opioid – a drug that acts on the nervous system to relieve pain – prescribed for surgeries or severe pain, and is considered a safer alternative to some other narcotic analgesics. Medically, it is administered in two forms, intravenously as an injection or drip and as an ingestible green capsule.
This over-the-counter drug is cheap and accessible. A 10-tablet strip of 50mg tramadol costs N100, while that of 100mg could be bought for N200. Medical practitioners are said to be more conversant with the 50mg and 100mg capsules but those in circulation for users are as high as 225mg, 500mg and 1,000mg.
Many would be alarmed at the volume of this dangerous drug in circulation and the amount that is ingested daily. It is noted to have the ability to strip a well-respected individual of all his senses and reduce him to a scum. When taken in pills and at high doses, some of its less desirous side effects include nausea, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, and dry mouth.
However, the danger tramadol poses to internal organs is said to be severe. According to Ikechukwu Nwatu, a tramadol addict, who reluctantly spoke with the reporter, the preference for tramadol stems from the safety net it provides. The drug, he noted, arouses no suspicion and can easily pass as a normal, harmless pill. He noted that its addiction is very difficult to break.
Using this drug is as simple as popping a pill because it is odourless. It is possible for an underage person to have a dangerous tramadol habit without attracting the attention of parents, guardians or teachers.
What most tramadol users do is to put the drug in soft drinks to sip. And this, to a naive, unsuspecting individual would pass off as a harmless drink. It also goes to explain why the potential for its abuse is higher than other popular recreational drugs, as it can be taken anywhere.
Tramadol is highly abused for the feeling of numbness it creates from pain, as well as the lucidity and extreme alertness it gives by heightening the senses. Most users that spoke with the reporter described the feeling of being high on tramadol as attaining the peak of tranquillity, where worries or anxiety are forgotten. They claimed it also gives the energy required to work like a bull.
It was also described as a strong aphrodisiac, which increases the libido and sexual capacity of male users.
Musa, a local medicine merchant who hawks with a rectangular box filled with assorted drugs around NNPC Bus Stop, Ejigbo, Lagos, claimed many married men wishing to impress their sexual partners patronise him. He disclosed that the bulk of his profit comes from just tramadol sales.
To authenticate his claim, he carefully pulled apart his mobile drug store and from underneath a row of neatly arranged cartons, hauled out a large cache of tramadol capsules and showed it to the reporter. Done with his display, he quickly returned them and reassembled the box.
Musa later disclosed that most tramadol users who attempt to ditch the drug develop withdrawal syndrome in the form of convulsion. He said they could have as much as three fits in a week.
Hassan, another drug dealer, disclosed that most of his customers were students in primary and secondary schools.
As an unregulated drug, it was initially easy to walk out of any pharmacy with a pack of tramadol. But since the lid was lifted on codeine addiction, it can now only be obtained with a doctor’s prescription. However, for itinerant drug merchants, the development has only increased the black market value of tramadol and boosted their profit.
Rohypnol is also known as the ‘date rape pill.’ It is the most dangerous of illegal street drugs. It is a tranquiliser said to be about 10 times more potent than Valium. The drug is available as a white or olive-green pill and users crush it to snort, sprinkle on marijuana to smoke, dissolve in drinks, inject or place on the tip of the tongue to lick.
Though readily available, this blue tablet is the most expensive, as it is sold for N300 per tablet. Known on the streets as Blue Boy, Roofies, Forget-me pill, Roche or Mexican Valium, it is the life of all parties hosted and frequented by fun-loving juveniles. No party is said to be complete without it.
Aside from being used to get high, Rohypnol is used to spike drinks so the girls can lose their senses and inhibitions and become incapable of resisting, which is why it is called the ‘date rape’ drug.
Idowu Salami, a regular rohypnol user, who provided the reporter with a sample of the drug, described its effects as “paralysing.” He said that the drug starts taking effect between 20 and 30 minutes after its ingestion and peaks within two hours, adding that its effect may linger from eight to 12 hours.
Idowu added that, usually, after taking the drug, he becomes demobilised. Although he can observe happenings around him, his memory later becomes impaired and he finds it hard to recall anything.
Meanwhile, there have been allegations that Rohypnol, when used to spike a woman’s drink during ovulation, could not only blank out her memory but will also cause infertility problems.
Although the claim was debunked by some online medical sites, medical professionals on the site warned teenagers to stay away from the drug to avoid grave consequences.
The sites noted that Rohypnol, which has the chemical name Flunetrazepam, is also a medication used to treat severe insomnia. The drug produces a strong feeling of sedation and anterograde amnesia, which means that a user often does not remember what happened while the drug was in effect. It is a central nervous system depressant that slows down the respiratory system and heart rate.
An overdose could lead to severe respiratory depression and a user could start breathing slowly, limiting the amount of oxygen able to reach the brain. The individual could stop breathing altogether. If this happens, brain damage or death would occur in minutes. This also explains why it is chosen for intentional overdose for the purpose of suicide.
Methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth, is a dangerous, potent chemical that first acts as a stimulant before beginning to systematically destroy the body. It is an illegal drug in the same class as cocaine and other powerful street drugs. The white, odourless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder dissolves easily in water or alcohol and is taken orally, snorted, smoked or injected into the bloodstream. Among users, it is known as speed, crack, chalk, ice, crystal or glass.
According to a medical site, Drug Free World, addicts tend to develop a strong desire to continue using the drug because it creates a false sense of happiness, confidence, hyper-activeness and also gives a burst of energy. It also decreases appetite, while its effects can last between six and eight hours or even up to 24 hours.
Meth is known to burn up body resources, creating a devastating dependence that can only be relieved by taking more of the drug. Its long-term abuse has been said to cause many negative health consequences, including extreme weight loss, severe dental problems also known as “meth mouth,” anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances, and violent behaviours. Other psychotic features include paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions such as the sensation of insects crawling under the skin.
Pretending to be a desperate addict that needed a quick fix, the reporter approached a young man at a dingy street corner by NNPC Bus Stop, Ejigbo. After shyly telling him what she wanted, the young man, who later identified himself as Agbolade, scanned the area suspiciously and walked briskly away.
He resurfaced later, walked past the reporter into a makeshift kiosk and signalled her to come.
“How much you wan buy,” he asked in a coarse, business-like voice. “I get for N200 up to N100,000. It depends on your power and money.”
After settling for a N500 worth of meth, the reporter quickly scurried away, with a promise to return soon.
Returning later in the night, the place was barely recognisable; it had come alive with teenagers dancing to some raunchy music. The reporter discovered that pockets of deadly drug cartels thrived unchallenged in the area. Eighty per cent of the addicts seen puffing away were teenagers.
After mingling with the users and buying more supplies with an impression that it would be taken later, the reporter struck a discussion with a barely coherent meth addict, Udoh, from Akwa Ibom State.
Udoh said he took a liking to meth while in secondary school due to peer pressure and the urge to experiment as a teen. The young man, who just turned 25, said he was far too gone to retrace his steps.
“I tried it once and I became an addict. It became such a big problem that I had to drop out of secondary school because I spent all my time either doing meth, or trying to get it. At a point, my parents sent me out and I became homeless. Nothing spoil, I now have friends in my fellow users,” he said.
Speaking later with a meth dealer who wished to remain anonymous, the reporter got to know that the drug usually comes in powdery form. The powder is mixed with sodium bicarbonate and water, and cooked over low heat, after which it solidifies and is divided into tiny bits for sale.
Not long ago, operatives of the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) uncovered a clandestine laboratory for the illicit production of methamphetamine in Iba, Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos State.
Several methamphetamine products manufactured and packaged at the illegal factory meant for export were intercepted and seized. The place was discovered to have a production capacity of 20 to 50 kilogrammes per cycle, thus making it a large production centre similar to the ones found in Mexico.
Months back, it was reported that a 21-year-old man, Kenneth, died after overdosing on an illicit drug combination called ‘gutter water’ at a hotel in Ikorodu, Lagos.
The deceased, also known as Dagba Junior, was said to be epileptic and started having seizures immediately after taking the illicit substance. He later gave up the ghost at the Ikorodu General Hospital.
Like Kenneth, many youths, it was discovered, consistently take ‘gutter water’, which is a combination of codeine, rohypnol, tramadol, cannabis and water or juice.
This particular toxic combination, according to investigation, is used for most cult initiations in secondary schools and tertiary institutions. It is not for the faint-hearted.
Flakka is a deadly hallucinogenic drug that turns its addict to a zombie. The crystalline white or pink gravel-like substance is mostly distributed in parties to fun-seeking schoolboys and girls. It can also be smoked, snorted or injected into the system to achieve a sense of ecstasy. It is reputed to cause hallucination and bizarre behaviours, including running amok and stripping naked in public.
According to a clinical scientist, Segun Isola, the drug can cause excited delirium, as shown by violent behaviour, body temperature spike or hyperthermia, paranoia as well as the feeling of increased strength.
“Whenever you see people ripping their clothes and running out into the streets violently, they may be under the influence of flakka. And if such a person does not receive medical attention as soon as possible, the person may die,” he said.
Mentholated spirit and coke
Another pastime of mostly primary and secondary school pupils is to mix medical-grade mentholated spirit with Coca-Cola to create a cocktail that gets them knocked out. And it is catching on fast.
Osita Offor said he was hit by the scary reality when he stumbled on his 15-year-old nephew, Emeka, pouring mentholated spirit from a first aid box in his room into a Coke bottle. After serious interrogation, Emeka confessed that he had been getting high on the lethal mixture for over a year. He also said that virtually all the boys in his school indulged in the act.
Mentholated spirit is called denatured alcohol that has additives to make it poisonous and bad tasting to discourage recreational consumption. Scientifically, this deadly consumption is said to alter the cells throughout the body when consumed.
Idris, a user, whom the reporter stumbled on in the Trinity area of Apapa, said the mixture helps him to momentarily forget his problems and to get a good night’s sleep. He noted that it costs next to nothing, adding that with the mixture, there is no fear of being arrested by the police.
Also speaking about this lethal cocktail, Segun Isola, a pharmacist, said mentholated spirit is poisonous, having 80 per cent alcohol and 20 per cent ethyl. He said, for normal alcohol, the renal system metabolises it into something that the body can discharge, hence after consumption of alcohol, there is a tendency to urinate and, after a while, the alcohol fades out from the system. But for mentholated spirit, it takes the renal system at least four hours to absorb the mixture, after which it forms formaldehyde, a carcinogenic chemical, in the body that can cause kidney failure. He noted that prolonged use could also lead to blindness.
For 20-year-old Ikechukwu, one of the many vices he came back with after serving a five-year term at the Kirikiri Maximum Prisons in Lagos was smoking burnt lizard to get high, since he could not lay his hands on cannabis (Indian hemp).
He noted that all he had to do was catch and burn lizards and pour the charred remains into a filler to inhale. He got high instantly on this substance, saying it was as pleasurable as cannabis.
Ikechukwu said he was introduced to the habit by his fellow inmates. And despite being released, he still takes the burnt lizard tail stuff alongside his regular supply of cannabis. He disclosed that children were paid a pittance to get this rare speciality for them.
Findings also revealed that lizard droppings offer unimaginable euphoria to those addicted to it. All that is needed is the whitish part of lizard dung, which is crumpled into water, alongside dye powder. The potion, when taken with peanuts or kolanut, is reputed to produce a strong effect akin to drinking whisky on a very hot day. The intoxicating effect of lizard droppings is also believed to be 50 per cent higher than that of marijuana and cocaine.
While some users love to inhale the blended dung, others just crush it to smoke with marijuana.
Boasting of his ability to smoke lizard dung without losing his senses was Ibrahim Dogo, a truck driver by Comfort Oboh Street, Kirikiri, Apapa. He usually got his supply, a blend of marijuana, lizard tail and faeces, from one of the metal kiosks along the road. He claimed that the combination usually made him feel more confident and high for a minimum of eight hours.
However, after nosing around, the reporter gathered that anytime the ecstasy wears off, an addict
starts craving seriously for another fix. The craving is usually unbearable as it can cause severe nausea, itching of the throat, gums and mild trembling.
Places where drugs are sold
Though drug dens are scattered around Lagos, there are places specifically referred to as cities of sin. These places, according to reports, have defied every attempt at having them sanitised.
Enu-Owa, a densely-populated slum in Lagos Island, and Akala Street in Mushin are two dreaded hubs for illicit drugs. They are regarded as the most notorious drug spots in Lagos. At a time, the police claimed to have burnt drugs worth N50 million at Akala.
Other places where you could get these drugs include Alaba Rago, Idi Araba, Agege, Costain, Ojuelegba, NNPC by Ejigbo and Oshodi. Even places like Lekki, Ajah, Victoria Island and Ikeja, presumably seen as peaceful, have gradually turned into booming markets for drugs, with residents lamenting being threatened by the growing number of young addicts and drug merchants.
Ironically, some security agents seemed to have legalised the illegal drug business, as they frequently extort money from drug merchants. Some dealers told the reporter that they usually “settle” security agents, even as some come around to get high, sporting their uniforms.
Conversation with more addicts
Segun, 18, said he was first introduced to tramadol by his family’s 28-year-old house-help. From mixing 50mg of the drug in soft drinks, he graduated to having it crushed and mixed with vodka from his father’s bar to get the desired ‘high’ effect.
The teenager said within months of embracing the habit, he developed a strong and sometimes uncontrollable desire for the substance. On the days he tried to quit, he would convulse uncontrollably as well as feel terrible body aches. He said his parents were still bothered by his many fits and are yet to get to the bottom of his purported sickness. He confessed that he lacks the willpower to quit.
Looking emaciated and dirty, Ugo accosted the reporter by Osolo Way, Isolo, to beg for money to eat. Moved by his plight, she made to give him but was immediately stopped by a commercial motorcyclist, who had stopped to pick a passenger.
“Don’t give him any money. He is a junky. He would use that money to go and smoke crack,” the okada rider said.
Despite the confrontation, Ugo refused to leave. With a promise to get him some money, the reporter got Ugo to tell the story of his descent into drugs.
The teenager said he was introduced to drugs by his late father in 2014: “My father used to smoke marijuana and pop tramadol every day. He said he wanted me to be a strong man and introduced me to both. It was so much fun. We would get high together and, with time, I started having the courage to talk to girls”
He started with the 100mg capsule, before he graduated to 200mg and later 400mg tablets. Ugo lost his father in a fatal road accident and, after that, his life nosedived.
“I was never introduced to my mother and none of my father’s relatives agreed to accommodate me. With time, I made friends with users like myself and moved into the street,” he said.
Ijeoma, another young addict, said she took meth out of curiosity during a friend’s birthday and became hooked. She noted that, in order to satisfy her craving, she started pilfering money from her parents. With time, she ran away from home and started living in a joint where the drug was sold.
Recounting a sad episode that left her pregnant, Ijeoma recalled becoming unconscious after taking meth and she was sexually abused. Pregnant, distraught, hungry and feeling lost, she told the reporter she was contemplating returning home.
A generation of addicts
While the searchlight on proliferation of drugs is being beamed on the streets, an endemic drug culture now thrives in primary and secondary schools, with young pupils boldly using tramadol during breaks. This act, according to Obinna, a student of a popular secondary school in Oshodi, is no longer a secret.
On March 2, 2018, Ibrahim Sheu and his 23-year-old son, Franku, were arrested by operatives of the
Rapid Response Squad, Lagos State Police Command, for selling tramadol and other hard drugs to primary and secondary school pupils in the Itire area of Lagos.
With teenagers finding solace in drugs, a recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report showed that some minors start using illicit drugs as early as 10 years.
Also, a recent study carried out by a team of scientists and researchers from the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, sought to determine the prevalence of drug abuse by Nigerian youths by comparing the pattern of substance use in two cities, Uyo and Kiru, Kano State.
The study was carried out at the Uyo and Kiru rehabilitation centres. The study revealed that alcohol was used commonly in Uyo, while inhalants such as glue, petrol, formalin and shoe polish were consumed in large quantities in Kiru.
Also in the study, about 35 per cent of inmates from Uyo and 43 per cent from Kiru used Indian hemp, 7 per cent and 15 per cent used cocaine, while 5 per cent and 12 per cent used heroin, respectively. This, the researchers noted, was a very dangerous trend in view of the associated health hazards.
Recently, bemoaning the prevalence of drug abuse among Nigerian youths, the president of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, Dr. Taiwo Sheikh, said the most productive segment of the population accounts for up to 85 per cent of psychiatric cases due to drug and substance abuse.
He lamented that the high figure poses serious threats to the future of Nigeria, as most of the youths affected by the lifestyle are between the ages of 18 and 38.
To further highlight the growing cases of the scourge, in a seminal work published in the International Journal of Scientific Research in Education, on “Drug Abuse: A Study of Selected Secondary Institutions in Bayelsa State,” Stephen Ekpenyong of the Department of Sociology, Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, noted that most Nigerian youths will experiment with drugs at some point, particularly alcohol and nicotine.
Most disturbing was the fact that the study established that 31.4 per cent of student respondents had a positive perception of drug abuse, meaning that they did not find anything wrong with taking or abusing drugs.
It said that while boys had a higher proclivity to abuse drugs, the number of girls using drugs was on the rise among schoolchildren.
In a similar work published in the Journal of Public Health Research on the “Prevalence of Drug
Abuse among University Students in Benin City in 2016”, a group of researchers, Adeyemo Florence, Ohaeri Beatrice, Pat Okpala and Ogodo Oghale, concluded that drug abuse had become a disturbing challenge in the region.
The researchers discovered that 46.6 per cent of respondents who were in the 20 to 25 years age bracket had taken drugs for non-medical purposes at least once in their lifetime. They discovered that some youths depend on one drug or the other, such as morphine, heroine, ephedrine, madras, glue, barbiturates and amphetamines for various daily activities.
President, Life Parenting Academy and Family Values facilitator, Samson Iyayi, said, at this point, everyone should be worried about the future of the nation. This disturbing trend, he maintained, requires a serious call to action from everyone. He stressed that the federal and state governments as well as the civil society and parents must do more advocacy to make more people, especially young persons, aware of the deadly effects of drugs and substance abuse.