Osinbajo, others raise concern over projected 40% rise in drugs use

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and other stakeholders have expressed concern over the 40 percent projected increase in drug prevalence in Africa by 2030, saying this is “disturbing” for Nigeria being the biggest African country by population.

Speaking at the United Nations international day against drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking, with the theme: “addressing drugs challenges in health and humanitarian crises”, the VP described the problem as “hydra-head”

Industry experts say there is a correlation between drugs and Nigeria’s heightening conflict and instability. This, they argue, is also undermining domestic law enforcement and border controls, making the smuggling of drugs much easier.

Osinbajo, who linked the inability of the Federal Government to effectively tackle terrorism to the prevalence of drug use, said “studies have shown that after controlling for armed groups and individual-level variables, drug intake and alcohol consumption sharply increase violent actions perpetrated during conflicts.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report had indicated that drug use was responsible for the death of almost half a million people in 2019, while drug use disorders resulted in the loss of 18 million others

The 2018 national drug use survey also revealed that Nigeria at the time had about 14.3 million drug users, of which close to 3 million suffer from drug use disorder.

This figure represents a 14.4 percent prevalence rate in Nigeria, which is about three times the global average prevalence rate of 5 percent. The UNODC also in its 2021 World Drug Report projects that by 2030 the number of people using drugs around the world will rise by 11 percent.

According to Osinbajo, “40 percent in Africa alone causes a disturbing projection because as the country with the largest population in Africa, this implies that Nigeria’s use of drug abuse prevalence will rise substantially, especially considering the proportions that we are leaders in terms of the population”

“And the past 17 months, the NDLEA, we are told has recorded over 17,647 arrests of offenders, including 10 drug barons and I’m sure that number increases every day if you’re following the news, with over 2369, convicted persons and over 150,000 kilograms of drugs that have been seized within the same period. So the statistics show that 5.5 percent of the population aged between 15 and 64 years used drugs at least once since 2018. This is precisely the age bracket that we cannot afford to lose to drugs.”

The ripple effect of the revelations, he said, “is the triple jeopardy supplied by displaced persons, those in IDP camps and refugee camps. There is the trauma and stress of displacement. Its immediate consequences, of course, are unemployment, coping with new cultures, loss of self-esteem, and hope. And this puts displaced persons at greater risk of substance abuse.”

He noted that for women and girls, in particular, the situation is more harrowing, as they are exposed to severe traumatic situations, due to violence, and sometimes sexual exploitation, especially in camps, which together with other stressful factors of displacement can further heighten drug use.

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“These problems are all worsened by the expected lack of access to treatment and therapies for drug abuse in refugee or IDP camps.

The vice president noted that the Federal Government has, however, taken both specific and general actions over the past 7 years, directed at controlling or dealing with the menace of illicit drug trafficking in Nigeria in particular.

He listed the measures to include, “adopting a synergised, and multi-agency approach, the government has deployed counterterrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives led by the NDLEA which have successfully disrupted several high profile drug networks.

“And as part of these efforts with the funding from the European Union, and technical support from the UNODC, relevant agencies and civil society organisations, we rolled out the national drug control master plan for 2021 to 2025.

He revealed that the plan itself leverages an extensive evidence base, including the very first national drug use survey which was conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in 2018.

“But above all, we must intensify rehabilitation of drug addicts, because what we’re faced with is indeed a public health crisis, a crisis that is taking lives, destroying families, and shattering communities,” he added.

Earlier, Buba Marwa, the chairman of NDLEA, said the drug abuse health challenge came to the fore in 2021 as the human family was recovering from the COVID-19 blight. He stated that it was the crux of the World Drug Report 2021, “Drug use killed almost half a million people in 2019, while drug use disorders resulted in 18 million years of healthy life lost, mostly due to opioids.”

Serious and often lethal illnesses are more common among drug users, particularly those who inject drugs, many of whom are living with HIV and Hepatitis C,” Marwa explained.

He said that the concerns raised by the World Drug Report 2021 were not farfetched because here in Nigeria, “we are beginning to see similar patterns from the findings of the national drug use and health survey 2018.”

The NDLEA boss added that the survey recorded an estimated 376,000 high-risk drug users in the country, of which one in every five injects drugs; that with a total of 80,000 People Who Inject Drugs (PWID), the risk of the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases was high and raised the stake of a public health crisis.

On his part, MTN chairman, Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi said one would find that there were many children, young people who are on drugs but the parents don’t even know. He said this was why the MTN Foundation decided to join the struggle to reduce addiction, drug abuse, and substance abuse in this nation.

The country representative of the UNODC in Nigeria, Oliver Stolpe, who spoke on behalf of the United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, said the global body expended $40m in the past 10 years

“We will need substantial resources to provide access to treatment and counseling for drug users who want to overcome their addiction. We will need substantial resources to enhance further the interdiction capabilities of NDLEA and other law enforcement agencies, including, of course, the Nigerian Navy at seaports to conduct another national drug survey,” he said.

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