Pharm. Ahmed Yakasai, Immediate Past President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN, was the keynote Speaker during the 38th Annual National Scientific Conference of the Association of Community Pharmacists in Nigeria tagged ACPN Kano 2019. He spoke with CHIOMA UMEHA at the sideline of the conference on the Menace of Drug Abuse in the country. Experts:
How do you feel speaking at the Association of Community Pharmacists in Nigeria (ACPN) Kano 2019 Conference?
I was told to speak on the theme, “Tackling Menace of Drug Abuse in Nigeria: A Disruptive Innovative Approach.” Indeed, this topic is apt and it is a topic that is dear to my heart for the last 36 years as a Pharmacist. As I speak to you right now, a family somewhere in Nigeria may be experiencing financial hardship because one of their daughters is a drug addict. Perhaps, also somewhere a mother’s heart is filled with sadness because her son whom she has invested all her resources to train is now a source of pain due to the influence of substance abuse. Many Nigerians have lost their lives because the criminals who attacked them are under the influence of drugs. My point is, drug abuse is now a menace in Nigeria and its consequences are all around us.
From your perspective, describe challenge of drug abuse in the country?
In 2018, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conducted a national survey in the country stating that in 2017, 10.6 million people abuse cannabis, 4.6 million Nigerians abuse opioids, 2.4 million abuse cough syrup containing codeine, 2.4 million people abuse sedatives ad tranquilizers, 481,000 people abuse ecstasy, 340,000 people abuse solvents and inhalants, 300,00 people abuse prescription inhalants and amphetamines and 92,000 people abuse cocaine.
In other words, we currently have 21,213,000 people who abuse various substances. This confirms the fact that drug abuse is a cankerworm eating really deep into the fabric of the Nigerian society. This also calls for innovative approach towards tackling the menace of drug abuse in Nigeria.
What are the factors responsible for the spate of drug abuse in Nigeria?
Many factors have been identified as responsible for its insurgence. They include dysfunctional family systems in which parents who use drugs do not pay attention to the activities of their children and failure to reprimand them during the initial phase of drug use. There is also the high level of unemployment among the youth population predisposing them to idleness and consequently, crime and drug use to feel good and forget their worries.
Others are ignorance of the deleterious effects of substance abuse particularly in boosting physical activity, sexual gratification and recreational use; peer pressure and the desire to feel among; poverty and the desire to use drugs to achieve a sense of pleasure; poor awareness of the menace and dangers of drug abuse.
There are also poor drug distribution system which allows the sale and peddling of controlled psychoactive drugs by unqualified persons; social media influence which exposes youths to newer trends of substance abuse, promotion of drug abuse thus inspiring curiosity to try using drugs; traditional beliefs about substance use especially alcohol and cigarette which promote early use of psychoactive substances hence breeding more difficult cases of addiction; lack of sufficient rehabilitation facilities to help treat victims of substance use disorders who can serve as counselors with first hand experiences to influence young people to stay away from substances of abuse, among others.
What are the social impacts of drug abuse in our society?
Health problems impair family life and productiveness of employees, diminish the quality of life and may threaten survival. Deaths as a result of drug abuse are a major source of concern. Recent informal estimates are that perhaps 200,000 drug-injecting-related deaths may occur per annum based on the estimated size of the current world population of injecting drug abusers of approximately 5.3 million (United Nations). The highest negative impact of drug abuse is felt in the health and wellbeing of the abuser.
The negative impact of drug abuse is highly felt by the family members and the immediate community of the abuser. Many young people who abuse drugs find it difficult to concentrate on their studies because of the negative impact of drug abuse. However, education is the principal means of preventing drug abuse. In addition to formal education in schools, other settings are important for the contributions they make to informal learning and socialisation.
What are your recommendations for curbing drug abuse in the country?
The menace of drug abuse among Nigerian youths had been shown to be a multifaceted one both in the area of causes and effects. Truly, no one or institution is spared of the consequences of this ugly and fast spreading and evolving trend. It is no doubt cancerous in nature and all hands must be on deck to arrest it by addressing the very fueling factors of this menace. Curbing Drug abuse particularly among Nigerian youths requires the efforts of the youths, their families, government, religious and traditional institutions, and regulatory agencies, non-governmental and other corporate organisations.
The youths should avoid taking drugs for recreational purposes and/or without the prescription of a trained healthcare provider and taking drugs from friends or exposing themselves to places or conditions where they can be drugged such as accepting opened drinks from casual friends and strange persons.
They should appreciate the value of hard work and practice as prerequisites for perfection and success rather than using drugs to achieve euphoria and inspiration. Most musical arts today live on drugs to put up dramatic stage performances and only a matter of time they eclipse from public scenes battling drug addiction or being incarcerated for crimes committed under the influence of drugs.
Youths should avoid resorting to drug abuse in order to feel good in times of emotional distress as drugs do not solve any problems but only temporarily makes them forget their pain causing damages in the body which linger even after the problem has been solved. Hence it is more profitable to speak to a trusted superior or a professional counselor at times of emotional difficulty.
They should discover their innate potentials, talents and special skills, develop desirable skills; acquire education or some other training so as to always stay busy, productive and useful to self, family and friends. By towing this line, there will be less time to indulge in drugs and associate with unproductive people.
Parents and family members also have a role to play. They must seek to know the behavioural changes, symptoms associated with and consequences of substance abuse and be vigilant to these so as to detect early when their wards, children and/or family members are abusing drugs and provide help promptly.
Family members should avoid stigmatizing other members of the family who have problems with drug use or some form of challenge or the other. Many times this can cause the affected persons to feel less of them and resort to the abuse of drugs in order to derive pleasure for themselves. It is also very pertinent that drug use is detected and help sought promptly other than covering up the menace in order to save face. The practice of giving alcohol to little children to ‘make them strong and tough’ only predisposes them to severe cases of addiction in the future.
Families must be a harbour of love and understanding. Parents have a duty to show love to their children and wards, correcting them fairly with love, avoiding curses and violence. Parents must ensure open communication for thoughts and feelings with their children so as to know the difficulties of growing up which their children encounter and proffer solutions on time. Parents have a duty to be good examples to their children.
What role should government play in this?
Government should address unemployment and poverty! It has been established that unemployment of the youths which is at an alarming level is a frustrating experience which inspires indulgence into drug use. Government can help reduce the menace of substance abuse by putting in place measures and ensuring favourable business climes for the teeming population of youths to be engaged in meaningful work and have less time and motivation for drug use.
Government can do a lot to discourage drug use by punishing peddlers and unlicensed dispensers of controlled substances; avoid dispensing free cash to persons who have nothing doing. It should develop and enforce laws and policies to frustrate the activities of drug traffickers, availability and cultivation of illicit drugs in the states and all over the country. This can also be done by placing huge taxes on alcohol beverages, tobacco and bans on sales or use of illicit substances.
Government must ensure that law enforcement agents like National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Police, and Judiciary are provided with adequate tools to work and rewarded for the good work they do. Punitive measures on drug users should be de-emphasised while appropriate laws to combat illicit access and use be promulgated and implemented.