The Importance of Youth
It is often said that the youths are the future of the nation – any nation.
In a ‘young’ population such as Nigeria, the youths under twenty constitute more than 40% of the population. If you take the bar up to the age of 29 years, we have over 55% of the population falling into that category.
The issue of Drugs
A drug is, of course any substance, which, when taken into the body through any route, affects the functioning of the body in some way.
Our area of concern in this discussion is about Drugs of Abuse.
The latest professional descriptions and categorisations of the various problems that human beings have with drugs of abuse seek to standardize the language that is used in describing the various conditions, so that clinicians, researchers and stakeholders all over the world use the same language when they are describing the same phenomena.
‘Substance Misuse’ is the term that is used now to describe the use of a substance by an individual for any purpose other than its prescribed medical usage.
Broad History of Substance Misuse in Nigeria
Alcohol – has been traditionally part of the social behavior and even religious rituals. Often in the form of palm wine or local gin. There are stories and mentions in literature of people who perpetually drank a lot and were seen to behave abnormally when intoxicated. They were often pariah in society, meaning that the mainstream of society, even while it recognized that a little alcohol may be drunk at appropriate occasions, from at any display of ‘alcoholism’.
Tobacco: traditional, in certain parts of Nigeria, the use of tobacco, in the form of snuff and occasionally smoked in a pipe was common, especially among older people, male and female. It was only occasional social usage that was not associated with any form of tolerance or dependence, physical or psychological.
Cigarettes: usage came in with the colonial experience. Actively marketed, and pitched at all sizes of pocket, rich or poor. Became a common habit socially. Many people developed psychological dependence on Nicotine.
Kolanuts: these contain a mild stimulant and formed part of social and religious rituals. There was no significant tendency to tolerance or addiction.
Although – contrary to Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s version of history, the Cannabis plant is not indigenous to Nigeria, it has been locally grown and in use for a hundred or more years. The main countries of production are Afghanistan, China, Columbia, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Canada, Thailand, Paraguay, and USA, among others.
Long ago it was used in traditional and herbal medicine for various reasons, including pain management and the treatment of intestinal diseases.
Social use and misuse crept in and by the time of Independence, it was the most common drug of abuse.
Analgesics, sleeping tablets, other prescription medicines: occasionally, traditionally, people used to take medications in these categories casually and without a clear medical indication. While some people suffered medical consequences, such as liver or kidney damage, only a few people went on to develop dependence eg to benzodiazepines.
The current picture
The United nations, through its various agencies, especially the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) has been tracking the growth, trafficking and use of various drugs of abuse world-wide for several years now. This approach is necessitated by the fact that most drugs that are abused are not locally produced at the point of abuse and are not usually legally transported there. (An exception to this rule is the recent Codeine-misuse ‘epidemic’ that was widely reported in the press. We will come to it as we go along.)
Global Estimates: (United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime -UNODC)
Number of Users Prevalence
- 177 million 3.8%
- Opoids 33 million. 7%
- 16.3 million 0.35%
- 17.24 million 0.37%
- Amphetamine Type Substances (ATS)
34.4 million 0.7%
- ‘Ecstasy’. 18.75%. 0.4%
Men more commonly abuse drugs than women.
Many drugs users – recreational as well as regular users, abuse more than one drug at the same time.
Drug Related Deaths: it is estimated that 183,000 drug users died in 2012 as a direct or indirect result of their drug use (40.0 deaths per million persons aged 15-64 years)
The Nigerian Picture
The long-lingering problem of drug misuse has over recent years acquired alarming proportions in Nigeria.
This has been mostly due to the boom in the availability and use of Cannabis and Cannabinoids, as well as increasing use of Opiates, Opoids, and other narcotics substances.
The Lagos State Mental Health Survey
In 2015 a Mental Health Survey was carried out among the adult population (18years and above) across the whole of Lagos State.
The Information that emerged included the following:
2.8% of the population were showing evidence of Psychoactive substance use disorders – mostly cannabis, but also including other substances (cocaine, heroin, crack, codeine etc)
7.8% were showing evidence of Alcohol Use Disorder (harmful use of alcohol)
This is obviously an alarming figure.
However, if a younger school age population is survey (ie 14-18 years) it is possible that an even larger percentage of current or past users of cannabis will be discovered.
Looking at the whole of Nigeria, the following information is useful to our discussion:
A National Drug Use Survey was carried out 2016-2017 by UNODOC (United Nations Office on Drug and Crime) and Fed Min of Health. The results will be out in 2018, but the figures are likely to be alarming, especially with respect to the youth and certain regions of Nigeria.
Among patients who were admitted to hospitals and other treatment facilities for Opoid use in Nigeria recently, 69% were on Tramadol and 21% on Codeine
According to an authority on the subject (Williams (2016)) over 6 million bottles of codeine are sold daily in the North West region of Nigeria, as we speak.
According to the NDLEA (2010), over 11% of people in the North West use drugs.
Everyone present will remember the recent noise in the press about the BBC documentary that showed the high rate of circulation and use of Codeine-containing substances especially in the North of Nigeria.
From the figure shown above, another Opoid named Tramadol, which is a medication used for treating severe pain in hospitals, is even more popular and more frequently abused than Codeine.
We need to ask the following questions from this point on, and they will. Constitute our focus till the end of this discussion?
Where are we at this moment?
How did we get here?
What is being done? (Treatment facilities and approaches, Support Groups, Demand Reduction, Interdiction, Appropriate(?) Legislation)
What more could we be doing?
How can we prevent this, in our children, and in our society?
Is there a role for the Church and other religious bodies in this struggle?
What does the future hold?
Where are we?
A significant percentage of our population regularly indulge in substance misuse. Age of first entry in Nigeria is 10-29 years.
Substancesused and their effects:
Alcohol – a CNS depressant. Approved for social use in moderation. Leads to intoxication. Over time damages body organs, especially liver and nervous system. Often associated with high rate of road traffic accidents.
Tobacco:deliberate push by multinational producers such as BAT to push into the Nigerian market and recruit young users. Advertisement and sponsorships banned in Europe and America. Do sponsorships here targeting youth events. Addiction to nicotine, which stimulates brain but relaxes muscles. Associated with various cancers.
Cannabis:widespread abuse, increasing among school age youths, and also in motor-park culture. Associated also with criminal subculture. A subtle stimulant. Increases appetite. May increase sex drive and musical appreciation. Being increasingly liberalized in Western world. Definite association with Mental Disorder.
Opoids and Opiates: a rapidly increasing craze, especially in Northern Nigeria. Codeine and Tramadol: Popular among women, including those in purdah. Strong socio-cultural component, which is not being acknowledged because of religious and cultural sensitivities.
Also being popularized locally by musicians, especially ‘Olumide’ (sings about ‘mixing chemicals’)
Heroin: started as a ‘transit’ drug. Now has substantial local consumption
The drugs are in the category of ‘hard’ drugs whose circulation should be severely restricted.
Lead to a pleasant state of dullness. May cause constipation, stupor, death.
Withdrawal symptoms (‘jonesing’) involve stomach cramps, body pains, metabolic derangement, sometimes convulsions and death.
Amphetamines and similar substances (‘ALT’) and ‘designer drugs’ – increasingly popular among the youths, in school and on the party circuit. Local underground labs emerging.
Give a sense of ‘high’. May sometimes be unpleasant.
Cocaine: another ‘hard’ drug. Short lasting effect. ‘Stimulates’ brain. May lead to Psychotic illness.
Sniffing effluent from latrines
Other bizarre substances eg lizards droppings
- Short lasting ‘high’. May lead to brain damage.
How did we get here?
Through diminished quality of teaching, school, teacher and parental supervision. General anomy in society.
What is being done?
For the ‘hard drugs’ and Cannabis, NDLEA set up to carry out Interdiction and Demand Reduction. Only partially successful in Interdiction. No effect on demand reduction because lacking in correct skills and unable to create the right stakeholder partnerships.
There are a number of government owned and private treatment facilities. Treatment is expensive, long-lasting, sometimes frustrating due to high rate of relapse.
Support groups: a relatively recent addition. Good prospects.
Some of the facilities are owned by religious bodies (not including Methodist Church!)
How Can We Help In This Fight
As a Church
As civil society stakeholders
Information and Advocacy are key. Youths must not only be preached at, but must be supplied with the appropriate model.
Influential figures in youth culture (such as DavidO, WhizKid) need to be recruited into the struggle, because they are the only people the youths listen to.
Is there a role for the Church and other Religious bodies?
Certainly. As already mentioned, some of the existing treatment facilities are run (some free of charge) by churches. That is a challenge for the Methodist Church.
Building positive youths, through drug-free clubs in schools and neighborhoods, arranging positive youth activities such as sports, concerts, competitions etc engage the energy of youth and provide them with an alternative to a life of drugs.
What does the future hold?
The future is what we make of it.
We must continue to seek the face of God to intervene in our society, but we must also do our own bring to reduce bad things (such as drug abuse) and make good things happen (happy youth, engaging in plentifully available positive activities.)