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Saving Nigerian youths from the scourge of drugs

Neither oil nor agriculture is the greatest asset of Nigeria. Oil, for instance, a non-renewable commodity vulnerable to vagaries beyond anyone’s control, throws the economy into a miserable state when prices plunge. Agriculture, a major focus of the Buhari administration diversification plan is nothing compared to the bulging youth population. Yes, the youth are the leaders of tomorrow, but a future threatened by drug abuse is gloomy. Youth are vulnerable to vices that may make many the miscreants of tomorrow; hence, the need to save our youths from the scourge of drugs.

One of such vices is drug or substance abuse. While the COVID-19 pandemic has remained at the forefront of discussions, we recognise that substance abuse is still a significant adversary in the health and empowerment of youths, and the fight against illicit drug use, is equally necessary, and just as urgent.

The world has lost great potentials – some known, some unknown – to the excessive use of substances. Whitney Houston, more lovingly referred to as “The Voice” was found dead in her bath at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on the eve of the Grammy Awards after a cocaine overdose. She was just 48 years old. Her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, just 22, died a few months later while in hospice care. She too was found unresponsive in a bathtub in her Georgia home after a drug overdose.

Recently, Majek Fashek, Nigerian reggae legend, died in his sleep in New York City. He was 57 and was battling oesophageal cancer, while also known to be suffering from drug addiction. In our neighbourhoods also, we hear of death cases from drug abuse.

Drugs such as tramadol, legally and legitimately prescribed by doctors for pain relief, are abused by millions in search of a fix or a release from poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunity.

According to a survey in 2018 by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse (CRISA) with technical support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the prevalence of any drug use in Nigeria is estimated at 14.4 percent , corresponding to 14.3 million people aged 15-64 years who had used a psychoactive substance in the past year for non-medical purposes. The highest levels of drug use were among those aged 25-39 years which we can regard as youths.

Also, up to 67 percent of adolescents in urban Nigeria have used substances. Factors including experimental curiosity, peer pressure, poor socio-economic conditions at homes and the need for extra energy for daily activities have been identified as contributors to illicit drug use. These are precursors that are being magnified by COVID-19, with an increasing number of the Nigerian youth at risk of turning to substance abuse.

In a world drug report by the UNODC in 2019, people worldwide who had used opioids – a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant – had surged by 56 percent and this was attributed to improved knowledge of the extent of drug use from new surveys conducted in two highly populated countries, namely India and Nigeria.

Millennials – people born in the 1980s, 1990s or early 2000s – the architects of the Nigerian future are full of adventure and willing to try new things, however, this same fearless adventurism makes them the perfect target for hard drug experimentation and eventual dependency. Aggravating the situation are the manners and genres of music that influence the young, and have a negative effect on their behaviour, schoolwork, social interactions, and mood. Music lyrics that glorify drugs, sex, and violence have become the order of the day.

The perceptions and effects of music-video messages are important as exposure to violence, sexual messages and stereotypes, and use of substances of abuse in music videos might produce significant changes in behaviours and attitudes of young viewers.

The low investment in treatment and care for people with drug use disorders complicates matters for those carried away by this perception.

Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between drug addiction, rape and crime. Combating drug addiction and trafficking in Nigeria is a good first step to ending the menace of rapes and crimes in the country.

Preventive measures such as awareness and advocacy programmes can go a long way to stem the tide. We thus commend the initiatives of the MTN Foundation to contribute to the reduction in use of narcotic substances in persons aged 10-25. It is apt that the Foundation with its focus on youth empowerment and the achievement of the UN sustainable development goal three: good health and wellbeing, should be at the helm and is bringing attention to the importance of Better knowledge for better care, the theme of the UN’s International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit.

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