How substance abuse is destroying the lives of an entire generation of Nigerians

A man whose child was admitted into a psychiatric facility was downcast and lamented how he had been struggling to provide the best opportunities for the child. His psychopathic child was admitted after a long period of addiction to illicit drugs and the man has being trying all he can to salvage the situation. This father is not alone in this sort of situation as many parents today have the added challenge of saving their children or child from drug addiction and abuse that has taken an epidemics proportion.

In a research published in Journal of Biology, Agriculture and Health in 2014, Hamisu Mamman, Ahmad Tajuddin, PhD and Lim Hooi Liam, PhD, discovered that drug abuse and addiction was more prevalent in northern Nigeria. Professor Nelson Ochekpe, a professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the University of Jos while delivering lecture at a sensitisation lecture on eradication of vices by students of higher institutions, stated that research findings showed that 60% of substance abuse occurs in north. Sadly, in all these, youths below 35 years are mostly affected.

In their quest to get high they are hooked to marijuana, codeine, tramadol, amphetamine, heroine, glue, rohypnol and other psychotropic substances. As for illicit drugs, there is always one for anyone depending on one’s financial and social standing. This is one of the major reasons this problem has become widespread. Youths from various backgrounds resort to the use of drugs for various reasons and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) documentary which exposed the dire drug problem was impactful because of the international dimension. But for people living in Nigeria especially the northern states, nothing was new since they have witnessed the exponential rise and spread of this problem over time.

Youth of different financial, social and cultural backgrounds often congregate at various points known for drug dealings and consumptions and do their things very much unhindered. At one points, they virtually took over most recreation parks and gardens in Abuja. Some make public show of it as though it is status conferral. Yes, it might confer on one the status of psychiatric patient. Various medical, psychological and sociological reasons or theories have been adduced as to why people live a life of addiction.

Those from rich and influential parentage usually fell into the drug trap due mainly to peer influence and just to get high – recreational use. The other group of deprived frustrated youth of poor or broken family backgrounds cling to the alibi of hardship and hopelessness. In this, the rich barons become the factors of supply, the spoilt rich, deprived and frustrated poor youth become the factor of demand while poor parental upbringing, strong peer pressure and rot in the educational system become mediators in this mission of self-destruction.

All over the world, illicit drugs are known to fuel crime. Troops fighting the insurgents in North East have been recovering large quantities of assorted psychotropic substances. Just like bandits, kidnappers, cultists and armed robbers are known to use them to be able to perpetuate the kind of beastly and heinous crimes that are fast becoming a daily occurrence. One kidnapper in Ondo State was reported to have gone into coma during an operation due to an overdose of tramadol and Police said that he died on the ninth day despite all efforts to save him.

Nigeria as a developing nation still battles with the lack of basic medical and health care facilities as such the state of mental health care is better imagined. Psychiatric patients that find themselves in the few poorly equipped and manned psychiatric facilities are just lucky and must thank their God. And usually such patients are of rich and influential family background. Many others are shackled away at home, in traditional healers or spiritualists enclaves in pitiable conditions. The rest roam about posing dangers to the entire population.

The challenge of tackling this menace is enormous and a systematic and holistic approach is most suitable because there is no quick fix. The total ban and crack down on manufacture and sale of pharmaceutical preparation with codeine as an active ingredient by the government is a step in the right direction. However, this alone will not solve the problem the same way that smoking of marijuana have almost replaced cigarette among the youth in spite of the fact that it has been an illicit drug that the law prescribes stiff penalties for its possession.

It has been established that Nigeria has one of the highest number of out -of-school children in the world and devising a sustainable means of getting these children out of the street back to school will be a bold step in tackling the problem. The Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II in a speech to mark the International Youth Day and graduation ceremony at Katsina Vocational Training Centre regretted that politicians in the north have been playing on religion, using it for campaigns while paying little attention to solving the problems in health and educational sectors. This problem, the Emir noted, was responsible for the underdevelopment in many states in the north. Moreover, stabilising children at the family level and during their formative years need to be at the fore front of any solution. It is here that the authorities need to weld the big stick to force parents to be alive to their basic responsibilities.

The political class and opinion leaders must show good example and leadership. The practice of exploiting the youth for anti-social behaviours bordering on violence and criminality for selfish interest of highly placed individuals in our society must be stopped. This sort of action has become a ‘mentoring’ ground for the youth and those already caught in this sordid web. This is very unfortunate as those ‘elites’ that the youth turn to for directions have now become a source of the youth’s ruination.

It is important that traditional rulers, religious leaders and opinion leaders partner with governmental agencies to speak out and tackle those practices and conditions that predisposes the youth to drug addiction. As a developing nation, the country cannot afford to lose her youths to drug because when the population that is supposed to be the driving force in society and nation building are hooked to drug, the nation is doomed. We have already started reaping the reverberation in form of deadly violent crimes, cultism and inexplicable mass killings. However, Nigeria has the capacity to overcome her problems.