Tackling rising drug abuse among Nigerian youths

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The recent disclosure that a survey conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that an estimated 10.6 million Nigerians had used cannabis in 2018 has further emphasised how deep-rooted the problem of drug abuse is in Nigeria and why urgent, innovative strategies are needed to tackle this menace that has snowballed into a great health, social and security problem for the nation.

The Country Representative of the United Nations on Drug and Crime (UNODC), Oliver Stolpe, who made the disclosure at a programme organised in Abuja on 26 June to mark the 2019 International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, disclosed that the NBS estimate had come from a survey funded by the European Union, for which the UNODC provided technical support.

The survey, he said, revealed that drug use prevalence in Nigeria stood at 14.4 per cent of the country’s population in the age group of 15 to 64 years. He lamented that the prevalence of drug use in Nigeria is more than the global average of 5.5 per cent and that the use of cannabis and poly-drug has become a common phenomenon in the country, with large numbers of dependent users. He further stressed that a single substance-control approach, such as placing a ban on codeine-containing syrups, cannot yield the desired result in terms of reduced drug use.

Stolpe’s observations and concerns are pertinent and thought-provoking. Although drug abuse has grown to become a matter of global concern, the increasing incidence of this problem in Nigeria, as shown by the NBS survey and similar studies, is indicative of a time-bomb that must be deactivated to avert a national catastrophe. It is thus imperative for the Nigerian government and the entire citizenry to begin to take proactive steps to strengthen actions against drug abuse and create better awareness about illegal drug trade.

Undoubtedly, the increasing incidence of antisocial and security issues, such as armed robbery, kidnapping, terrorism, rape, prostitution and other social maladies that have become pervasive in the country in recent times,  is strongly connected to the way drugs and other substances are being abused. The reason for this is not far-fetched: Criminalities and anti-social behaviours are more likely to come from youths and adults who are addicted to abusing drugs.

Considering that the drug abuse challenge in Nigeria is now not just a health issue but a socio-economic and security problem, there is an urgent need to for all stakeholders to develop a holistic approach that will help ensure that the nation is not merely wasting time dealing with the symptoms of this malaise while the root continues to fester.

The fact that the UNODC decided to theme the 2019 World Drug Day as “Justice for Health, Health for Justice” has further affirmed the imperative of a more unified approach to tackling the drug abuse menace. It signifies that defeating this challenge will require health, justice and social service institutions working together in synergy to provide the needed solutions. Nigeria indeed needs this integrated approach that will ensure that drug abuse is tackled as a health, criminal, economic and social problem.

Fundamental to tackling this menace is promoting awareness on healthy living and ensuring that drugs and all controlled substances are not just available anywhere, anyhow. The Nigerian government must once and for all address the age-long problem of chaotic drug distribution which continues to allow all sorts of charlatans to deal in drugs.

Most importantly, the government must begin to demonstrate that it has the political will to ensure those who break the laws relating to drugs are appropriately and promptly sanctioned to serve as deterrent to others. The time to start is now.

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