A Growing Crisis: Drug Abuse Ravages Nigeria’s Youth By Damilola Amire

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By Damilola Amire

Nigeria is facing a severe drug abuse epidemic, one that is disproportionately afflicting the nation’s young people. According to a 2018 United Nations report, a staggering one in seven Nigerians between ages 15 and 64 had used drugs in the previous year, with one in five of those suffering from drug-related disorders. For the most populous nation in Africa, these numbers represent a profound public health crisis in the making.

In the bustling streets of Nigeria’s cities and the serene corners of its rural landscapes, this silent but devastating crisis is unfolding. Drug abuse, once a whisper on the fringes of society, has now become a roaring epidemic, ensnaring the nation’s youth and threatening the very fabric of its future. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has revealed that over 14.3 million Nigerians, predominantly between the ages of 15 and 35, are grappling with drug addiction.
This figure is not just a statistic; it represents the shattered dreams, fractured families, and communities in distress. The substances of choice are varied, ranging from cannabis, cocaine, and heroin to newer synthetic drugs like tramadol and codeine-based syrups. These drugs are alarmingly accessible, often cheaper than basic necessities, and are tearing through the youth with devastating efficiency.
Common reasons cited for drug use include a desire to boost performance, relieve stress and anxiety, experiment, or simply escape the harsh realities of poverty and unemployment that over half the population faces. “With so many young people struggling with a lack of economic opportunity, the temptation to turn to drugs is strong,” . “They see it as a way to work harder, stay awake longer, or simply get temporary relief from their difficult circumstances.” (Jatau et al., 2021). Peer pressure and the allure of a glamorous lifestyle portrayed in media further exacerbate the problem. Many young individuals, seeking acceptance and validation, fall prey to drug peddlers who exploit their vulnerabilities.

The consequences of this epidemic are dire. Health systems are overwhelmed by the increasing number of drug-related cases. Mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, are rampant among users, leading to a spike in suicide rates. The societal impact is equally troubling, with rising crime rates, school dropouts, and a general decline in community safety and cohesion. Families are left to pick up the pieces, often without the necessary resources or support. Parents watch helplessly as their children succumb to addiction, while siblings and peers are drawn into the destructive cycle.
Though the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency has made efforts to crack down through seizures and arrests, these reactive measures have done little to stem the tide. Experts argue a proactive, multi-pronged approach targeting root causes is essential. This includes raising awareness through education campaigns, increasing affordable treatment options, addressing poverty and joblessness, and empowering community and religious groups to change societal attitudes.
“We cannot simply arrest our way out of this crisis,” cautioned Jim Pugel. “Drug abuse is a complex issue demanding an equally nuanced solution that gets to the heart of why so many of Nigeria’s youth feel drugs are their only escape.”
To combat the concerning rates of drug abuse, a multi-faceted prevention approach focused on evidence-based strategies is crucial. Key measures should include:
• Raising Awareness Through Education: Experts stress the importance of proactive education campaigns to raise awareness about the dangers of drug abuse from an early age. Measures should include incorporating age-appropriate drug education into school curricula across the country, utilizing mass media channels like TV, radio and social platforms to highlight the risks and availability of support services, as well as mobilizing community, religious and cultural leaders to take an active role in outreach and prevention efforts within their spheres of influence. By taking a multi-pronged approach to education and awareness, the goal is to instill greater knowledge and change attitudes and norms around substance abuse among Nigeria’s youth.
• Expanding Treatment Access and Support: Providing comprehensive treatment options and supportive services for those already struggling with addiction is imperative. Efforts should focus on increasing affordable and accessible drug treatment facilities across all regions of the country. Additionally, community-based programs offering counseling, peer support groups, and vocational skills training need to be established to aid recovering addicts in rebuilding their lives. The medical field also has a key role – strengthening partnerships between addiction specialists, clinicians, and community providers to enhance screening, referral networks, and continuity of care. Only by deploying a robust, decentralized network of treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration resources can Nigeria combat addiction’s firm grip on its young populace.

• Cracking Down on Supply Through Updated Policies: While addressing demand is crucial, Nigeria must also take stronger action to disrupt the flow of illicit drugs into the country. Top priorities include bolstering security and monitoring capabilities at borders and along trafficking routes to restrict the ease of drug smuggling. However, a renewed enforcement approach needs to be coupled with a comprehensive review and modernization of Nigeria’s drug laws and criminal justice policies relating to substance abuse. Rather than treating addiction as solely a criminal matter, these policies should be updated to align with current public health best practices and human rights standards.

A CALL TO ACTION! With its young population at grave risk, the time is now for Nigeria to wage a concerted war on the generational threat of drug abuse. The future well-being of Africa’s giant depends on it. By investing in our young people and providing them with the tools and opportunities to thrive, we can stem the tide of this crisis and secure a brighter future for the nation.

The battle against drug abuse is daunting, but it is not insurmountable. With concerted action and a shared vision, Nigeria can overcome this challenge and emerge stronger, healthier, and more resilient. The future of Nigeria’s youth and the nation itself depends on it.

Damilola Amire, a mental health specialist and addiction counselor writes from Tennessee, USA.

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