As the country works to combat drug abuse through the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and other stakeholders, the need to view the problem as a public health issue that must be approached with humanity, rather than merely as a criminal matter, dominated discussion recently as the world observed the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. PAUL ADUNWOKE is a writer.
David Folaranmi, a 2007 economics graduate and former drug addict, is one of Nigeria’s lucky drug survivors.
His first encounter with hard drugs was at his alma mater, Covenant University in Ota, Ogun State, where a couple of his peers utilized the then-unfinished library complex as a binge ground where they experimented with psychotropic narcotics.
Folaranmi, on the other hand, managed to get through university without being addicted and then went to the United Kingdom for a master’s degree in 2010.
“I shared a flat with two Europeans, and I experienced debauchery on another level,” the drug advocate recalled, adding, “Sometimes they will do drugs for weeks without leaving the house.” So I started playing around with mushrooms, MDMA, ketamine, and marijuana. I also did the occasional line of coke. When I arrived in Nigeria for a wedding in August 2011, the true trouble began. My friend (another CU graduate) introduced me to crack cocaine, and so began seven years of chronic addiction. …
I spent all of my money in millions, sold my car, and was instrumental in the selling of my mother’s house in an Abuja estate to help pay my drug usage debts, I was in and out of rehab, but I didn’t get well, and at one point I was living in the bunk (drug houses). I lost three friends to drug overdoses, one of which was a CU graduate. Many who knew me from infancy found this unbelievable because I was born to zealous Christian parents in the winners family, dedicated at a young age by Bishop Oyedepo, began preaching at age 6 and was leading the house cell at age 8.”
“In August of 2017, I attempted suicide by drinking poison and bleach,” he continued. It was a deadly dose, and I had written my suicide note and said my goodbyes in it, but then my younger brother arrived home and saw me frothing from my mouth, gripping my stomach, and then he saw the paper, and he and my mother rushed me to the hospital.”
Unlike most others in his situation, Folaranmi was not only spared stigma, but he was also saved from the jaws of preventable death, loved, nursed back to health, and directed back to normal life by his very kind, loving, and supportive family.
The subject of this year’s International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking World is “People First: Stop Stigma and Discrimination, Strengthen Prevention,” which runs as follows: “People First: Stop Stigma and Discrimination, Strengthen Prevention.”
As Nigeria joined the rest of the globe in commemorating the day last Monday, the fundamental message that experts both inside and outside the country preached was the importance of understanding drug users rather than stigmatizing them.
The theme was also used to raise awareness about the negative impact of stigma and discrimination against drug users and their families; to raise awareness about the AIDS and hepatitis epidemics among drug addicts; to expand and strengthen HIV and hepatitis prevention programs; to promote evidence-based, voluntary services for all people who use drugs; to educate about drug use disorders, available treatments, and the importance of early intervention and support; and to raise awareness about the importance of early intervention and support.
Experts on the subject noted that in order to rid the country of drug usage, the government and other stakeholders must find a means to help those who have been addicted to drugs. They also emphasized the importance of demonstrating empathy to people receiving treatment and rehabilitation, adding that by understanding their predicament, society may rid itself of discrimination against them and assist them in their journey of rehabilitation and reintegration.
In her message, Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), stated that drugs can inflict illness and death, waste years of healthy life, and spread violence, harm, and exploitation.
“Those who are affected by drug use disorders are not the perpetrators of these problems,” she noted. They are the unfortunates.
According to the UNODC’s World Drug Report 2023, the most recent data show that 296 million individuals worldwide use drugs in a single year, with more than 39 million of them suffering from drug use problems.
“On this International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, we are calling for drug responses that are based on empathy, science, and people.”
“People who suffer from drug addiction but are blamed and stigmatized rather than receiving treatment and care.” People who inject drugs are considerably more likely to have HIV, but they confront stigma, prejudice, and treatment hurdles. Instead of providing a road to recovery and rehabilitation, people are imprisoned for minor drug offenses. Instead of being offered alternatives for a sustainable existence, people are penalised for resorting to illegal drug cultivation out of despair. People who continue to endure from agony as a result of unequal access to vital treatments containing restricted chemicals. And people who are denied their rights, dignity, and possibilities in life as a result of drug use or abuse.”
“It is time to stigmatize the illicit drug market, not the people who are harmed by it,” Waly said.
“We need humane responses that reject outdated attitudes and focus on the health and well-being of drug-affected individuals and communities.” As various drug kinds set new production records and the threat of synthetic substances grows, we need targeted law enforcement interventions to prevent drug traffickers from profiting from misery.
To create community resilience, we must invest extensively in prevention, awareness, early intervention, and services. Today, let us join together to combat the global drug issue and put people first.”
In a statement to mark the day, Mr. Femi Babafemi, Director, Media and Advocacy, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), stated that poverty, peer influence, poor parenting, social media, wrong role models, ailments, and the availability of illicit substances are major contributing factors to drug abuse in Nigeria.
He explained that the government has been investigating all available measures for combating drug misuse in the country through the NDLEA.
“The transformation of NDLEA over the last two years demonstrates our government’s commitment to addressing the threat of drug abuse.” In response, the NDLEA implemented a number of efforts to reverse the trend. “We worked on the prevention and treatment aspects, as well as the drug supply reduction aspect,” he explained.
He also stated that the NDLEA has launched an offensive action to reduce drug supply, revealing that the measure has resulted in 30,129 arrests; 6, 252,924KG (6,252 tons) of illicit drugs seized; cash and drugs worth over N525 billion seized; 4,816 offenders successfully prosecuted and convicted; and 22,513 drug users counseled and rehabilitated in the last 28 months.
Babafemi also stated that the NDLEA has established a 24/7 drug abuse call center with a toll-free helpline, 080010203040, for persons in need of assistance and treatment, as well as a War Against Drug Abuse (WADA) campaign to drive Nigeria’s drug use prevention advocacy. He went on to say that the campaign was being carried out at schools and houses of worship, among other areas.
“These and other measures have been enormously successful.” “We have advocated for key legislation and signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with source countries to make easily abused pharmaceutical opioids available only through licit prescription,” he said.
However, Babafemi stated that combating drug misuse was not only the responsibility of the government or the NDLEA.
“We have continued to advocate for a whole-of-society approach that includes every aspect of society, including the family, education, religious institutions, and traditional institutions.” “They must play complementary roles in the NDLEA and government effort to keep the country safe from illicit drugs,” he emphasized.
Babafemi argued that if Nigeria wishes to prevent young people from experimenting with drugs, it should support the development of anti-drug usage groups in primary and secondary schools, similar to the press clubs, dramatic societies, and JETS Club.
“These clubs will provide information and counter-narratives that will neutralise peer influence, which is the usual catalyst for the abuse of illicit substances among young people,” he continued.
He said that the WADA Club has already been dubbed the Drug-Free Club in tertiary institutions.
“When we talk about drug misuse, we usually focus on figures like the number of offenders detained and the amount of narcotics collected. The fundamental issue, however, if we are to eradicate this scourge, is that we must begin an open dialogue about it. We must view it as a public health issue that must be approached with empathy, rather than merely as a criminal concern.”
According to Babafemi, the message that this year’s theme of the celebration is conveying focuses on the fact that many of those addicted to drugs find it difficult to seek treatment because the moment they are identified in society as drug abusers, they become stigmatized and no one wants to be associated with them.
“This mindset makes it difficult for drug users to seek treatment even after they have been completely rehabilitated.” When they seek treatment, they frequently relapse once society begins to treat them with bias. And unless we accept this reality and change our mentality about how we relate to and help persons with drug misuse problems overcome their addiction, we will be going in circles in our quest for a drug-free society,” he said.
Prof. Christianah Mojisola Adeyeye, Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), stated in her statement that the agency has never wavered from its mandate of protecting the nation’s health.
Adeyeye added that drug usage has been a worry for her since taking office, recalling that she was practically running after tramadol during her first two quarters in 2018.
“I recall a BBC documentary about our young children going insane. I was taken aback by how women were dealing with codeine. As a result of the discovery, the agency jumped into action, making numerous arrests and prosecuting the criminals in order to prevent further incidents of the abuse,” she recalled.
Adeyeye noted that excessive and illegal alcohol consumption is a component of drug abuse, and that anyone under the age of 18 should not consume alcohol.
She stated that NAFDAC has been collaborating with other regulatory agencies and stakeholders to ensure that there is no drug abuse in the country, and that the agency has launched programs to educate the public about the hazards of drug misuse, excessive alcohol consumption, and underage drinking.
“In Lagos, we recently rebranded BRT buses to discourage underage drinking.” We want individuals to be aware of the dangers and repercussions of drinking alcohol when they are under the legal drinking age. “Because the BRT buses travel throughout the city, we believe the message will reach people,” she said.
Adeyeye stated that the agency has taken a similar step in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, where it rebranded six BRT buses to educate people about the consequences of drug abuse, and that the campaign is also carried out in schools and National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camps.
According to the NAFDAC DG, excessive alcohol consumption can cause heart attacks, kidney failure, and other health problems that can lead to death if not managed properly.
“Members of society should be health-conscious and follow NAFDAC’s rules and regulations,” she recommended.
Mr. Oluwafemi Silas, Executive Director of Stamp Out Drug Abuse Initiative, a non-governmental organization, stated that the organization was founded on April 25, 2018, with the vision of educating, informing, and enlightening youths and the general public on irrefutable truths about drug abuse.
Silas, a member of the International Society of Substance Use Professionals, stated that the organization also helps drug addicts find treatment and recovery centers.
“We have succeeded in achieving some of our visions over the last four and a half years by organizing seminars, campaigns, workshops, and training in schools, communities, youth organizations, churches, mosques, private and public organizations, among others,” Silas stated.
He stated that the organization has drawn the attention of the government, families, school authorities, communities, religious bodies, and other stakeholders to the growing number of young people who consume and misuse drugs.
According to him, a 2018 survey on drug use in Nigeria conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse (CRISA) found that approximately 14.3 million Nigerians aged 15 to 64 used psychoactive substances for non-medical purposes.
He went on to say that one in every four drug users in Nigeria is a woman, and one in every five people who use heavy drugs has a drug use issue.
“Drug abuse, also known as substance abuse, is the use of certain chemicals to produce pleasurable effects on the brain.” Drug abuse also refers to a habit of drug or alcohol use that frequently interferes with one’s health, work, and social relationships. “The brain is wired to make you want to repeat positive experiences, so you are motivated to do them again and again,” he explained.
He went on to suggest that medications that are potentially addictive target the brain’s reward system, flooding it with a neurotransmitter called dopamine.
“This produces a sensation of intense pleasure, so you keep taking the drug to maintain the high.” We are convinced that all stakeholders involved in the battle against drug abuse and misuse must work together to confront this monster by taking practical preventive measures. In light of the foregoing, we feel the practical solutions outlined below will go a long way toward reducing drug usage in Nigeria,” he stated.
Silas asked the government to clean up the country’s drug distribution system and limit access to harmful pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter medications that could lead to abuse. He also stated that the government should continue to conduct public awareness campaigns through relevant government agencies at the federal, state, and local council levels using print, social, and electronic media.
He also advocated for a reform of drug legislation, stating that the government must ensure that specialists, persons, producers, and carriers who commit drug-related crimes face harsh consequences.
“The government should establish more rehabilitation centers and hire capable staff to assist people with addiction in rehabilitation centers, stimulate the economy to create employment opportunities, particularly for the country’s most vulnerable teenagers and youths.” It should provide educational chances for young people so that they can be productive rather than idle. It should empower key agencies such as NDLEA, NAFDAC, and others by sufficiently paying them and allowing them to carry out their tasks professionally. “The government should also expand, equip, and upgrade the facilities and institutions responsible for treating people with drug use disorders,” Silas added.
Concerning the family’s involvement in combating the problem, he stated that parents must teach their children about drug misuse because charity begins at home.
“Parents should have zero tolerance for drug and alcohol use both inside and outside the home,” he says. They should set a good example by exposing their children to anti-drug programs, movies, and publications. They should keep their children away from programs, films, and publications that promote drug abuse, misuse, and addiction. Parents should be aware of their children’s friends and family history, as this will assist them avoid undesirable company. Do not abandon your responsibilities at home for the sake of the school, church, or mosque. They are merely there to fill out the gaps.”
He also asked parents to encourage their children to participate in activities that are within their areas of interest, talent, and knowledge. “This will keep them busy and reduce idleness and its associated consequences,” he explained.
He also mentioned that community and religious groups play an important role in avoiding drug consumption since they are closer to the people and have a direct influence on those who follow them.
“They should educate and enlighten their members and followers about the societal and individual dangers of drug abuse, misuse, and addiction.” They can also form a team of specialists among their members to counsel persons accused of drug misuse. Furthermore, they should strengthen their counselling departments in churches and mosques by bringing in professionals to help with drug education and other programs that can benefit their members,” he added.
According to Silas, celebrities have a large influence on the lives of most young people. As a result, he suggested that celebrities such as singers, sports players, actors and actresses, and entertainers, among others, join the fight against drug misuse.
“They can organize, participate in, and sponsor campaigns opposing the use of hard drugs.” They should also be outstanding leaders who avoid everything related to the distribution, trading, or use of hard narcotics so that their audiences may easily understand their messages and prevent drug usage,” he recommended.
He stated that individuals could help to reduce drug abuse by reading about and understanding the negative effects of using hard drugs, associating with the right people, learning to deal with peer pressure rather than resorting to hard drugs, and seeking professional help to overcome hard drug addiction.
Mr. Folaranmi, an advocate against drug misuse, also shared his thoughts on how to end the epidemic. He underlined that the greatest method to halt the menace of drug addiction is by early prevention, which could be accomplished through education, enlightenment, sensitization, and advocacy.
He stated that the government, through the NDLEA, which he defined as the key stakeholder, had done an admirable job in reducing drug demand.
“However, we cannot entrust the government with the entire task.” To combat the scourge of drug usage in our culture, all hands must be on deck. Religious entities, youth groups, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, and cooperating organizations must all work together to keep drug addiction among our youths to a bare minimum, according to Folaranmi.