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Consumption of harmful drugs puts future of Nigerian children in peril, says Rescue Nigeria

Consumption of harmful drugs puts future of Nigerian children in peril, says Rescue Nigeria

The fast-spreading scourge of substance abuse among the young population in Nigeria has crossed a dangerous borderline.

Experts at the People’s Parliament, a quarterly public discussion about important problems facing the country, warned that children as young as eight years are now being introduced to harmful drugs as parents and teachers watch with ignorance and helplessness.

The event, titled, “Drug menace:  impact and solutions to substance abuse in Nigeria,” attended by Nigerians at home and in the diaspora, concluded that without urgent intervention, a vast majority of a new generation of Nigerians may be lost without a fighting chance.  Nigeria could then find herself without the manpower necessary to build a strong nation.

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Describing the staggering predicament, one of the panelists, special adviser to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and former Director-General of Christ Against Drug Abuse Ministry (CADAM), Dr. Dokun Adedeji, warned that the country is becoming a ‘drug nation’ when more than 14 million people were already hooked on illicit drugs, three times more than the global average.

“In five years if we don’t do something, we are not going to have a strong population of young people anymore. We are not going to have good people in authority. We are not going to be able to do anything. If you look at our population, the highest rate of use is between 25 and 39. That age range is the productive sector of any country. If you lose that set of the population, where is the future?”

“Liberia has a population of five million people, Mauritania four million, Guinea Bissau two million and Gambia has two million. The significance is that the number of Nigerians using drugs can make a nation by the virtue of people who use drugs.”

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Other panellists at the event include Dr. Oluwakemi Ademola-Aremu, a human rights activist and Executive Director of Choice Solution Welfare Initiative International (CSWII); and Dr. Ehigiator Adayonfo, an addiction expert at the Department of Mental Health, University of Benin, who is the founder of Fatima De-Addiction non-profit.

Dr. Ademola-Aremu added Nigeria has a huge problem on her hands for which the clock is ticking. “I had the notion that drug addicts were on the streets, but I have discovered that they are right in our homes.”

She said her experience working with the homeless and children in Ibadan revealed that many of those doing drugs are now under-aged, and warned that students in private high schools and universities were exposed to conditions leading to substance abuse without many of their parents being aware or, at times, hiding the reality because of shame.

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“If we are going to fight, we must take it as a combat,” she pointed out, asking Nigerians to tackle the problem head-on because the country is now consuming drug nation.

The panellists agreed that a huge hinderance is the failure to understand that drug abuse is a disease, while socially stigmatizing those who become addicts.

The Adviser to the NDLEA said: “Many of the drug users want to quit. How they got there they do not understand, but the problem is stigma and discrimination. If I leave the drug, what’s next? My parents have disowned me. No more family. I don’t have a job. Who’s going to take me back?”

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“We look at drug users as terrible people. That’s not true. Anyone can use drugs. With the level of ignorance pervading the nation, a lot of people go into drugs without even knowing. All it takes is just one use and you may be hung.”

Dr. Ehigiator Adayonfo took it from there, describing how substance abuse is like any other disease in which anyone can become addicted.

The UNIBEN lecturer and psychiatrist said it is complete ignorance for the society to regard drug addiction as a matter of indiscipline or moral failing, when it is rather a “chronic, relapsing and remitting brain disease.”

“Experts all over the world have studied the matter. The brain of a person who has a substance use disease is different from the brain of a person who does not have the disease. The brain scan before and after using drugs is different. What is a disease? It is something that can change the structure and function of a body part. That is exactly what drugs do. Drugs make neuro-transmitting chemicals available, which can make people happy, have energy or be motivated.”

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Instead of providing treatment for those who have the disease, Dr. Adayonfo stated, stigmatization removes options for those who are ill, leaving in its tract a devastating impact on the sufferer, their families and invariably the society because one of the strongest roots of crime is drugs.

“Not everybody who has used drugs develops a substance use disorder. Some use it and it does not affect them. For this reason, those who develop a disorder to drug must be treated as sufferers because it is not their fault.

“In the same way that people develop diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure, they can have a substance abuse disease. They can no longer stop because the drug has changed the structure of the brain,” he stated.

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Since drug abuse is a disease, he continued, “if we keep talking about it, we will be addressing directly the shame associated with coming down with drug abuse.”

To him, prevention is better but cure is also important. While families, schools, religious institutions, hospitals, the judiciary and the mass media must roll up their sleeves to combat the problem head on, Dr. Ehigiator also called for easily-accessible treatment and the incorporation of substance abuse training in the medical system so that people can seek professional care when they have emotional pain.

Parents and schools should monitor the young, and organize periodic educational programs while providing a supportive environment, with schools and parents forming stronger ties, he recommended, emphasizing that Nigerian schools must now have counselling units and policies against substance use.

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“There is practically no treatment in terms of substance use illnesses. We are grateful because some NGOs, religious bodies and private individuals have set up facilities for treatment.”

Explaining the spread, Dr. Adedeji noted that simple over-the-counter medications and everyday plants and food have become potent drugs because of increased knowledge about chemical composition of substances, advising parents to pay close attention to a new drug ecosystem that abounds in most Nigerian communities.

The NDLEA adviser reasoned that while the major role for social change is with the mass media, the Nigerian press has indulged in excessive focus on sensationalism about arrests and seizures, rather than educating the public to have an understanding of drugs and its potential harm to people.

In her contribution, Dr Ademola-Aremu agreed, pointing out the media has absconded from its institutional responsibility to stem the spread of harmful substances. According to her, CSWII receives calls frequently from parents complaining about billboards and other advertisements that saliently lure young people into a lifestyle that encourages drug abuse.

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She also stressed powerfully that a lot of popular Nigerian musicians must stop glorifying drugs through entertainment. “There must be a level of formal and informal education for parents and children to know that it is not okay to link genius to drug. The media must influence the conversation going on. Information will lead to learning and learning leads to change in behaviour. We need to flood the space to say no to drugs.”

The panellists asked all Nigerians to move from an era in which drug abuse was seen as a taboo or a crime that must attract punishment into a period of understanding that substance abuse is a real problem facing every family – both rich and poor – in which negative labelling is of no value.

“When we do drug tests and screening, what is the purpose. Is it to punish? If we don’t begin to change our attitude away from punitive into rehabilitative and helping, nobody will submit to screening,” Dr. Adedeji explained, strongly concluding: “The time has come to address this. Too many families are in a disarray. Most live together but are apart. Most parents don’t even know anything about their children.”

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Rescue Nigeria group announced that it would now take the campaign against illicit drug use by the young generation into Nigerian communities, and ensure that action takes the place of ignorance.

The People’s Parliament was organized by the Initiative for Good and Informed Citizenship, a civil advocacy group popularly known as Rescue Nigeria, formed to educate and empower Nigerians about social and political issues.

 

This report was based on a press release sent to Nigerian Sketch by Rescue Nigeria.

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