“If God made ‘weed’ grow naturally, then how can it be bad?”

‘High’, a contemporary play that spotlighted the menace of substance abuse many Nigerian families encounter, showed at the MUSON Centre, Lagos in mid-April achieved critical acclaim and media airplay. In the play, a group of childhood teenage \friends on holiday from boarding schools have their lives, as well as the lives of their parents and families, dramatically upturned when one of them suffers a drug overdose.

The play was supported by the MTN Foundation as part of its Arts and Culture Cause and in furtherance of efforts to spark a wider conversation around Nigeria’s growing substance abuse problem – highlighted by its Anti-Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) campaign which it launched in December.

For those who attended the production, there were many thought-provoking moments and quotes, including the five quotes reproduced below.

“I like the ‘S’ on your chest”

We start with this hastily, indeliberate comment on Lami’s Superman designed T-shirt post by Kayode because it changed his life forever.

He is teased by his friends online and offline and is pressured into ‘drinking-up-to-man-up’ so that he can profess his never-ending love for Lami who is convinced by Maimuna (Ryan’s sometimes side-chick) that Kayode considers her as just a friend. He unknowingly gets drugged by Ryan and is hospitalised for a codeine overdose, embarrassing his dad in front of his professor friend in the process.

Kayode’s mom gets slapped accidentally by his father as a result, an act which according to his sister Ronke “has never happened.” The overdose eventually destroys his family and Kayode ends up in a rehab centre.

I was so high… it felt so good, I became less depressed…

Did you know that you can be described as a junkie if you are abusing prescription painkillers?

Mrs Cole (a new member of the rehab family who is addicted to prescription painkillers after a difficult childbirth) got her newborn baby burnt to death because she was high on prescription drugs that seemingly made her “feel so good and less depressed.”

Codeine, a prescription (as well as an over-the-counter) drug for cough, is one of the country’s most abused substances.

If God made weed grow naturally, then how can it be bad?

Peer pressure lands Kayode in the rehab home in the first place, for something he knew nothing about, but later got involved in after meeting ‘Slow’ (His given name is Richard, a philosophical inmate who pretends to be an understudy actor playing different roles in the rehab centre).

‘Slow’ convinces him that “love is like drugs and if you’ve never been high before, then you’ve never loved because a shish opens the third eye...” He reasons with Kayode that “If God made weed grow naturally, then how can it be bad?”

The need to curry or remain in the favour of friends, loved ones and admirers has been shown to be a primary path to a life of substance dependence for a lot of people.

Remember what I promised your father…

Parents should show greater responsibility in limiting the amount of pressure they place on their kids. For example, in the play, Mrs Johnson makes use of emotional blackmail to coarse her daughter, Lami into seating for countless scholarship examinations. This makes her give in to the pressure of taking a ‘catalyst’ (from Ryan) to aid her studying and not disappointing her deceased father.

Your father is right, it is for the good of this family…

Rehabilitation is not a disease. The significant others of substance abusers should help victims go through their recovery process, no matter how slow their progress is. Do not be ashamed of them, visit them and show them love.

If Mr and Mrs Balogun had gone to check up on their son, Kayode instead of lying to all his friends that “he’s with a relative in Ibadan” and being ashamed because of what the society would think or say, Kayode would not have been more entangled in drugs. It took one family member, his sister Ronke Balogun, to speak sense to their parents.

As with many tough situations in life, it takes a voice and a firm stand to make a real difference. MTN Foundation and a consortium of stakeholders are already working, through the Anti-Substance Abuse Programme (ASAP), to increase awareness on the state of substance abuse in Nigeria.

For more information about substance abuse in Nigeria and what the MTN Foundation is doing about it, please visit www.asapmtnf.com for more information.