By Afolabi Aribigbola
T he menace of drug abuse in Nigeria is not only escalating at alarming rate but is attaining a very dangerous dimension as many more Nigerians especially underage persons are getting involved in the very destructive habit on a daily basis. Of course, the evil habit of drug abuse is not peculiar to Nigeria, it is a global phenomenon that has attracted the attention of the global community to finding solution to the cankerworm because of the danger inherent in drug abuse and illicit drugs.
To create awareness towards stopping the growing tide of drug abuse menace and its negative consequences, the global body, the United Nations’ General Assembly in 1987 by a resolution instigated the institution of International Day against Drug Abuse or World Drug day. Consequently, the 26th of June every year was designated as World Drug Day to strengthen action and cooperation in achieving the goal of a world free of drug abuse. The 2023 edition celebrated worldwide last week Tuesday has as its theme “People First: Stop Stigma and Discrimination, Strengthen Prevention”. The aim of this year’s campaign was to raise awareness about the importance of treating people who use drugs with respect and empathy; providing evidence-based, voluntary services for all; offering alternatives to punishment; prioritizing prevention; and leading with compassion.
The campaign also aims to combat stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs by promoting language and attitudes that are respectful and non-judgmental.The 2023 drug celebration with the theme People at the centre has again reopen the huge drug abuse war going in most societies of the world and the need for action to eliminate the crisis. Unfortunately 2023 World Drug Day was not sufficiently celebrated to draw attention to the epidemic of drug abuse and related problems in Nigeria. There are no concrete evidence that the day was celebrated in most part of the country as expected and no evidence of the implementation of the years theme in any part of the country particularly in showing empathy to victims of drug abuse to as to be able to solve the problem.
The consequence of this development is that drug abuse syndrome will continue to persist and discrimination against addicts will also persist. That the country is not following on the universal approach and efforts at addressing the problem is worrisome and dangerous to the health of the people and ultimately the future of the country because the youths are deeply involved in the ugly business. The above scenarios is despite the unenviable record of the country being listed among countries of the world that have not been united to fight this problem effectively. The problem instead of diminishing is growing at an alarming rate threatening to tear the country apart. The reality is that there is increasing wave of drug abuse across Nigeria. Available records revealed that about 40 percent of Nigerian youths are deeply involved in drug abuse
While some societies in the more prosperous countries of Europe and America have the resources in human and material to cope with the crisis to reduce its consequences that cannot be said of Nigeria where the phenomenon is gaining more converts in the face of poor handling and paucity of funds to mitigate the negative dangerous outcomes of the cankerworm on the youth population of the country. This must be taken more seriously because many of the students now indulge in the destructive art of drug abuse.
The term ‘drug abuse or substance abuse has been described to refer to the use of certain chemicals for the purpose of creating pleasurable effects on the brain. There are over 190 million drug users around the world and the problem has been increasing at alarming rate, especially among young adults under the age of 30, while some of the most commonly abused drugs include alcohol, opioids and illicit or banned substances.
The reality in Nigeria at the moment is that a significant proportion of the youth population are hooked up on this destructive habits and practices. Most students will not come out of their houses for days when on drug not even to attend lectures and sometimes semester examinations. They are often not bothered on what is going on around. Indeed many efforts and resources have been invested to fighting the menace, education of addicts as well as their rehabilitation. Yet the unwholesome trade and practice are growing in leaps. The trade and use of illicit drugs are thriving in the country for a number of reasons that include the failure or inability of the security apparatus to stop or curtail it.
In fact, the belief is that many of the security agents benefit from the illicit trade by protecting distributors and sellers of banned substances and they are complacent because some of their members have been alleged to be involved in the illicit trade. The 2021 world drug report produced by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime revealed that almost half a million people were killed in 2019 as a result of drug use, while drug use disorders resulted in 18 million healthy lives lost, mostly due to opioids. One in four deaths result from illicit drug use and more deaths, illnesses and disabilities are associated with drug abuse than any other preventable health condition. People suffering from drug and alcohol addiction also have a higher risk of unintentional injuries, accidents and domestic violence incidents. According to research, some drug users, particularly those who inject drugs, are living with HIV and Hepatitis C.
As the drug and its menace is consuming and destroying lives of several Nigerians especially the youths that are supposed to be the future of the country, the government and agencies that have been created to address the challenge seem unconcerned or overwhelmed by the burden of the problem, the problem has continued to grow in leaps. Thus, illicit drugs are openly and unashamedly displayed and sold in the country.
Despite existing drug laws, policies and strategic plans, the burden of drug abuse in Nigeria is growing, especially among the younger population, artisans, undergraduates, secondary school students and commercial drivers. This burden may continue to rise if stringent measures and sustainable interventions are not employed to curb the menace. This should be all-inclusive as the government, religious bodies, non-governmental organisations, as well as individuals all have a role to play.
Now that it is clear the drug abuse and prevalence of illicit drugs are ravaging the country, we must take both proactive and urgent steps to reverse the dangerous trend and put a stop to it. Parents must show more interest in the welfare and prosperity of their children by creating more time to monitor them and have a clue to their daily routine and friends they keep. Often, most of them are introduced to the business by friends and acquaintances. The government must show more interest in the welfare of the citizenry by enacting more policies to police the society and block access of youths to illicit and banned substances that are easily available.
Of course, the law enforcement agencies especially the NDLEA and the Nigerian Police should be alive to their responsibilities in ridding the Nigerian society free of illicit drugs and substances. It is because of compromise and weak policing that permit the crime to thrive in the country. Schools authorities in the country especially the tertiary ones should show more interest in addressing the cankerworm because often most of the abuse occur among students of tertiary institutions. Government at all levels must come up with policies to prevent and handle those that are already indulging in the destructive trade.