Every day, threats posed by drugs to successive generations of Nigerians are increasingly alarming.
Although Nigerians of all ages are popping dangerous pills daily, it becomes more disheartening that the active population between the ages of 15 and 65 years are deploying their boundless energies to unveiling new sources of getting high. A walk through most of Lagos streets and dingy alleys reveals a vivid story of Nigeria’s drug crisis and an already enshrined drug culture that appears to have snowballed out of proportion. Nigeria seems at the precipice of an uncontrollable drug epidemic.
Every day, it is estimated that more than 500,000 bottles of codeine are consumed by young Nigerians across the country. This is the same with other opioids like tramadol, rohypnol and marijuana, among others. Many have noted that this dangerous trend has become the new pop culture and an accepted way of life. Social analysts maintain that, considering the sensitive situation of youths, drug addiction among them remains a major threat to the nation’s socio-economic development.
In Nigeria, long considered a transit point, the drug use epidemic has reached an alarming level. Many families are getting destroyed. And available reports show that the problem is not the exclusive preserve of a particular geopolitical zone of the country.
In 2018, media reports extensively highlighted the levels that the dangerous addiction has climbed to.
Nigeria is a party to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1998, which, together with the National Drug Control Master Plan for Nigeria, guide the work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Bemoaning the prevalence of drug abuse among Nigerian youths, the president of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN), 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 the youth are mostly affected.
According to a 2011 World Drug Report, over 210 million people, or 4.8 per cent of the world’s population, use illicit substances yearly. And in Nigeria, the youth seem to be more involved in this deadly act. A UNODC report disclosed that the age of first use in the country is between 10 and 29 years.
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has decried the increasing level of drug abuse and drug trafficking among Nigerian youths. The agency lamented that the situation was worsened by the affordability of the various substances.
Investigations have revealed that there is practically no major city in Nigeria that does not have hideouts, joints or clubs where these youths gather to buy or use drugs.
While cannabis remains the most popular drug, the youths have also embraced the non-medical use of prescription drugs such as tramadol and cough syrups. Nigeria was rated as one of the countries in the world with highest use of tramadol in a 2017. This was after the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence of the World Health Organisation (WHO) requested for information on the extent of problems associated with tramadol misuse to enable critical review of the dangers associated with its abuse worldwide.
According to the January and June 2018 data provided by NAFDAC’s Ports Inspection Directorate, nine 40 feet containers, containing unregulated 200/225mg tramadol capsules were intercepted at the Apapa Port, Lagos, and the Onne Port, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Earlier in May 2018, the Nigeria Customs Service at the SAHCOL shed of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, intercepted 180 cartons of tramadol 225mg.
However, beyond tramadol, there is heroin, cocaine and several other substances widely in circulation that are far deadlier than the known narcotic substances. These absurd combinations are cheap and exist to satisfy the urge of those who want to get high but cannot afford the ‘big’ ones.
Toxicologists have explained that most of these substances produce effects similar to anaesthetics, which slow down the body’s functions and produce an initial high that comes with loss of inhibition, drowsiness, light-headedness and agitation.
A generation of addicts
While the searchlight on proliferation of drugs is on, an endemic drug culture has been discovered to now thrive in primary and secondary schools, with young pupils boldly using tramadol during breaks. This young ones’ romance with drugs was confirmed by a recent UNODC report that pegged the age of first use at 10.
On March 2, 2018, one Ibrahim Sheu and his 23-year-old son, Franku, were arrested by operatives of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) in Lagos, for selling tramadol and other hard drugs to primary and secondary school pupils in the Itire area of the metropolis.
Though most people are familiar with tramadol hydrochloride, other drugs include rohypnol, cinol, ephedrine, diazepam, methamphetamine and flakka. For those that cannot readily afford the aforementioned, there are other quick fixes variously referred to as poor man’s pot, laughing gas, bolt, air blast or hardware exist.
The youth also inhale gum, contents of septic tanks and pit toilets, old sanitary pads, black base of drainage, bleach mixed with soft drink, nail polish remover, shoe polish, glue, petrol, kerosene and a cocktail of fermented banana leaves as well as fumes from generators, tear gas, gunpowder, fermented urine, burnt tyres, bitumen, lacquer thinner, lighter fluid, spray paint, correction fluid, among others.
To achieve this euphoric feeling, the toxic vapours are inhaled directly from open containers or soaked rags. Others spray the substance directly into the nostril or mouth, dab it on their collar, sleeves or cuffs to sniff periodically. In what is known as ‘bagging’, addicts may inhale fumes from substances inside a paper or plastic bag.
Other weird addictions
Other bizarre drug habits include smoking of burnt lizard tail, pawpaw leaves and seed, the whitish part of lizard faeces, dried banana leaves and moringa leaves. Mentholated spirit mixed with coke, seasoning cubes dissolved in malt drink, mentholated spirit and codeine, and algae (scooped and drenched in a bowl of water to extract the toxins) are also in high demand.
The addicts also consume what is known as “gutter water.” This is a combination of codeine, rohypnol, tramadol, cannabis and water or juice. This cocktail, it was gathered, is mostly used for cult initiations in secondary schools and tertiary institutions.
Flakka is another deadly hallucinogenic drug that turns users into zombies. This crystalline white or pink gravel-like substance is reputed to flow freely in teenage parties. It can be smoked, snorted or injected into the system to achieve a sense of ecstasy. Its adverse reactions include running amok and stripping naked in public.
Though seen as harmless, mentholated spirit, known as denatured alcohol, is also being severely abused. It has become another pastime of mostly primary and secondary school pupils to mix medical-grade mentholated spirit with Coca-Cola to create a cocktail that gets them knocked out. Scientifically, it can alter the cells in the body, while prolonged use can cause blindness and kidney failure.
High demand for lizard cocktail
To many, the mere thought of ingesting lizard in any form sounds absurd. But it ranks high among thriving dangerous addictions. It is made by killing and burning a lizard, after which the charred remains are poured into a filler to inhale. For most addicts, it is as pleasurable as cannabis.
Lizard droppings also offer addicts unimaginable euphoria. It is made with the whitish part of lizard dung, which is crumpled into water, alongside dye powder. When taken with peanuts or kolanut, it is reputed to produce a strong effect akin to drinking whisky on a very hot day. The intoxicating effect of lizard droppings is 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. For some who love to combine marijuana, lizard tail and faeces, the euphoric effect is noted to usually last for a minimum of eight hours. Once the ecstasy wears off, an addict starts craving another fix and would experience severe nausea, mild trembling as well as itchy throat and gums.
Funke Egbetokun, a pharmacist, explained that the chemicals in these weird cocktails are rapidly absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream, and quickly reach the brain and other organs.
“These substances are toxic to the 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 possible for an individual to have a dangerous tramadol habit without attracting attention. Addicts usually put the odourless drug in soft drinks as a disguise.
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.
A 10-tablet strip of 50mg tramadol costs N100, while that of 100mg could be bought for N200.
This opioid acts on the nervous system to relieve pain and is prescribed for surgeries or severe pain.
It has the ability to strip a respected individual of his senses. Tramadol is highly abused for its cheapness and the feeling of numbness from pain that it creates, as well as the lucidity and extreme alertness it gives. 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 claim it also gives the energy required to work like a bull and is a strong aphrodisiac.
Its less desirous side effects include nausea, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, and dry mouth. However, the danger lies in its severe destructive effects on internal organs.
Emmanuel Ikechukwu explained that the habit is very difficult to break, as any attempt to ditch the drug usually results in withdrawal syndrome in the form of convulsions.
Rohypnol, known on the street as ‘date rape pill’, ‘Blue Boy’, ‘Roofies’, ‘Forget-me pill’, ‘Roche’ or ‘Mexican Valium’, is the life of all parties frequented by addicted, fun-loving juveniles. Medically, rohypnol has the chemical name Flunetrazepam, and is used to treat severe insomnia. It 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.
This white or olive-green pill is a dangerous tranquilizer, about 10 times more potent than Valium 10. It can be crushed to snort, sprinkled on marijuana to smoke, dissolved in drinks, injected or placed on the tip of the tongue to lick. Aside from using it to get high, rohypnol is used by some men to spike drinks offered to ladies so the girls can lose their senses, hence, the name ‘date rape’ drug. Its paralyzing effects kicks in from 20 to 30 minutes after being ingested and peaks within two hours, and might linger from eight to 12 hours.
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 and this can lead to brain damage or death within minutes.
Methamphetamine, known as crystal meth, is another dangerous drug 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. As gathered, it comes in powdery form and is then mixed with sodium bicarbonate and water, and cooked over low heat to solidify. It 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.
Meth burns up body resources, causes insomnia, mood disturbances, violent behaviours, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions of insects crawling under the skin.
Markets for drugs
These drugs are never far from reach. Even though most streets in densely populated parts of Lagos have dealers, there are notorious drug spots scattered around Lagos where large caches can be obtained.
Enu-Owa, a densely-populated slum on Lagos Island, and Akala Street in Mushin are dreaded hubs for illicit drugs. The Lagos State Police Command claimed to have burnt drugs worth N50 million in Akala at a time. Other areas include Agege, NNPC by Ejigbo, Alaba Rago, Idi Araba, Costain, Ojuelegba, and Oshodi. Even places like Lekki, Ajah, Victoria Island and Ikeja, presumably seen as peaceful, have gradually turned into booming markets for drugs.
Why drug abuse persists
Social analysts have blamed factors like corruption, compromises at the points of entry, diversion of legitimate exports to illicit use and smuggling, among others, as responsible for the alarming increase in illicit drug use.
Most Nigerians, however, have tied it to unemployment and idleness. They maintain that tackling the problem of unemployment in the country is relevant to reducing the menace of drug addiction among the youth. They noted that 80 per cent of Nigerian youths are unemployed, with secondary school leavers mostly found among the unemployed rural population that accounts for about half of this figure. University and polytechnic graduates make up the figure. They lamented that job creation has been inadequate to keep pace with the expanding working age population.
In the words of Dr. John Kome, chairman/CEO, Star Diamond Group, beyond creating jobs to end drug menace in Nigeria, youths should be empowered to become independent. He noted that public enlightenment campaigns on the harmful effects of drug addiction must be stepped up by relevant government agencies, non-governmental organisations, faith-based organisations, community leaders, traditional rulers and other stakeholders.
President, Life Parenting Academy and Family Values facilitator, Samson Iyayi, stressed that the pandemic should get everyone worried about the future of the nation, adding that it requires a serious call to action from everyone.
He likewise urged parents to spend more time to inculcate moral values in their children, noting that undue struggle for economic survival should not be a justification for parental neglect.
“It is only when parents spend ample time with their children that they could really notice negative vices and traits that can quickly be nipped in the bud,” he said.