For some, it was peer pressure and poverty. For others, it was out of sheer curiosity. But Ngozi’s (surname withheld) relapse into drug addiction which lasted for five years was due to something every woman craves for—marriage.
Barely 24 hours after her wedding, Ngozi, a nurse, and social media influencer began to experience physical abuse from the man with whom she exchanged marital vows.
Her husband started beating and verbally assaulting her after rumours spread that she was incapable of conceiving and did not stop even after she later conceived.
Coupled with her inability to land a job due to her sickle cell status, Ngozi, also a freelance writer, sank into depression and as the abuse persisted with a lot of pains, she sought “companionship and friendship” from a narcotic known as pentazocine.
“Pentazocine was my best friend, my companion, my inspiration. It consumes my money, my parents’ money but I loved it…I used it in treating pains, from there, I used it as my comforter. From injecting ten bottles a day to one box which was sold N6, 000.
“I started with 2ml syringe to 5ml syringe then to 10 ml syringe. I injected from my buttocks to laps from there to my hands intravenously,” she recounts her addiction days.
Pentazocine is an opioid pain medication. It belongs to the group of medicines called narcotic analgesics. It acts on the central nervous system (CNS) and is used to treat moderate to severe pain in adults and children who are at least 12 years old.
Findings reveal that when a narcotic medicine is used for a long time, it may become habit-forming, causing mental or physical dependence.
Medics warn that pentazocine can slow or stop your breathing, and its misuse can cause addiction, overdose, or death, especially in a child or other person using the medicine without a prescription.
In addition, using the medication during pregnancy may cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms in the newborn.
But conversely, Ngozi got the injection cheaply and easily for five and a half years of addiction from a pharmacist in Anambra with the aid of her father who gave her N12, 000 weekly, and her mother who contributed N100, 000 weekly as well for supplies.
The ugly stats
Although Ngozi, who started substance abuse while in her twenties, has survived drug addiction, she epitomizes the millions of Nigerians who were and are currently hooked on one psychoactive substance or another, and also underscores the need for swift action to curb the menace.
In Nigeria, one in seven persons aged 15 to 64 years had used a drug (other than tobacco and alcohol) in the past year. The past year prevalence of any drug use is estimated at 14.4 percent (range 14.0 percent to 14.8 percent), corresponding to 14.3 million people aged 15 to 64 years who had used a psychoactive substance in the past year for non-medical purposes, according to data obtained from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Cannabis is the most commonly used drug. This journalist bought weed for as low as N50 and another known as ‘SK’ for N100, meaning that anyone can have access to cannabis easily. This also means that the problem will likely persist.
An estimated 10.8 percent of the population or 10.6 million people, had used cannabis in the past year. The average age of initiation of cannabis use among the general population was 19 years, NBS noted.
NBS also reported that an estimated 4.7 percent of the population, that is, 4.6 million people had used opioids such as tramadol, codeine, or morphine, for non-medical purposes in the past year.
Odunayo said addressing problems resulting from the abuse of drugs requires a holistic approach which involves a strategic collaboration of the arms of government, ministries, and agencies of health, educational, religious institutions and parental involvement.
“A policy approach should also be adopted. Where the drug laws are reviewed to enable the judiciary to apply penalties that are commensurate to the offences. Other approaches include the provision of more rehabilitation centres. Sustaining interventions that are preventive in nature will go a long way to address the situation as well creating awareness of the menace at every opportunity,” she adds, on the way forward.
Ngozi told Businessday that she has lived without drugs for six years [‘miraculously’]. Having been sober for that long with scars covered up in tattoos as evidence, her message now is simple:
“Drug abuse should be stopped. It kills faster than anything. The doctors showed [me] pictures of previous doctors who never made it alive. God rescued me and he can rescue you. Go to rehab and be free from addiction if you are into it. If you are not please don’t even take paracetamol without your doctor’s prescription.”