Legalization of hard drugs for adult frivolous exploit and for medicinal purposes is, at this time, the subject of much public debate.
In May 2019, Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, and Col. Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah rtd, the chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) travelled all the way to Thailand to learn more about how to grow cannabis.
This has sparked various reactions from different quarters of the country. Whatever the upshot, public health experts are concerned about the increasing abuse of drugs among youngsters, since marijuana use as an adolescent may damage the developing brain, lower IQ, and seriously weaken the ability to drive safely, particularly when combined with alcohol.
Over the past year alone, nearly 15% of the adult population in Nigeria (around 14.3 million people) reported a “considerable level” of use of psychoactive drug substances—it’s a rate much higher than the 2016 global average of 5.6% among adults.
The survey was led by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Center for Research and Information on Substance Abuse with technical support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and funding from the European Union.
It showed the highest levels of drug use was recorded among people aged between 25 to 39, with cannabis being the most widely used drug. Sedatives, heroin, cocaine and the non-medical use of prescription opioids were also noted. The survey excluded the use of tobacco and alcohol.
Youngsters prefer an independent and sovereign life that is free from adult control, thereby engaging in various antisocial acts (drug abuse, rape, stealing, cultism and vandalism) that are perilous to the home, community, school and the country as a whole.
The impact of drug abuse among young people has been a stigma of moral dissipation, brutality, thuggery, physical attack, lunacy and murder. The hazard of drug abuse has eaten deep into the fabrics of the nation.
Since the early times, herbs, leaves and plants have been used to cure and control diseases. The use of drugs in itself does not pose any danger, because drugs correctly administered have been a blessing.
The use and abuse of drugs by teenagers have become one of the most alarming health-related phenomena globally.
Youths, particularly those in secondary school tend to see the drug abuser as one who is tough, bold and strong. Many adolescents have been known to use drugs at the instance of peers, elders or siblings.
Students who typically feel derisory have been known to use drugs to achieve societal acceptance. Some drug addicts become insane, maladjusted to school situations and eventually drop out of school.
Association with drug-abusing peers is often the most instant danger for exposing young people to drug abuse and antisocial behavior, says Adenike Olurin, a medical expert at Yaba Psychiatric Hospital in Lagos.
According to Olurin, other facets, such as drug availability, drug trafficking patterns, and beliefs that drug abuse is generally accepted, are also risks that can sway young people to start to abuse drugs.
“Several youth abuse drugs because they see their friends indulging in the act. And, because they don’t want to be seen as a coward, they follow suit.
“Some teenagers suffer from despair, nervousness, stress-related disorders, and physical pain.
“Using drugs may be an attempt to minimize these feelings of depression. Tension and trauma principally play a major role in starting and continuing drug use as well as returning to drug use for those recuperating from an addiction.”
Expressing her displeasure for drug addicts, Blessing Okogue, a 39-year-old medical doctor says addiction occurs when frequent use of drugs changes how a person’s brain functions over time.
Okogue pointed out that abused drugs interact with the neurochemistry of the brain to produce feelings of pleasure.
“The strength of this ecstasy differs by the type of drug and how it is used.
“We live in a competitive society in which the demands to perform flexibly and academically can be extreme.
“Some youth may turn to certain drugs like prohibited stimulants because they think those substances will enhance or improve their performance.
“Youths of these days smoke Indian herbs to last longer in bed; we have heard of boys using Tramadol to boost their sexual performance. Meanwhile, Tramadol is a pain reliever drug for sickle cell patients.
“Teenagers are often propelled to seek new experiences, especially those they identify as exciting or daring. Inquisitiveness to try out the unknown facts about drugs thus influences people into drug use. The first incident in drug abuse produces a state of excitement such as pleasure and happiness which in turn encourage them to continue”, Okogbue added.
Addicts Have Excuses
In Lagos, Oludairo, a young guy on the streets of Ikeja, shared his story as he held a cup of gin and a wrap of marijuana. According to him, he began smoking at age 12.
“I was in secondary school when I first tasted ‘igbo’, Diaro says, as he inhales and puffs out a white paper containing marijuana.
“At first, I was scared to taste it, but then, my friends encouraged me, saying it will clear my head and make me read and comprehend fast.
“ I tried it, it worked, even though the first and second time was a little bit rough for me.
“Since then, I have not been able to stop it. Instead, I graduated from one form of substance to another.
“ But, It’s cool. I have no regrets.
When asked if he would encourage his children to follow his lifestyle, “I can’t”, he replies almost immediately.
Sipping his ‘shekpe, tall and skinny Dairo noted that although, he knows smoking is harmful to this health, he finds it hard to quit, and will never encourage any of his children to smoke.
In an earlier visit, in 2018, to a psychiatric hospital in one of the southwestern states by this reporter, some inmates were seen secretly taking hard drugs. The drugs, it was gathered, were received through the help of nurses on duty. The inmates, who are still battling with addiction, would secretly keep the substances neatly ‘under their lockers’.
A 29-year-old lady, Adanna, in treatment for heroin and nicotine addiction, believed that addiction was a part of human nature.
“I feel like everybody got addiction; you know what I mean, ‘because they have an addiction to smoking, addiction to going to work, you know, so somebody has an addiction somewhere in them.”
Connecting her experience to a trend she perceived in others, Adanna had developed a sense that her addiction, though problematic and disabling, was not unique to her, but in fact, a common experience along the spectrum of “normal” human behaviour.
Tunde Ayobami, former banker with no stable source of income, in his mid-thirties, shared what he believed to be a strong connection among his mental health, employment, and alcoholism cycles.
“It is anxiety and stress that I was dealing with.
“Alcohol just calmed me down so that I used it as a tool, like self-medication for me.
“I have depression and anxiety and overwhelming problems with employment.
it was very stressful…but it has nothing to do with family or anything…I would quit for a month here and there; I have quit for a couple of weeks here and there. But I always went back when the anxiety and depression set in when I’m dealing with work.
Tunde placed his alcoholism in the flux of cyclic depression and anxiety. He relapsed and remitted upon the tides of his mental health and employment status. A common factor that influenced his drive to drink or empowered his abstinence was the amount of stress in his life:
“I resigned one job due to the stress and then I would start another one and that is the one I’m at now and I enjoy the job, but the increase in work duties just kept piling up where the stress was built up again for me. You know, in this day and age, they try to put as much responsibility as they can on people …I mean management does, basically to cut costs and that hurts the blue-collar people. I mean, and the stress just got worse and that is why I started again. It just kept back and forth, back and forth.”
Tunde described some of the limiting factors that have kept him from straying too far from his equilibrium. One of the most significant influences to curb his drinking and restore balance was his wife.
“My support has always been my wife. She pointed out that if I didn’t quit, she would leave. … There were divorce threats; that is basically it. I just quit, and, you know, just go for a while and then the tension would build up, the stress would build up again and I would go back to it.”
Gboyega Adaramaja, a student in his twenties, described himself as a “chronic relapser” for whom social stress was the trigger for alcohol use.
“I always felt out of place. I always felt like I didn’t fit into my skin. I was so afraid of people and of the world and I had horrible social anxiety and all I ever really wanted was to like, be a part of something, to have friends and to be comfortable with people, and I couldn’t do it sober. And when I had my first drink it was like, Wow, this is what I’ve been looking for all of my life!
Editor’s Note: Changes have been made to some of the names in this story; the affected ones pleaded anonymity. The name of the psychiatric hospital where inmates were seen taking narcotics will not be disclosed.