By Rasak Musbau
Globally, June 26 of every year is designated the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1987, this day serves as a reminder of the goals agreed to by Member States of creating an international society free of drug abuse. It aims to raise awareness of the major problems that illicit drugs present to society and at the same time, remind youths and adults not to make the mistake of experimenting with drugs.
A drug is a substance used for medical purposes that changes the state or function of the body. On the other hand, drug abuse is a situation when drug is taken more than it is prescribed. It could be seen as the use of illicit drugs, or the abuse of prescription or over-the-counter drugs. It could further be defined as the deliberate use of chemical substances for reasons other than intended medical purposes and which results in physical, mental emotional or social impairment of the user. World Health Organization (WHO) defined substance abuse as œthe harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs”.
It is estimated that at least 76.3 million people struggle with alcohol use disorders, contributing to 1.8 million deaths per year. The United Nations reported that around 185 million people globally over the age of 15 were consuming drugs by the end of the 20th century. In Nigeria, there is currently an unending desire by governments at all levels to sensitise her citizens, especially the youths, of the evil of drug use and abuse.
Drug use and abuse is the primary reason why many youths are incarcerated, as well as a source of crime and health problem. It has become unprecedented problem in Nigeria that the number of youth incarcerated in various prisons across the country has increased dramatically over the last few decades. As a matter of fact, the majority of these youths have been arrested for drug offences, and/or have a drug abuse problem. Some of the factors contributing to this arrest are the lack of public awareness of the danger in drug abuse and the œwar on Drugs” declared by the Federal Government using various agencies like the NDLEA, NAFDAC, etc.
There are lots of reasons why people take illegal drugs. Some take them to escape their problems while others are bored, curious or just want to feel good. People may be pressured into taking drugs to œfit in” with a particular crowd (such as is the case with street urchins, road unions, cult groups etc.) or they may take drugs to rebel or get attention.
People can become addicted to illegal drugs as well as drugs prescribed by doctors. When prescription drugs are taken the right way, they are safe and there is usually little chance of addiction. However, prescription drugs can be dangerous if they are abused (for example, taking too much or taking them when they are not needed). Mothers and guardians often administer drugs on their children with impunity. Some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs are painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs.
The more worrisome drug abuse in our environment is that of marijuana, cocaine and alcohol. Many Nigerians do not regard alcohol as a very potent drug because it is readily available and its use is socially accepted by the society. In some societies, drinking behaviour is considered important for the whole social order and so drinking is defined and limited in accordance with fundamental motifs of the culture. Youth constitutes a major portion of drug abusers. This should be of concern to everyone of us in view of the place of youth in national development. While casual use of marijuana and alcohol exist among the affluence, it is more common among the school drop-outs, homeless and unemployed.
From ancient times, the use of drugs has always been an inseparable part of occultism and the youth in tertiary institutions are deeply involved in this practice. The criminal activities of the drug users are now becoming too frequent for comfort. At most of the dark spots in major cities, criminals openly use banned drugs. To worsen the situation, some of them operate like cults, carving out territories of influence where they intimidate, rape and rob innocent residents at will.
It is important to illustrate what drugs such as marijuana do to the body and minds of the users. For instance, marijuana™s smoke is toxic and can lead to serious health disorders, including cancer. The negative effects also include confusion, acute panic reactions, anxiety attacks, fear and loss of self-control. Chronic marijuana users may develop a motivational syndrome characterized by passivity, decreased motivation, and preoccupation with taking drugs. Like alcoholic intoxication, marijuana intoxication impairs judgment, comprehension, memory, speech, problem-solving abilities.
Of particular worry is the permanence of its ill-effect among people who began smoking in adolescence. Aside the smokers, everyone of us, as passive smoker is a potential victim of some of the ill-effects. Yet, there is hardly any area in Nigeria free of this drug problem and the subsequent criminal behaviour of its users.
No doubt, when you give people a foothold, it might turn to become a strong hold. Thus, the gory tale of open use of marijuana is an indictment on the part of our security operatives, especially the anti-narcotic agency. Ironically, some security agents legalized this illegal drug through their own illegal act of extorting money from traders. Some of them are also criminals in uniform who smoke at same spots where criminal activities are planned and executed by hoodlums. The traditional standards and values that place additional responsibility on holders of public offices in sane societies is almost nil here in Nigeria.
The police in particular will in the years to come have much more to do if the trend of crime and behaviour that aids drug is not given attention it deserves now. Plainly put, our anti-drug war is still cosmetic in approach. It will be foolhardy to be satisfied with current efforts that focus mainly on mere sensitizing at motor-parks and running jingles in the media without effectively starting the war from the production and distribution outlets. Treatment of cause should be more important than its symptoms.
In sum, anti-narcotic agency must step up the clampdown on the production, control of the sale, distribution and use of illicit drugs. Agencies of government saddled with national orientation and those with responsibility of curbing crimes must be up and doing. In this regard, Lagos State Government™s establishment of Drug-Free Club and plan to include drug abuse in its school curriculum is commendable.
As this year™s International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is celebrated globally, it is important to emphasise that a joint effort aimed at breaking the chain of addiction is the only way to stop the menace of drug abuse in the world.
•Musbau wrote from Ikeja, Lagos.
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