By Bianca Iboma-Emefu
In the past year alone, nearly 15 per cent of the adult population in Nigeria (around 14.3 million people) reported a “considerable level” of use of psychoactive drug substances—a rate much higher than the 2016 global average of 5.6 per cent among adults. And now, a national survey has confirmed the massive scale of Nigeria’s drug problem.
The survey was led by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse, with technical support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and funding from the European Union.
It showed the highest level of drug use was recorded among people aged 25 to 39, with cannabis being the most widely used drug. Sedatives, heroin, cocaine and the non-medical use of prescription opioids were also noted. The survey excluded the use of tobacoo and alcohol.
Drug use habits in Nigeria have devolved with young people increasingly resorting to potent mixtures of several drugs at the high risk of fatal overdoses. For instance, “gutter water,” a widely consumed cocktail of drugs, is a mix of codeine, tramadol, rohypnol, cannabis and water or juice and fruits called scutchi. Some young adults are also turning to crude concoctions as alternatives, including smoking lizard parts and dung as well as sniffing glue, petrol, sewage and urine as inhalants.
Stemming the flow of opioid imports has proven particularly difficult for Nigerian authorities. Two high-profile raids at the country’s largest port a few months ago resulted in the seizure of over half a billion tablets of tramadol, a pain relief drug often abused. The inflow of opioids is not limited to Nigeria. West, North and Central Africa jointly account for 87 per cent of all pharmaceutical opiates seized globally.
Asides from the imports, Nigeria also faces an internal problem with corruption at major pharmaceutical companies boosting the illicit supply of codeine-based cough syrups to drug users.
However, while widespread illicit drug use lingers, the survey also notes there are major gaps in Nigeria’s healthcare system in “meeting the needs for treatment and care for people with drug use disorders.”
Only a few government-owned clinics are adequately staffed and equipped for treating drug abuse, while private clinics often prove too expensive for many. Indeed, around 40 per cent of the two-thirds of high-risk drug users who reported a need for treatment for drug use were unable to access appropriate healthcare services.
Although there had been efforts and collaboration to tackle illicit drug abuse, the challenge is drug peddlers have devised other moves against the war to curb the scourge, which has crept into children in primary school.
To commemorate this year’s World Drug Day, a non-governmental organisation, Christ Against Drug Abuse Ministry, has called on the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) to develop a more strategic approach in tackling the menace.
Director-general of the foundation, a medical practitioner, Dr. Dokun Adedeji, said the anti-drug agency needs to go beyond the obnoxious way it operates to unravel drug criminality in the country, as those in the illicit drug business have deviced new tactics to transport illicit drug and the consumption rate has increased.
Adedeji advised government to provide communities that grow cannabis alternate food crops and subsidize their farms. According to him, this will change their mindset as they get education on the negative effects of substance abuse.
He pointed out that NAFDAC should equally change its approach to the punishment meted to those addicted to drugs: “I am not against punishment, but the brutal treatment. If we can channel our resources to make drug addicts recover from the effect, and position them to join the crusades against illicit drugs, the demand will reduce.
“Drug abuse is a global issue and cannot be legalized in Nigeria. It is rather unfortunate that food and beverages sold to schoolkids are now being laced, as the society needs to wake up from slumber. The demand rate increases daily and needs an urgent approach to cater for the spread among youths.”
He lauded the NDLEA boss, Brig-Gen. Mohammed Buba Marwa (rtd), stating that there has been some progress in the agency that has gained public appreciation in Nigeria.
“Despite this impressive progress recorded by the agency, the supply of drugs has taken another turn as more tricky measures are being adopted by the drug peddlers to destroy our youths.
“Nigeria is on the brink of an epidemic, as far as substance abuse is concerned. A lot of collaboration is needed to curb this prevailing menace that is damaging the future of our teeming youths,” he said.
He explained that statistics showed that the global prevalence average for substance use was 5.6 per cent, while Nigeria’s prevalence rate was 14 per cent – almost triple the global average. An estimated 14.4 per cent of the Nigerian population, with people between 15 and 64 years of age, are involved in drug abuse.
Adedeji stressed that there was need for youths to desist from drug abuse, among other vices.
“CADAM is a faith-based non-governmental organisation under the auspices of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, established 30 years ago, that caters for the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals who have overcome drug abuse in Lagos .
“Also, on CADAM’s part to celebrate the World Drug Day, we are having a five-day event to sensitize youths on the dangers of engaging in illicit drugs as well as educating them on the negative effects to jeopardize their future,” he said.
The increase in drug usage, he added, became higher in the last 18 months, occasioned by the COVID-19 outbreak, where many countries were faced with providing solutions to the pandemic. With the shift of attention, the drug problem was left hanging.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing high fatalities, which crippled the economies of many developing nations, including Nigeria, took our minds off the cry for help of people under the bondage of drug abuse and addiction,” he pointed out.
Adedeji shared some facts on drug use prevalence and the health consequences. One in seven persons aged 15 to 64 years has used a hard drug. Among every four drug users in Nigeria, one is a woman and one out of every five drug users is suffering from disorder. He further stated that the use of drugs is now prevalent in workplaces as it is laced in food items or injected into liquids consumed in the work environment so there’s need to scale up the approach to curb illicit drugs to the barest minimum.
He emphasized that the growth of global drug supply and demand poses a great challenge to law enforcement, compounds health risks and complicates efforts to prevent and treat drug use disorder.
The doctor revealed that more people were using drugs and there were more drugs and types of drugs than ever: “Government all over needs to step up the game by providing healthcare support for people with drug use disorder. Evidence-based prevention programmes should be developed and implemented at all levels of government so as to reach the grassroots and rural communities,” he said.