Drug Abuse by Nigerian Youths: Curbing a Resurgent Menace

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The subject of drug abuse among the teeming youths in Nigeria has generated heated debate in recent times. Like a thunderbolt, it has attracted interest from different groups, organisations, individuals, government ministries and agencies, including the National Assembly. The problem is much bigger than we can imagine, and we are probably waking up a little late in the day but certainly not too late.

Drug Abuse by Nigerian Youths: Curbing a Resurgent Menace
Dr Lolu Ojo

We will be deceiving ourselves to think or believe that the situation is limited by geography, gender, social status or age. Before 2013, Nigeria was only considered as a transit nation for illicit drugs; but now, we are an internationally recognised user-nation. We should be wary of the iceberg phenomenon or effect that this subject may present.

Drug abuse, according to Wikipedia, is a “patterned use of a drug in which the user consumes the substance in amounts or with methods which are harmful to themselves or others.” Whenever drugs, which are chemical substances, are used in manners that are not consistent with the prescribed standard, then abuse or misuse sets in. The danger, however, is that drugs, in performing their roles in the body, tend to alter the physiological pattern of behaviour of the system and if the exposure is prolonged, can lead to physical, psychological and physiological damage.

Abuse of drug can lead to drug addiction and drug dependence and for ease of comprehension, they are both regarded as drug use disorder.

Predisposing factors

Anyone can become a drug abuser and current information indicates that all ethnicities, social groups and genders can have drug abuse problems. It should be noted that drug abuse is not a character flaw but rather a medical condition that has developed over time. There is no established fact that drug abuse runs in a family. However, there are theories (personality, learning, biological or genetic and social cultural) which tend to explain the predisposing factors.

Apart from these theories, the causes of drug abuse, according to many sources, can be linked with factors including curiosity, peer influence, parental influence, socio-economic conditions, extra energy requirements by youths engaged in prolonged hard labour at early ages, drug availability (ease of access) and the pain of withdrawal (withdrawal syndrome) which motivates further abuse.

The drugs that are commonly abused include but not limited to alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, inhalants, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, methadone, oxycodone, Tramadol, codeine, morphine, chemicals, cannabis or marijuana, opiates, heroin, stimulants like methamphetamines and cocaine, hallucinogens and many others.

Statistics and pointers

Drug use disorder is a common problem affecting about 5 per cent of the world’s population on the average, and an estimated 8 per cent in the USA. Figures from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that approximately 27 million Americans or 10.2 per cent of the population over the age of 12 used illicit drugs in 2014. In Nigeria, it was reported recently that about 3 million codeine-containing cough preparations are consumed daily in Kano and about 6 million bottles in the North-West. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) report of 2010 showed that over 11 per cent of people in the North-West zone use drugs.

In May 2016, the NDLEA Director General reported that 40 per cent of Nigerian youths engage in drug abuse. The Adolescents and Health Information Project (AHIP, 2001) gave the following as the watch list of signs and symptoms of drug abuse: possession of drug-related paraphernalia such as pipes, rolling paper, small decongestant. Odour of drugs, smell of incense or other cover up scents, identification with “drug culture” e.g. having drug-related magazines, slogans on clothing and displaying hostility in discussing drugs, signs of physical deterioration and others.

Effects of drug abuse

The consequences of drug abuse are varied and devastating for the individuals involved, the family, nation and the international community. There are medical problems associated with drug abuse which include mental disorder, liver cirrhosis, lethargy, irritability, cardio-vascular disorders, etc.

The social consequences are numerous: truancy, cultism, violence, armed robbery, lawlessness, cultural disorientation, rape, assassinations, loss of productivity, etc. The cost to the society is humongous. It was reported that drug-related issues cost about £20 billion a year in UK and $181 billion in USA in 2002. Drug abuse is worse than any other issues confronting us as it can destroy everything we have now and severely constrain our future.

Combatting the crisis

To combat this resurgent menace, a multi-dimensional approach is recommended which will involve:

The family: parents should create enough time to attend to the needs of their children and guide them properly to adulthood. The family size should be limited to reflect the socio-economic status for a total well-being.

The community/religious groups: The leaders should take active part in resolving the crisis at hand and help to prevent further occurrences through their utterances and actions, as well as keeping the family unit intact. There should be effective communications. Maybe the time has come for the setting up of drug abuse vigilante groups for early detection and containment.

Youth groups: This involves positively using peer pressure to move their peers away from drug abuse and prevent new cases from occurring.

Government: Go

vernment should urgently empower the relevant agencies with adequate funding to discharge their duties appropriately and the agencies made to be alive to their responsibilities. Government must ensure that the drug distribution system is sanitised and access to dangerous drugs is severely restricted. Everybody involved in the handling of drugs must be brought under regulatory control. The economy must be stimulated to provide jobs for the unemployed and underemployed. Alternative means of engagement (e.g. sports) must be provided to take the youths off the streets.

Professional and trade groups: Everybody must be involved in the efforts to educate the youths and limit the availability of drugs to professionals only. The pharmaceutical industry comprising all the manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers have a big role to play. They must be extra-vigilant in the handling of sensitive drugs that are prone to abuse by youths.

Drug abuse is a self-destructive indulgence that leads to significant problems and distress. It has suddenly assumed an alarming proportion among youths in Nigeria and could get worse if care is not taken. We must do something now to stem the tide before it brings calamity on our society.

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