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Drugs and Substance Abuse: Nigerians Should Stop Living in Denial –Pharm. Clara Anyanwu

In a report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime pertaining to Drug Use in Nigeria 2018, it states that an estimated 14.4 per cent (range 14 per cent – 14.8 per cent) of the population, or 14.3 million people between 15 and 64 years of age had used drugs, excluding alcohol and tobacco, in 2017.

The report which was jointly singed by the Federal Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac F. Adewole, and Dr. Yemi Kale, Statistician-General of the Federation states that: “This estimate includes people who had used a drug at least once in the past 12 months as well high-risk drug users. The estimates have been adjusted to account for individuals who had used more than one drug, in other words “any drug use” counts individuals only once even if they had used multiple substances in the past year.”

The report also says that, “Cannabis was the most widely used substance in the past year in Nigeria, followed by pharmaceutical opioids (mainly tramadol, and to a lesser extent codeine or morphine) and cough syrups containing codeine or dextromethorphan. The information presented on the extent of use of prescription drugs such as pharmaceutical opioids, tranquilisers/sedatives and amphetamine refers to their use without the advice of a doctor and for reasons other than medical. High-risk drug users were estimated to account for 0.4 per cent of the population (approximately 376,000 people) – nearly 90 per cent of these are opioid users.”

In a recent media interaction with a coalition of the Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy, the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), NAFDAC, the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN) and numerous other industry and professional stakeholders, the public was alerted of the latest trend adding to the already disturbing situation. The PSN President, Pharm. (Mazi) Sam Ohuabunwa disclosed that in the bid to get high by all means some young people have devised new means such as sniffing pit latrines, glue, soakaway, and even lizard excreter!

While confronting Pharm. (Mrs) Clara Anyanwu, Assistant Director, Drug Demand Reduction Division (DDRD) of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) on the challenges posed by these issues, she lamented the situation whereby Nigerians have simply refused to accept the truth about what is happening around them, taking a swipe at the overly religious nature of the people.

“Our people should stop living in denial. In the course of my work I have discovered that most of our parents live in denial. It is not enough to say you are following Christ as Christians,” she said. She stressed that the people that claim to be following Christ may not really be following Christ. Pharm. Anyanwu stated, “The mothers of some of these youths who go to religious programmes most of the time do not really know what their children and wards are doing there.
“Sometimes they say they are embarking on religious camping. On one of those occasions I was in one of the revival camps and you can’t believe what’s happening around these youths. In this very camp one of the girls was already about 4 months pregnant and the mother (parents) never knew! On another occasion a girl that was pregnant had aborted a year before without the parents knowing!”

But what can parents do in this direction; they seem to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation? But Pharm. Anyanwu does not see it that way. “It is time for parents to start being aware and curious. Talk to your children, listen to them. Be their friend; they will always look up to somebody. As parents you have to play an important role in their life. Your responsibility is not just to bring up the children; you need to be their friends as well. They remain children to you no matter how young or old. And for as long as you’re still alive, you remain their parents until you’re gone.”

She emphasises that parents just cannot shirk their responsibility towards their children and wards. Thus she says, “Parents are accountable to their children. Parents should take child rearing very seriously; as soon as the child is born there is more to the child because the child’s brain is developing. They have issues and they have questions and somebody has to answer them. And for as long as you’re there you have to hear them out and answer their questions, but if you are not there for them someone else will answer them.”

We have now seen that these issues are actually beyond the pharmaceuticals and even socio-cultural. And so there is also the religious angle to it. The question now is: how can we break into the religious organisations to deal with these problems knowing full well that Nigerians are very religious people; what their religious leaders tell them is what they will adhere to? Is NAFDAC for instance, doing anything to try and penetrate these areas so as to inculcate these values into what they are being taught?

The Assistant Director seemed to have her acts all well put together: “For my division, we do visit churches. And before we do that we would have had a chat with the pastors to make them know what we are about. Because it is not enough to preach to them and afterwards they leave you and you don’t know what they are doing. And some of them are actually shocked with what happens because even within their church environment they discover in the course of our teaching that a lot of funny things are happening directly under their noses without their knowing.”

But is it possible to make inroads in some of these places and affect especially the youths whom we know are full of exuberance – unable to stay still, or unwilling to be controlled especially because they easily feel bored or dissatisfied? Anyanwu’s response was in the affirmative. “Yes, we have started penetrating the churches. I discover that many of the churches nowadays are happy to join forces with us to create awareness because they have different groups – youth fellowship as well as the adults, etc.; we take them in different segments. For instance, the way I will talk to the youths is very different from the way I will talk to the parents, and churches are actually coming in and soliciting for such things. We’re doing a great job when it comes to that, and so awareness is very important.”

By Morgan Nwanguma

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