By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Drug Abuse amongst young people, and especially students in post-primary and tertiary institutions, has reached epidemic proportions in our Country.
The Chairman of the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Brigadier-General Mohammed Buba Marwa is very much aware of the danger this lifestyle poses not just to the national security of Nigeria but to the national economy.
The agile Chief Executive of NDLEA and his team have understandably set out several channels and proactive mechanisms apart from law enforcement, to confront these emerging challenges that constitute the biggest obstacle to the academic and performance capacities of millions of Nigerian youths. One methodology being meticulously adopted is public enlightenment campaigns. The media of mass communication is also playing strategic roles in this direction. Little wonder then that the NDLEA has set up one of the finest and most proactive media and publicity department headed by a tested and trusted media manager Mr. Femi Babafemi.
Early last year, the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, said something that made a whole lots of sense. He said that the abuse of drugs by youths limits their productivity. This much has been statistically computed by the National Bureau of Statistics. The Federal ministry of health is aware of this malaise but not a lot of work is going on in the Federal ministry of health regarding working out effective partnership with all the relevant institutional platforms including the activist NDLEA to confron this menace as a national duty. This is to call for synergy amongst various intergovernmental bodies to pursue the target of battling the rising trend of drug overdose amongst youths in Nigeria school system and elsewhere.
In that line, the Chairman of the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Brig. General Buba Marwa (retd.), has said that 14.3 million Nigerians, especially youths, abuse drugs. This statistic is indeed frightening but it is the factually accurate statistic which is why all hands must be on deck to confront this hydraheaded monster.
Both the Edo State Governor and the NDLEA Chief said the aforementioned facts at the ‘Say No to Drugs’ seminar, as part of the second edition of Betsy Obaseki Women Football Tournament.
In a keynote address at the evet, Marwa noted that one out of the four drug users in Nigeria was a female.
Marwa, who was represented by his Special Adviser, Otunba Lanre Ipinmisho, said focus on the girl child and young women was strategic in the effort to curb the rising trend of drug abuse among Nigerians.
He noted that a national survey had shown that 14.3 million Nigerians, most of them overwhelmingly youths, abuse drugs while Nigeria had, exceptionally, high drug of prevalence of 14.4 per cent.
Given the severity of the situation, he said Nigeria needed to move away from old ways of tackling drug issues and adopt new measures that were effective and would deliver lasting gains.
Also, the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, said that the ongoing industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities had heightened the cases of drug abuse in the state.
Governor Obaseki noted that a study conducted in the state had shown that drug abuse had assumed a new dimension, second to kidnapping in the rating of social vices.
“It is a crisis, not only here, but also globally. This is why we have taken it upon ourselves to make the call for collective action among different stakeholders to forge a common font to tackle the issue of drug abuse.
“The effects of drug abuse has robbed many youth of their lives, condemning them to life dependent on drugs. This limit their ability to properly function in our society and deprives the society of the much-needed human capital to drive productivity and economic growth.
“In sports, drug abuse has remained a course for concern with athletes loosing individual and group medal and honours as a result of drug related offences.
“It is a global issue that has continued to play into our sporting competition,” he added.
Obaseki, however, advocated more support of the NDLEA to tackle the incident of drug abuse in the state.
He assured people that the state was willing, ready and prepared to work with agency to deploy as much resources as required to combat the menace.
Mrs Bisi Fayemi, who spoke on behalf of the Nigerian Governors’ Wives Forum, lauded the organiser for the initiative.
Earlier in her address, Mrs Betsy Obaseki, Chairman of the Organising Committee and First Lady of Edo State, said the tournament was conceived to discourage women and girls embarking on illegal migration.
The platform, she said, was to prove that women could earn their dollars at home building a career in football. The Wife of the Edo State Governor should indeed be applauded for this contribution towards sanitising the public spaces of drug overdose.
It is also instructive to say that the strategies put in place progressively by the NDLEA to tackle drug abuses and trafficking are paying off but the problems are deep rooted to such an extent that the consequences are seen in the unprecedented crime rates, violent clashes by different youth –led cult groups across the Country and the many deaths that come from drug over dose. Terrorism is also aided by drug abuse.
We may argue that deaths from drug over dose is a global phenomenon, but this epidemic is profoundly consequential in Nigeria going by the ballooning poverty that afflicts the Country and the increasingly deteriorating standards of health care services in the Country. Hard drug overdose inflicts more pangs and pains of death in Nigeria because the public Healthcare Delivery system has spectacularly collapsed due to prolonged state of neglect by the central and subnational governments.
These institutional deficits makes dying from drug over dose an over dose of national catastrophe. One needs just to take a walk to any general hospital in any state of the Federation to witness the infrastructural decay that afflicts these health facilities. Yet government officials line their pockets with hefty filthy lucre stolen from public till. The consequences are steering us obviously in our faces.
Only Yesterday, a 300- level student of Petroleum and Gas Engineering at the Federal University, Otuoke in Bayelsa State died from drug overdose.
The deceased identified as Job Alawari aka Alas aged 19 was said to have taken a drug known as Colos which is popular among undergraduates.
A student, who pleaded anonymity, said the deceased was reported to have “cash out”(hit jackpot) on an internet deal and wanted to celebrate by getting “high” but the drug handed him by his friends killed him”
Already, the death of the student, which is coming few weeks after the death of another 200-level student of the University identified as Bright Akhere aged 21 years, at a swimming pool located at Renew Empire Hotel in Otuoke has heightened apprehension over the high rate of students involvement in drugs and internet fraud.
Investigations revealed that the prevalence of drug abuse among students both males and females which has caused deaths have become worrisome.
“We are worried. Even the girls now take drugs with reckless abandon. And the school authorities are not bothered because we stay off campus”
Findings indicated that the Vice- Chancellor, Prof Teddy Adias and the Bayelsa State Police Command have been notified of the incident while the Police have commenced investigation.
According to the Bayelsa State Police Command the body of Alawari has been deposited at the morgue for autopsy.
Similarly, around September last year, the media reported that the Nigeria Police Force confirmed the arrest of three suspects in connection with the death of a 21-year-old man identified as Micheal Arigbabuwo who died after overdosing at a birthday party in Lagos.
Ademola Adesina, 23, and two companions, Abdulqudus Salawiudeen, 24, and Damilare Adelana, 23, both residents of Ikorodu, were arrested as a result.
Benjamin Hundeyin, the spokesman for the Lagos police, reported that the event took place on Friday, September 23, in the Ikorodu area of the state.
The victim of ‘loud’ and codeine overdose started to struggle for breath before being taken to the hospital, where his death was officially pronounced.
He said, “Based on the information, teams of detectives visited and photographed the scene. Three young men of ages 23 and 24 were arrested.
“The suspects claimed that the deceased allegedly smoked loud and drank codeine at a birthday party of one of their friends held at Igbogbo area of Ikorodu.
“The suspects further claimed that the deceased began gasping for breath. He was rushed to the hospital but died.
“Thinking of doing drugs? Have a rethink as nothing fruitful emanates from it.
“Investigation into the case has commenced.”
The corpse has been evacuated and deposited at the General Hospital, Ikorodu, for autopsy. If these aren’t troubling enough, then read a recent publication by one of the frontline newspapers in Nigeria on the emergence of New kinds of deadly substances.
Tje so-called new, unconventional drugs, according to this well researched newspaper story, are becoming popular in Nigeria, designed by dealers and users to replicate the effects of illegal substances like cannabis, cocaine, and ecstasy. They affect how the brain works and cause changes in mood, feelings and behaviour. Policymakers have labelled them as “new psychoactive substances” because they’re not recognised under international conventions.
These psychoactive substances are found all over the world, and they’re growing in popularity. But little empirical research has been conducted on the uptake of these new drugs in many non-western contexts, especially in Africa. More information is needed because using substances like these is harmful to health. Policymakers need proper evidence regarding their availability, use, and effects to provide evidence-based interventions.
It appears that people in Nigeria are creating new drugs either because they can’t afford more traditional narcotics, or because they’re not controlled (and therefore difficult to detect), or because they’re strong.
As my colleagues and I documented in a mini review of recent insights on the topic in Nigeria, most new psychoactive substances are extremely potent. Some drug users prefer them to conventional narcotics because they want to experience a more intense and longer high.
We also found that some people will take these substances – such as tramadol – to give them more energy for hard labour. Others use them because they want to last longer during sex.
These new psychoactive substances pose a public health threat, but because they’re new and not easy to detect, they are not controlled – for instance, by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
Traditional drugs – like cannabis, cocaine, and ecstasy – are controlled under these conventions, making them easier to detect, categorise and regulate internationally.
Studies that reveal more about the substances being used in Nigeria and their effects on users will help inform public health interventions.
Types of drugs
New psychoactive substances exist all over the world, and they’re growing in popularity. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime identified almost 900 new substances between 2009 and 2018. These were found across 119 countries and territories, in all regions of the world.
In western countries, people use synthetic opioids, like tramadol and fentanyl, and synthetic cannabinoids.
Our mini-review of empirical studies conducted in different parts of Nigeria mapped the types, availability, and motivations for taking these new psychoactive substances.
In Nigeria, aside from a few imported new psychoactive substances like tramadol, most of them are locally sourced and can be obtained free of charge or at a low cost.
There’s a cocktail called “gutter water”, which is made from a mix of tramadol, cannabis, codeine and vodka. Other popular cocktails include “monkey tail” – a combination of homemade spirit, cannabis and psychoactive plant roots, seeds and stems – or a mixture of sodium hypochlorite solution (bleach) and carbonated soft drinks.
There are also pure plant-based substances. Some people will chew or smoke-dried cassava and pawpaw leaves or seeds, zakami (Datura metel) seeds, and moringa (zogale) leaves.
Other popular ways to get psychoactive effects involve sniffing burnt tyres, hydrogen sulphide gas (sewer gas), or nail polish.
There are other new substances that people who are desperate or very poor try to use, but it is unknown whether these produce psychoactive effects that can get them high. These include smoking the whitish elements of lizard dung or human faeces. Others will drink 10-day-old human urine for the same reason.
The newspaper similarly suggested ways out of the menace and asserted that although research on the harms caused by using new psychoactive substances is at an early stage in Nigeria, one study found that some tramadol users experienced seizures or convulsions after taking the substance, and a few users died from a drug overdose.
Because drug availability often correlates with high drug use, it’s logical to say that without strategies to address the new drugs, their use may continue to rise.
Therefore, there is a need to initiate a strategy to address the issue. This must be underpinned by sound research. There must be comprehensive data that maps the availability, types, patterns, and motives for taking these new drugs among Nigerians.
A nationwide campaign will be essential. It must give young people the information they need on the dangers of substance use.
Credible government sources like the National Orientation Agency of Nigeria and the Ministry of Health should champion this effort. Campaigns should aim at deterring people from ever trying new psychoactive substances. Efforts must also be made to reorient those who already use the substances without stigmatising them.
For the campaign to be successful, the Nigerian police and other law enforcement agencies that often use intimidation and war on drug approaches to enforce laws should be distanced. This is primarily because brutalising drug users has not reduced drug availability and use in Nigeria.
Finally, official corruption – blamed for fuelling the availability of tramadol – must be tackled immediately.(The independent newspaper of Nigeria).
These troubling developments are the very reason why the Nigerian State should consider very rapidly to upgrade the NDLEA to a level that financial autonomy would be legalised in the enabling Act. I do hope that the 9th Session of the National will do this just before they are shut down for the 10th session coming up in June. Making NDLEA financial autonomous might just become the only good thing to remember the inglorious and shameless 9th Session of the National Assembly headed by a stooge of the executive arm of government Ahmed Lawan.
This is because, the tasks that the NDLEA are doing are such that encompasses a whole lot. We only need to look at how other jurisdictions are funding their fights against drugs over dose.
Last year April, in the SANTA ANA, California – Federal authorities announced seven criminal cases against drug dealers who sold fentanyl-laced narcotics that caused fatal overdoses in Orange County, including one case in which three people died in Newport Beach.
The sweep has resulted in the arrest of six defendants pursuant to federal grand jury indictments or criminal complaints. One charged defendant is a fugitive currently being sought by authorities.
All seven defendants are charged with distribution of fentanyl resulting in death. If convicted of this offense, each defendant would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in federal prison and a potential sentence of life without parole.
“The opioid crisis has resulted in the widespread distribution of fentanyl and a horrific trail of misery resulting from the untimely death of tens of thousands of Americans each year,” said United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. “These cases highlight two important lessons, with the first being that many street drugs are contaminated with an extremely powerful opioid that often leads to death. The second is that narcotics dealers face severe consequences in federal court when the distribution of their products results in a fatal overdose.”
“Often when we discuss the rampant rise of drug-caused deaths there’s a focus on numbers, but today’s announcement is an important reminder that these numbers are more than that – these are our children, loved ones and friends,” said DEA Los Angeles Special Agent in Charge Bill Bodner. “Fentanyl does not discriminate and it’s affecting every community, ethnicity and generation throughout our country. As we tackle the fentanyl crisis locally, we are intent on bringing justice to victims and their families, while putting drug dealers on notice that even selling one pill can have harsh federal penalties.”
The cases announced today are the result of investigations by the DEA’s Overdose Justice Task Force, which was created to address opioid-related deaths in the greater Los Angeles area, most of which are caused by the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Under the Overdose Justice program for the DEA’s Los Angeles Field Division, DEA agents collaborate with local law enforcement to analyze evidence to determine if there are circumstances that might lead to a federal criminal prosecution, and, if so, proactively target the drug trafficker. Since the start of the Overdose Justice program in 2018, the DEA has worked with an ever-expanding list of local police agencies to obtain approximately three dozen federal indictments that specifically charge death resulting from narcotics trafficking.
The victims in these cases are of diverse backgrounds, with two of the deceased victims being minors and one a community college student. In most of the cases, the victims did not know they were ingesting fentanyl, which can be deadly in tiny amounts. Some of the alleged drug traffickers knew or had reason to believe their products contained fentanyl, even though they claimed to be selling other narcotics.
Around last month in GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. two arrests were made in Gwinnett County in connection to an overdose death of a 16-year-old girl.
Gwinnett County Police Department said a 21-year-old man from Lawrenceville and a 19-year-old woman from Norcross were arrested on Feb. 28. The case is concerning a counterfeit Percocet fentanyl overdose death of a 16-year-old girl, according to the release.
Both suspects were charged with multiple drug-related offenses, according to Gwinnett Police. The 21-year-old man faces two counts of sale of a schedule I or II controlled substance, violation of the Georgia controlled substances (VGCSA), possession of a schedule I or II controlled substance with intent to distribute, VGCSA possession of cocaine, possession of a stolen firearm during commissions of a crime. The 19-year-old woman is charged with the Sale of a schedule I or II controlled substance.
Georgia law states that an individual can be charged with murder if they supply illegal drugs directly or indirectly to a victim who overdoses and dies, Gwinnett Police said. Residents should also be reminded of Georgia’s 911 Medical Amnesty and Expanded Naloxone Access Law which protects the victim and caller when requesting medical emergency services at the scene of a suspected drug overdose from being arrested, charged or prosecuted.
The Gwinnett Police department encourages anyone experiencing an overdose or those who know someone experiencing an overdose to call 911 immediately. The signs and symptoms of an overdose can vary widely, and it is essential to seek help immediately.
NARCAN training is available in Gwinnett County from Navigate Recovery. The sessions are held at 52 Gwinnett Drive, Suite A in Lawrenceville 30046, sponsored by GNR Public Health and Georgia Overdose Prevention.
The department said they are working with the DA’s Office in Gwinnett County to bring forward felony murder charges and “other applicable charges for overdose deaths arising from drug trafficking and distribution.”
Gwinnett Police will continue to work with the District Attorney’s office to prosecute and charge individuals with felony murder and any other applicable charges for overdose deaths arising from drug trafficking and distribution. Police did not provide any other information about the 16-year-old girl who died.
There are variety of ways Americans are confronting the menace.
Public health undergraduate student Savannah Crowley works with the UArizona student group Team Awareness Combatting Overdose (TACO) that uses a ‘harm reduction’ approach to drug use education in their effort to stop overdose deaths.
In the United States today, accidental opioid overdoses rank as the number one cause of death for adults 18 to 45 years old. In 2021, more than a 100,000 Americans died from overdoses, and the number is expected to grow for 2022. Here in Arizona, more than five people die every day due to opioid overdoses according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Students at the University of Arizona are determined to find ways to combat the overdose crisis and save lives.
Savannah Crowley, an undergraduate public health student in the Zuckerman College of Public Health, is passionate about overdose prevention and substance use education for students. As the vice-president of the student group Team Awareness Combatting Overdose (TACO), Crowley helps provide non-judgmental drug education on campus and provide fentanyl testing strips to help keep students and young adults safe.
“It’s all about doing good and keeping people both safe and healthy,” says Crowley, “My passion for harm reduction is the reason why I got involved with TACO. I had seen other approaches to the overdose epidemic, a public health emergency, fail friends and family many times.”
As a student-led drug education program, TACO uses a “harm reduction” approach advocated by public health professionals, a method that has consistently shown the most success when moderating behaviors like substance use. The harm reduction approach does not blame or shame individuals for their behavior, but instead seeks to educate and empower them to make choices that reduce the dangers of a particular activity.
TACO is now a national network of student-led groups, and the University of Arizona chapter of TACO was started in fall of 2022 by Madison Trotter, a neuroscience student. The student group was founded in 2020 at the University of Southern California (USC), and TACO has a good track record of success. Previously, USC had 10-12 fentanyl overdose deaths every year. Since the implementation of TACO and mandatory educational seminars for all new panhellenic and interfraternity members, there have been zero fentanyl related overdose deaths.
The students working with TACO provide neutral, scientific data to their peers, information that can be used to make well-informed decisions about personal drug use. The most dangerous drug in use today is fentanyl, and many other drugs are now contaminated with fentanyl. TACO’s drug education program is different from previous approaches that have had limited success. They do not give advice, only facts. And they do not approach drug use or addiction as a moral issue. In fact, they use the hashtag #endthestigma to emphasize that they seek to educate people, not tell them how to live. TACO students provide research-backed education, encourage drug testing, and provide test strips. They also provide overdose-response training. Their mission is to end overdoses so that young lives don’t end tragically.
“We distributed over 200 fentanyl test strips on campus last semester, encouraging students to test their drugs,” says Crowley, “this non-judgmental approach emphasizes the importance of utilizing harm reduction tools, and encourages more honest conversations about the facts of drug use. This way students can feel more comfortable reaching out for help if they need it.” (https://publichealth.arizona.edu).
Universities in Nigeria need to set up functional facilities with the requisite staffing to partner with the NDLEA to confront the hydraheaded monster of drug overdose amongst youths in Nigeria. We must search for the black goat before darkness comes.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.