By Cosmas Omegoh
The youths are the future of tomorrow, says a certain aphorism as ancient as the hills.
But today, this line, so often deployed, is on trial and sadly failing the test of the time.
A great number of youths on whose shoulders tomorrow is lying is failing on all fronts. The youths are letting themselves and everyone else down, by pushing the hope for an assured tomorrow South. And the fuel for this growing disappointing show is drug abuse.
Today, a frightening number of Nigerian youths, according to investigations, are continuously steering and straying far into the field of drug. They are ignominiously embracing the drug culture, thereby doing untold harm to themselves and the society. Call this a new normal. It is catching up fast, spreading rapidly like Hammartan fire in the wilds. And the result is that a staggering number, of the young ones and adults, is plunging down the cesspit.
According to Mr Femi Babafemi, director, Media and Advocacy, Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), “we have incidents daily that indicate the abuse of illicit drugs by young people.
“If you take time to review some of the crimes involving young people, investigations at the end of the day often show that substance abuse was part of the build-up to the crime, for example, the latest incident of the murder of the Super TV CEO in Lagos.
“While the case is still under police investigation, the use of Rohypnol (an illicit substance) by the suspect, a 21-year-old, has been mentioned.”
Reinforcing this growing belief in substance abuse by the youths, Dr Charles Umeh, a clinical psychologist, told Sunday Sun: “I raised the red flag on the increasing rate of drug abuse among the youths about 10 years ago when not many people were paying attention to that.
“At that time, I had the opportunity of screening some youths for drugs and to my chagrin, I discovered how rampant it was among them. I also discovered that so many of them were doing drugs without being identified. From then, I knew that an epidemic was right before us and it needed a little time to explode.”
As it is, more and more drug victims are being lured and trapped every passing hour in this circle of doom. Some of the victims need help, yet don’t know how they can free themselves. They keep trudging through the same circle of destruction with amazing misguided zeal. And now, this deadly allure of drugs is pushing the hope for tomorrow to the brinks. Everyone can see the red flag up; families are being increasingly shattered every day. Parents, who had high hopes, are being devastated by the disappointing showing of their once promising kids.
While expressing fears about this turn of event, Dr Umeh warned that “it has got to public psyche; sadly our musicians and artists are not helping matters. They contribute to hyping drug abuse a lot.
“Now, take cognizance of the fact that most of the youths learn vicariously. They are a lot of people they identify with. And right now they are different formulations in every nook and cranny of the society.”
Youth drug abuse cases
While the case of the late Francis Chibuike said to be a 400-level student of Abia State University Uturu, (ABSU) continues to agitate the mind, sadly, it was found out that it is not only students in higher institutions that have replaced food with drugs. Students and pupils in secondary and primary schools are getting involved.
Lately, in Ikorodu, a Lagos suburb, no fewer than five students of a secondary school in the area, filmed themselves smoking Shisha – a mixture of marijuana leaves and other variants. The video which went viral, featured the students in their school uniforms smoking the substance with relish, passing the pipe and making a big show of it.
A source said that they were later identified by the state government, suspended, and taken to a rehab centre.
Also in Lagos, a young man, Yinka, whose parents live in Itire area has sent his life crashing down the cliff. He got withdrawn from one of the polytechnics where he was studying Architecture – all because of drug use. But rather than amend his ways, he plunged deeper into the world of marijuana and other substances abuse. His life is currently unstable, his thoughts and words incoherent.
New drugs/substances available
You must be an old school to still believe that cocaine and heroin are all the drugs on offer. You had better returned from your excursion to the past. Things have changed fast. New spectrums of drugs are right now available to the teeming youths some they can get at the snap of the finger for the price of dung.
Presently, even matters and materials around the home are sufficient enough to generate some indescribable opportunities for that innocently-looking lad or girl to get high. And they have term for each. Imagine your child telling their colleague that they need “loud,” meaning a very strong substance. Once taken, they begin to operate on a totally different wave length unfamiliar to the uninitiated mortal men.
“Some of the drugs they use now are very much affordable,” Dr Umeh said, adding “for example, the urine fermentation. It does not take anything. Just ferment the urine for 10 days, sniff it and it makes you high. Imagine sniffing from the latrine. And now, cannabis is sold a wrap for a kobo.
“What we are seeing now is that the youths have a big leverage. Accessibility to drugs is one of the factors.”
Lamenting the rising cases of substance abuse, a Lagos resident, Hakeem, said: “Until lately, it was all about marijuana or cocaine or heroin, for those who could afford it anyway.
“But things have changed. The one we saw those Lagos secondary students in Lagos smoking was called Shisha. Some people add marijuana and other things to the mixture, light them and then inhale the smoke as in cigarette smoking.
“Shisha is even mild; there are drugs worse than that.
“There is Colorado; there is Reefer also called Rofffies on the streets. It was the one the girl who allegedly killed the CEO of Super TV, Osifo Ataga, was seen smoking on the social media. That is dry marijuana leaf and other things mixed together.
“A lot of different drugs are in circulation now. They are available on demand in the streets. And our youths are going for them.”
Dr Umeh recalled that one of his doctoral students recently investigated drugs use among secondary school students in Lagos and discovered that so many of them were involved.
“In the process, my student stumbled on a primary school child selling Tramadol to his mates,” he revealed.
A body, Strategic Parenting Group, trending on the social media with various hashtags one of them #NoToDrugAbuse, provides us with enormous insight into the quantum of drugs and other substances out there in the streets – everyone of them makes the youths high.
The group while warning Nigerian parents to be mindful of what their kids are up to, drew an elaborate list of substances it claimed the youths are abusing.
It said: “These are some of the substances youths now take: A popular tea bag soaked with gin, Tramadol, Codeine, Dry pawpaw leaves, Bleach in a certain popular food drink, A certain popular sweet also soaked in the same food drink, Spirogyra, Rephnol, Gum, 10 day-old urine, Methylated spirit in Codeine, Methylated spirit in a certain popular food drink, Dry plantain leaves, Cannabis (Igbo) in gin, Burnt tyres, Burnt bitumen and Soaked used menstruation pads.”
The group advised parents to “please be observant about these substances,” adding “always visit your child’s bedroom without any awareness of your visit. Check everything in that room to see he/she doesn’t hide such drugs.” It lamented that “this applies to both male and female children.”
How drugs are abused
Dr Umeh while providing insight into the world of drugs said drug abuse is a general term that pops up in the course of drug use.
According to him, “drugs are chemical substances which when ingested are capable of changing one or two functions of the body.
“Some of these drugs are capable of changing the way we think, the way we feel and the way we behave. They are called psychoactive substances. They are the ones most abused.
“Other drugs we can buy across the counter are capable of producing these effects. But because of their addictive nature, they are placed under prescription. There are limitations to their usage. And the essence is to limit us from using them so that they do not cause us dependence.
“Now drug misuse emanates from prescription drugs that have psychoactive affects. So, when an individual takes such drugs they give a side effect that makes them fell euphoric. Even when the drug is terminated, they go on their way looking for it because of the effect they got while using it. That becomes misuse.
“Now, from misuse we go into drugs abuse. Drugs are abused because of the euphoric effect the user gets; they devote much time searching for it. And when taken, it begins to affect the general functioning of the body. The things the individual does now begin to revolve around this drug.
“However, any of these psychoactive substances depending on the category they belong to, has a way of impacting the body.
“Because some of these drugs are not originally found in the body, they produce certain effects. First one is how the body accepts it; because one has not used it before, a little dose of it produces immediate effect. Why? Because the enzymes in the body have no replica to break it down. So the body absorbs the active ingredient in it fast and they produce effect.
“For instance, the active ingredient in alcohol is ethanol. If you have not taken alcohol before, the moment you take a glass, you start feeling dizzy and tipsy. It gets to the brain and starts altering the functions of the brain and that is why one starts feeling the impact.
“But when the body has produced the enzymes, and one takes the same glass of alcohol, it will not have the same effect anymore because the body now has the enzymes to break it down. So, you needed more and more of the quantity of the same alcohol to produce the same effect one glass gave the first time one drank alcohol. That is how tolerance develops.
“Now after tolerance, we have craving. In tolerance, the body has created the path way through which this drug can pass. That is what we call physiological dependence. Now psychological dependence comes in when one feels they cannot function without the drug in their system. The individual is psychologically dependent on it. Drugs like cannabis have this. The individual feels they cannot function because of the effect the drug produces.
“There is major ingredient in cannabis which produces all those high effects. The ingredient in cannabis which is medicinal is minute and relieves pains.
“Over time, such drugs do not create pathways, for example, opium derivatives, cocaine, heroin in the body. Rather, continuous usage rewires the brain. And by the time it does that, it leads to psychotic conditions; we now say ‘oh, this person don kolo.’”
How youths get into drugs
According to Dr Umeh, “in my encounter with kids, they didn’t understand some of the negative impact of illicit substances. They were lured into taking them in one way or the other without actually studying their action. So, they kept arguing on what they considered to be the positive sides. And they were blind to the negative sides.
“A lot of them went into drugs when they were under pressure or when they were in distress and could not overcome their difficulties. Some of them were lured into drugs by friends or circumstances around them.”
Impact of drug use
Looking at the impact of drugs on the youths, Babafemi acknowledged that “illicit drugs are psychoactive substances that affect the mind. That means their use or abuse is dangerous to mental health.”
He added that “abusing such substances creates physical and psychological dependence, which eventually lead to serious health consequences.
“Based on available statistics, one of every five persons who used drugs in this country suffers from drug-user disorders.
“Prolonged use turns them into social misfits who are struggling to fit into their families and workplaces. So, don’t let anyone deceive you that using any substance classified as a ‘controlled substance’ is an innocuous action.”
To back up his claim, he noted that “according to research, about two-thirds of people who used drugs reported having serious problems, such as missing school or work, doing a poor job at work/school or neglecting their family or children – all the result of their drug use.”
Against this backdrop, he warned that “we simply cannot allow the trend to persist even in the present, let alone let it continues. That is why the onus is on all Nigerians to collaborate with the NDLEA to stem the tide of drug abuse and stamp out drug trafficking.”
Future of drug-soaked society
With several youths under the effect of drugs, many believe that indeed, the society is faced with grave danger – danger of losing what is left of community values, danger of drifting into the fields of the unknown and danger of plunging into the plains of bestiality.
Dr Umeh said: “Kids are the future of tomorrow. How well they prepare now is a picture of how tomorrow will be.
“No one that uses drugs has been able to actualise their potential.
“Drugs like cannabis elicit rampant emotivation – meaning that the youth will not be able to accomplish simple task. The reason is because there is this false effect called heightened perception which cannabis gives. The student will tell you, ‘oh, when I smoke, I can read very well. Oh, when I smoke cannabis and listen to music, it sounds so melodious.’ It creates an erroneous impression on the psyche of the user.
“A lot students who abuse drugs record poor grades. They are not motivated to do their assignments; they are not motivated to attend classes. Their mindset is ‘during exams I will go and read.’ By the time they smoke, their perception is heightened, but they are not processing the information. When they get to the exam hall they will not recollect some of the things they had read.
“Now, when such a person at this level, is dependent on drugs, what do you think their tomorrow will be if they keep wasting away their foundation for tomorrow?
“Canabis can cause aggressive behaviour. It emboldens the user to think they can do things ordinarily they couldn’t do under clear consciousness. They experience erosion of conscience – people acting without thinking.”
Way out of drugs
Babafemi noted that it was in a bid to curtail the abuse of drugs that the NDLEA was created and would continue to fight hard.
Gauging from the results that we have been recording since Gen. Buba Marwa (rtd) came in as chairman/CEO of NDLEA, he said, anyone can rightly conclude that the agency has pushed the reset button.
“Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari launched War Against Drug Abuse (WADA) on June 26, the UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking. That is an indication that the NDLEA is working seriously to clean up Nigeria. To this end, we have launched a non-stop offensive action against traffickers. This campaign has netted over 4, 896 culprits, including five barons, in five months.
“We have also embarked on massive advocacy to get the public sensitised about the dangers of drug abuse and trafficking. We have been utilising radio and television alongside social media to get the message across to citizens of this country. We have also been forging partnerships with individuals, groups and organisations. The objective is to have a coalition that will help in this renewed fight against the abuse and trafficking of illicit substances.”
Dr Umeh believes that “we need to go back and start educating people on the dangers of drugs – and the implications of making use of any of the illicit substances. Based on that, people can now make their choices whether to go on or not.
“Those ones that have gone wrong, there could a lot of measures to prevent them. First, let there be drug screening before employment. People found to be positive, give them no jobs as a restraint to curtail the usage of drugs.
“For the student, once they are positive, expel them when caught. Carry out periodic random testing on them.”
Then he added: “For the younger ones, let the focus be on prevention and awareness. We need to take drug education to the primary schools in states. It is a battle.
“If you don’t educate people they will be lost to misinformation. So, let people know that they stand a good chance of taking the right decision and doing the best for tomorrow.”
Advice to drug/potential abusers
If you have been doing drugs or intending to do so, these pieces of advice from Babafemi will do you a world of good.
“Doing drugs does nobody any good.
“Every young person has to know that illicit drugs are poisonous and can destroy their future. They also have to understand that there is a new order now. There is no hiding place for anyone involved in controlled substances.
“We have nabbed a lot of online drug peddlers and a lot of young people are currently in the net now for trafficking. They are all going to face the music. So, it is better not to even go near drugs at all.
“People should remember that part of the new order is the drug integrity test that the agency is pushing to be adopted in all government institutions. It will become a standard procedure that every Nigerian will go through as they come into a tertiary institution or a workplace and even as they are getting ready for wedding.”