According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use are major global risk factors for disability and premature loss of life. Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, reports that their burden in schoolchildren is accompanied by significant academic, medical, social and economic costs
Everything appeared surreal – like a brash scene in a Nollywood movie. Beautiful 15-years-old Desola Jenkins stood up in the middle of the classroom as the Biology teacher discussed the theory of evolution with the students. Ecstatic, the frail-looking girl jumped with athletic agility on her desk with a riveting thud that startled her classmates. Then, she pulled up her uniform, flashing her undies.
“Are you alright, Desola?” the teacher asked in disbelief. Desola now tip-toeing on the desk let out a shrill. Holding up her breasts, she asked the teacher, “Mrs. Tayewo, you wanna drink some oranges?” forcing the already bemused class to burst out in laughter.A night before that day Desola had been persuaded by her friends in the hostel to drink a cocktail of coffee and cough syrup to help her study through the night. Even though she recovered from that insane moment, the young girl still struggles with its nightmare.
Desola might have been a victim of circumstance. However, in Nigeria today, anecdotes are rife that hundreds of Nigerian youths are hooked on illicit substances (drugs). The recent reports of widespread abuse of tramadol and codeine in the country are frightening, though experts in the education sector explained that the rising menace is not new but its ubiquitousness reveals its underbelly.
From Gwagwalada in Abuja to Gbagi in Ibadan, there is an ongoing battle for the soul of Nigeria’s schoolchildren with tales and experiences showing that primary schoolchildren have also been caught in the web of substance abuse whether wittingly or unwittingly. Often, these children pick up cigarettes dropped by adults and run away to a corner to test how it feels to smoke as the light on the other end flickers and lets out a glow with thick, delicate smoke spiralling into the dark skies.
According to the World Health Organisation, alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use are major global risk factors for disability and premature loss of life. Their burden in schoolchildren is accompanied by significant academic, medical, social and economic costs, namely expenditure on health care, poor grades, law enforcement issues, lost productivity and other direct and indirect costs, including harm to others.
The harmful use of alcohol results in at least three million deaths each year; and on average, every person in the world aged 15 years or older drinks 6.2 litres of pure alcohol per year. Less than half the population (38.3%) actually drinks alcohol, this means that those who do not drink consume on average 17 litres of pure alcohol annually, a study said.
At least 15 million persons have drug use disorders. Injecting drug use reported in 148 countries, of which 120 report HIV infection among this population. In 2015 alcohol use and tobacco smoking use between them cost the human population more than a quarter of a billion disability-adjusted life years, with illicit drugs costing further tens of millions. In their study of how to curb the menace of drug abuse among secondary schoolchildren in Nigeria, G.O. Obiechina and B.C. Isiguzo noted that the initiation to drug and alcohol abuse early in life has exposed many school-age children to “voluntary drug consumption, smoking, drinking and substance abuse, which have become a threat to our nation”.
The duo added, “The health implications of adolescents’ drug behaviour were also explored. There should be more serious concern as more students in our secondary schools are fast joining the drug train, drinking and smoking away their future for the pleasure of getting high, hence, poses a threat to the health and safety of the adolescents, family, their community and the country.” In March this year, Senate President Bukola Saraki had expressed worry about the rising menace of drug abuse in the country. According to him, it poses a great danger to national security.
Saraki, at a public hearing on “The need to check the rising menace of pharmaceutical drug abuse among youths in Nigeria”, said, “Drug abuse is an ill wind that blows nobody any good as many families are discovered to be affected including children and women. This has led to incidences of armed robbery, kidnapping, militancy and other vices, which have become a challenge to internal security. “Unfortunately, some of our youths who could become the leaders of tomorrow are caught in the quagmire of substance-abuse. This is a threat to their health and wellbeing and a threat to their families so we must stem this tide. We are now working on a legislation to tighten the loose ends on this issue and to ensure control and that victims are rehabilitated.”
Substances like codeine, sachets of tramadol, valium, refnol and rohypnol are consumed with ease by school-age youths – and getting these illicit drugs often come cheap. For less than N500, one can get 500mg of Tramadol and Lexotan tablets. On public mass transit buses, Tramadol is sold for as little as N100. Youths hooked on illicit drugs also abuse petrol, kerosene, araldite adhesives, gum, nail polish, and even sniffing exhaust pipes of generators.
Last December, President Muhammadu Buhari took to Twitter to address the rising cases of drug abuse in the country, especially among the youths, promising to “go after and punish those who sell and distribute these illicit substances.”Four months after that promise, there has been no clear-cut policy on how the menace should be tackled at schools. In April, Nigerians woke up to the news that a youth, Kenneth, overdosed and died of ‘omi gutter’ in a hotel at Ikorodu. According to reports, he had developed seizures immediately after the substance abuse. Though he was rushed to a hospital, it was too late to save him from the cold hands of death. Others like him who should be at school have ended up in psychiatric homes or on the street.
There is a sliver of hope as not a few students are campaigning against the menace of illicit drugs. For example, the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN) recently decried the spate of drug addiction among youths and urged all students to kick against the habit.The Zonal Coordinator of MSSN, Qaasim Odedeji, in a communiqué had pleaded, “We are highly concerned about the rising case of drug addiction among the Nigerian youths and we call on governments at all level to do everything possible to reverse the trend. We also call on parents, teachers as well as religious bodies to rise to the challenge and partner with the government towards eradication of drug abuse among our teeming youths.
For Lolu Ojo, a consultant pharmacist and fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), drug abuse is a self-destructive indulgence that leads to significant problems and distress.He added, “It has suddenly assumed an alarming proportion among youths in Nigeria and could get worse if care is not taken. We must do something now to stem the tide before it brings calamity on our society. Everybody must be involved in the efforts to educate the youths and limit the availability of drugs to professionals only. The Pharmaceutical industry comprising of all the manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers have a big role to play. They must be extra vigilant in the handling of sensitive drugs that are prone to abuse by youths.”
In the mind of Ojo, the menace is more serious than people think. Arguing further, he feels stakeholders are showing interest in the problem a little too late. Yet, he believes it is better late than never, saying: “We will be deceiving ourselves to think or believe that the situation is limited by geography, gender, social status or age. Before 2013, Nigeria was only considered as a transit nation for illicit drugs. Today, we are an internationally recognised user-nation. We should be wary of the iceberg phenomenon or effect that this subject may present.”
Education and mental health experts noted that preventing unwholesome situation can be achieved through “intervention strategy, advocacy and awareness” of the adverse effect of drugs and alcohol addiction to the health and life.While that is important, educationists noted that it is equally imperative to understand the youth succumb to the allure of substance abuse. Obiechina and Isiguzo explained: “There are many factors that contribute to the influence of drug abuse among Nigerian youths: curiosity to experiment the unknown facts about drugs thus motivates adolescents into drug use. The first experience in drug abuse produces a state of arousal such as happiness and pleasure, which in turn motivate them to continue.
“Peer pressure plays a major role in influencing many adolescents to abuse drugs. This is because peer pressure is a fact of teenage and youth life. As they try to depend less on parents, they show more dependency on their friends. In Nigeria, as other parts of the world, one may not enjoy the company of others unless he conforms to their norms.”
Among other things the scholars also cited lack of adequate parental care and attention as leading causes of school-age children trying drugs. They claimed that many parents have no time to supervise their wards. As they noted, some parents have little or no interaction with their loved ones, while others put pressure on their children to pass exams or perform better in their studies.
Another factor that may lead to abuse of drugs is personality problems due to socio-economic conditions. Adolescents with personality problems arising from social conditions have been found to abuse drugs. Not a few Nigerians live on less than a dollar a day. Poverty is widespread; broken homes and unemployment are on the increase.
“Therefore, our youths roam the streets looking for employment or resort to begging. These situations have been aggravated by lack of skills, opportunities for training and re-training and lack of committed action to promote job creation by private and community entrepreneurs. Frustration arising from these problems lead to recourse in drug abuse for temporarily removing the tension and problems arising from it,” they observed.
It is apparent that illicit use of drugs by Nigerian students is a ticking time bomb. Thus, the Nigerian government, schools and parents must fashion out pragmatic ways to address the issue.In this regard, Ojo suggested: “To combat this resurgent menace, a multidimensional approach is recommended which will involve the family. Parents should create enough time to attend to the needs of their children and guide them properly to adulthood. The leaders should take active part in resolving the crisis at hand and help to prevent further occurrences through their utterances and action and keep the family unit intact.
“To positively use peer pressure to move their colleagues away from drug abuse and prevent new cases from occurring, the government should urgently empower relevant agencies with adequate funding to discharge their duties appropriately and the agencies made to be alive to their responsibilities. The government must ensure that the drug distribution system is sanitised and access to dangerous drugs is adequately restricted.”