By Nelson Aluya

The advancement in human development is no doubt intertwined with progress in social and technological advancement which inevitably resulted in increasing number of societal ills that has become a global health and social problem. The conceivable notion that the world has become a global village propelled by the advent of the internet, as well as the ever-present and compelling social media usage, has unfortunately led to increased access to information in the purchase, trade and use of illicit and prescription drugs use resulting in the epidemic of drug addiction

Drug addiction has become one of the most pervasive ills of our modern society. It is the compulsive, excessive, and self-damaging use of habit-forming drugs or substances, leading to addiction or dependence and serious physiological injury.

Drug addiction and overdose have become a global socio-political problem with severe economic implication as well. It is also fast becoming a topic at dinner tables in most enlightened homes especially in the developed world as well as of parents in developing countries beginning to pay close attention. According to a 2017 World Drug Report, there are 29.5 million people globally suffer from drug use disorders with opioid is considered the most harmful drug use disorders, including dependence. In a landmark UN General Assembly special session resolution on the world drug problem, containing more than 100 concrete recommendations to reduce demand and supply, opioid dependence was considered the as most harmful accounting for 70 percent of the adverse health impact associated with drug use disorders worldwide.

Yury Fedotov, the United Nation Office of Drug and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director lamented that “there is much work to be done to confront the much harm inflicted by drugs to health, development, peace and security, in all regions of the world”.

It is a noteworthy fact that illicit drug trafficking, use and addiction constitute a significant share of the global burden of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C especially with those who are intravenous drug users. There is also a strong causal association between drug trafficking, drug addiction and increasing trends of violent crimes and now even terrorism.

It is imperative that the global problematic drug epidemic like diabetes should be recognized in all countries of the African continent as well and primarily in Nigeria as an epidemic and a national emergency. It is a plague that is yet in its early stages in our society that even most advanced nations of the world are still grappling with but have hardly made any decent impact in its control despite their huge resources and time spent on enforcement, awareness and rehabilitation.

The surge in the United States even amongst the demographics initially thought immune calls for a huge cause for concern. While It is still an evolving event that the rest of the world should pay close attention to. It would not be surprising to see the uncanny similarities of the comparative schematic graphs of the rise in violent crimes, mental health with rising drug addiction rate. It is often a common saying in the United States that as California goes so the rest of America goes and when America ‘sneezes’ the rest of the world catches a cold. The world watched as California went with its drug crises and the United States of America now has a fever from the drug epidemic it is now inevitable that the rest of the world especially Africa will go into a coma from it.

Regrettably, most developing countries and especially of those of predominantly black nations still take a lukewarm approach to the clear and present dangers of illicit drug in their home, schools, place of work either because of the societal stigma or out or perilous ignorance, they are refusing to allow it to come to the national consciousness. Majority of its people may yet consider it a private matter that needs to be addressed and dealt with privately or presumptuously amongst the elite. They are neglecting the now pervasive and permeating fact that the very bright seemingly naive girl or boy next door in local high school or college has access to and are using drugs.

It is a particularly disturbing fact is that the Nigeria which most populous black nation on earth and the number one economy in Africa yet to initiate a clear direction and enforcement of its national policy or declaration on illicit drug use and overdose.

Nigeria has a pivotal role to play and should get ahead of the curve to champion this cause for Africa and other black nations to emulate. Africa with a population of 1.216 billion has the fastest growing and youngest population in the world with over 200 million of them between age 15 and 24 (the youth bracket). The current trend indicates that this figure will double by 2045, according to the 2012 African Economic Outlook report prepared by experts from the African Development Bank (AfDB). The top 30 countries with the youngest population in African are Nigeria’s two immediate neighbours in its north. Niger and Chad rank first and third respectively with 56.9 % and 54.6 % of its population reported as being under 18 with Nigeria on number sixteen on the list with 50.4%.

It is expedient that Nigeria with an estimated 190 million people projected to be the third most populated nation on earth by the year 2050 has a reflective assessment of its drug problem and to take successful cues from other countries to formulate as well as enforce policies that are socially, culturally acceptable and sustainable bearing in mind Nigerian’s diverse ethnic and religious inclinations.

There has to be an associative coming together of all stakeholders involved with representatives from all levels of the government, religious leaders, traditional rulers, professional organizations and societies, the economic, social, media policy advocates as well as non-governmental bodies and student body representatives to begin the discussion. It is paramount understand the need for research and development to collect data on the types of drugs, sources and suppliers of these drugs, the demographics of users and those inclined to and are at risk to drug use and addictions. A well-collected data and analysis would serve as the basis for effective resource allocation for efficient crisis management and productive results.

The U.S. government does not track death rates for every drug. However, the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does collect information on many of the more commonly used drugs. The CDC also has a searchable database, called CDC Wonder. Drugs Involved in U.S. Overdose Deaths* – Among the more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2016, the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to fentanyl and fentanyl analogues (synthetic opioids) with over 20,000 overdose deaths. While synthetic and psychedelic drugs are in use in more advanced countries, the epidemic in developing countries like Nigeria is less sophisticated with the average exposure to drug now being between age 15 to 18.with marijuana considered the gateway drug to more potent illicit drug use.

It has been reported that every day, over 500,000 bottles of codeine are consumed by young Nigerians across the country, same with the intake of Tramadol, Rohypnol, Marijuana, and other opioids. It is a frightening alarming trend that has subtly eaten deeply into the fabrics of the Nigerian society involving youths of all social classes. Even more disturbing is the increasing number of girls now involved in this urban menace of drug abuse.

The drug epidemic in Nigeria is a ticking time bomb about to explode with a report of about 46 % of young adults reported to have used drugs at least once in their lifetime. The usual method of intake is via mixing with their beverages, soft drinks and water substances they add to water resulting subculture of wanting to be high for escapism or even sexual enhancement.

In a November 2017 newspaper article report,a University Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Nelson Ochekpe disclosed that recent research suggests that over 60 per cent of substance abuse occurs in Northern Nigeria with Kano State being its major hub with a purported 7 out 10 using drug of frequent basis a similar concern sounded of by Nigeria’s first lady Aisha Buhari that Northern youths, including women, were wasting their lives with drug abuse. She Urged the political and religious leaders in the region to urgently find a solution to the menace.

There have been multiple reports explaining why this upsurge within the last five years all accessed to not particularly different from global report, The ease in communication across hemispheres with the ease and use of social media, social adulation of movie and music stars ,peer pressures, increasing dysfunctional families, devaluation of cultural and religious values, poor social support and unemployment have been the culprits to this menace.

It is undoubtedly enormous task to manage drug abuse in Nigeria. There has to be no ambiguity or duplication of duty but a cohesive collaboration between the NDLEA and other agencies that enforce drug control.

Nigeria needs to take a cue from other nations to formulate policies that are socially acceptable culturally acceptable, easily implemented and sustainable to its national character. The solution to this social menace should begin with, a reckoning and individual responsibility for health concerns.. The discussion should begin at dinner tables. Parents should become more vigilant in the behaviours of their teenage children. It is particularly of importance to involve the school systems, religious and traditional leaders as well as all other stakeholders.

All segments of the government irrespective of political persuasions or bias would have to work to develop a national curriculum as early as at the elementary school level up to the tertiary level about the ills of illicit drug abuse. Develop screening protocols for all healthcare professionals to identify and diagnose those who are a risk. There has to be the creation and investing in speciality training and rehabilitation centres and programs to help stem this epidemic. There is the need for stricter regulations in the procurement and sales of controlled substances. Restricting importation and local manufacturing as well as sales to only designated qualified personnel and centres. No matter how alluring it is to fully engage law enforcement with its attendant punitive measures to satisfy international standards and pressures it suffices to understand that addiction is also a sociomedical problem and the most effective methods of success would be to encourage and educate people about the ills of illicit drug use and addiction. To dissuade its use, embrace the need to seek help, avoid the stigmatization or victimization by the society and law enforcement as well as encourage prompt expert help and care.

Drug addiction is a pervasive disease. When it affects one individual, it affects all of the society.

Dr Aluya. MBBS, MD, Asst. Professor of Medicine at New Jersey Medical School-Rutgers University.

President: New Jersey Medical Association, New Jersey. USA.

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