• Sunday, June 23, 2024
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World Drug Day: Nigeria’s drug war hits roadblock as new varieties emerge

NDLEA, MTN Foundation partner against substance abuse

The increasing availability of new varieties of illicit drugs, the ease of access, and relatively low cost are complicating Nigeria’s anti-drug efforts.

The internet and social media have made it easier than ever for people to obtain drugs, including illegal ones, fuelling a rise in the number of Nigerian youths trapped in a web of substance abuse and life-threatening risks that follow.

With internet access and about N3,500 ($5), ordering a canister of nitrous oxide (N2O) is just a click away as Nigerians join a growing popularity of the substance recreational use that is fast sweeping across Europe.

Youths now spice up social gatherings by pumping the substance into balloons in the quest for the promise of brief pleasure, disconnection from reality, and the feeling of euphoria, overlooking the potential for psychological dependency.

As the world marks the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking or World Drug Day on Monday, analysts are worried that Nigeria’s current capacity to curtail the fallout could struggle severely if the high prevalence rate seen in Europe is replicated in the country.

“It can damage the nerves in the long term. It is one of the classes of gas called neurotoxic gas, meaning it is dangerous to your neurological health” Olusina Ajidahun, a public health expert and chief executive officer of Lifebox Labs, said at an interactive session of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency to commemorate the World Drug Day.

“It can also lead to low blood levels. It attacks vitamin B12 such that the body will be incapable of making the red blood cells needed.”

In the UK, the number of people seeking treatment for N2O abuse has increased by 500 percent in the past five years. Despite steps to crack down on its availability, the drug remains popular, and likely that its use will continue to grow in the years to come.

In Ireland, there have been reports of the substance being sold in schools and nightclubs.

In Denmark, cases of nitrous oxide poisoning have increased from 16 in 2015 to 73 in 2021; in France, cases jumped to 134 in 2020 from 10 reported in 2017, and the Netherlands had 144 cases in 2020 and reported a sharp rise in car accidents caused by driving while intoxicated or trying to fill balloons.

A single inhalation will result in effects starting almost immediately and peaking about 10 to 20 seconds after inhalation and then rapidly diminishing, according to Druglink, a substance misuse advocacy platform.

If the dose is repeated then effects reach a plateau about 30 to 60 seconds after the first breath. While the user often feels back to normal within about two minutes after the last inhalation, some users report that effects, such as a sense of well-being, can be felt for up to 30 minutes after the last use.

Because the effects of nitrous oxide are pleasurable but brief, people often take it repeatedly over a short space of time; users often take many ‘hits’ of nitrous oxide over a few hours.

Its effects include dizziness, euphoria, giggling and laughing, distortion of sound, hallucinogenic effects, dissociation, loss of balance, nausea, and headaches.

In the long run, regular use can lead to red blood cell problems that could result in anaemia. There is also a risk of vitamin D deficiency with continued use in addition to a link with mood swings and depression.

MTN Nigeria, one of Nigeria’s private sector giant has been funding a robust public awareness and advocacy programme against substance abuse yearly, targeting secondary students who who could be easy preys when transiting from adolescence into adulthood.

Through Its initiative tagged Anti Substance Abuse Programme (ASAP), the telecom company partners the NDLEA and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) to hold quiz competitions aimed at sharpening the know of students on the dangers of abuse.This year, Adaku Ndukwe, project coordinator, national priority at MTN Foundation Nigeria said ASAP targeted geopolitical zones of Nigeria with the highest prevalence rate of substance abuse in its selection of 18 public schools to participate in the competition.

It also planned an advocacy walk to promote public sensitization in the commercial capital, Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Already, Nigeria grapples with controlling the abuse of cannabis, heroin, pharmaceutical opioids, stimulants such as amphetamines, cocaine, non-medical use of over-the-counter drugs, solvents or inhalants, tobacco, and alcohol use.

In 2017, the prevalence of drug use in Nigeria was estimated at 14.4 percent or 14.3 million people aged between 15 and 64 years, according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The prevalence of psychoactive substances excluding alcohol overall was higher among men in Nigeria. Drug use was most common among those who were between the ages of 25 and 39 years and cannabis was the most commonly used drug followed by opioids, mainly the non-medical use of prescription opioids and cough syrup.

Nearly one-quarter of high-risk drug users had been arrested for a drug-related offense during the course of their drug use, while the majority (73 percent) had been arrested for possession of drugs, many high risks drug users had also been arrested for burglary, sex work, shoplifting, and theft.

According to the NBS, the social consequences of drug use manifest as disruption in family lives, loss in productivity, and legal problems as a consequence of drug use in their communities. Also, nearly 1 in 8 persons in the general population had experienced consequences due to other people’s drug use in their families, workplace, and communities.

However, access to free or affordable mental health services is limited. According to the Countdown Global Mental Health 2030 report, the cost of providing a significantly scaled-up package of specified cost-effective interventions for prioritised mental, neurological and substance use disorders in lower-income countries such as Nigeria is estimated at $3 to $4 per head of population per year.

In 94 percent of high-income countries, the majority of people with severe mental health problems receive social support. This is compared to 72 percent of upper-middle-income countries and just 37 percent and 5 percent of lower-middle and low-income countries, respectively.

“While making the case for increased investment is difficult in the context of a global cost-of-living crisis, this needs to be balanced against the cost of inaction. Reducing the burden of mental health and substance use disorders need to be given greater political priority, along with measures to make services more affordable, to end stigma and discrimination, and to encourage individuals to seek help,” the report states.

Nigeria in January signed into law, a bill for an Act to provide for the establishment and regulation of mental health and substance abuse services, protect persons with mental health needs and establishment of the National Commission for Mental and Substance Abuse Services, for the effective management of mental health.

Ibrahim Oloriegbe, former chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, said the bill was necessitated by the need to make provision for the enhancement and regulation of mental health and substance abuse services and cast aside the challenges that perpetuate the social stigma of the victims of mental illness

“The proposal was intended to protect persons with mental health needs, and establish National Agency for Mental and Substance Abuse Services for effective management of mental health in Nigeria and other related matters,” Oloriegbe.

“The absence of Mental Health Law in Nigeria other than the Regional Lunacy Law of 1918, which in context and content violated fundamental human rights of persons with mental health and psychosocial disabilities.”