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Towards A Drug-free World

There are lots of reasons why people take illegal drugs. Some take them to escape problems while others are bored, curious or just want to feel good. People may be pressured into taking drugs to “fit in” with a particular crowd (to belong) or to rebel or get attention

Magnus Eze

June 26 of every year is designated world-over as the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Instituted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1987, this day serves as a reminder of the goals agreed to by Member States of creating a drugfree society. The commemoration aims to raise awareness of the major problems that illicit drugs present to society and at the same time, remind youths and adults to avoid the mistake of experimenting with drugs. In simple term, 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 which results in physical, mental emotional or social impairment of the user. World Health Organization (WHO) defined substance abuse as “the 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 fact, statistics showed that around 210 million people, or 4.8 per cent of the population aged 15-64, took illicit substances at least once in 2010. Cannabis (Indian hemp) users comprise the largest number of illicit drug users in Nigeria. Due to drug use and abuse, many youths are incarcerated, involved in crime as well as having health problems.

The number of Nigerian youth incarcerated in various prisons across the country and beyond has increased dramatically over the last few decades apparently because of drug abuse and illicit trafficking. This problem is not only a major deterrent to humanity and a poison to the well-being of the youth in particular; it also poses greater problems to the socio-economic and political stability of a nation as it disturbs the sustainable development of a nation. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) selects themes for the International Day and launches campaigns to raise awareness about the global drug problem. The day is celebrated by hosting a series of events worldwide, encouraging more participation and greater awareness to the cause of drug abuse. Till date the UNODC has received active participation and response from the governments of Afghanistan, Colombia, Thailand,Uzbekistan, Vietnam etc.

In Nigeria, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, working in collaboration with other government agencies like NAFDAC, Police, Department of State Security, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps as well as civil society and faith-based organisations is leading the campaign against illicit drugs. The NDLEA between 1990 and 2013 made a total drug seizure of 3,582,563.072kg with the apprehension of 87,813 suspected drug traffickers. Out of this number, 82,295 are males while 5,518 are females. A total of 23,733 cases were also won for the period under review. Illegal drugs include cocaine, heroin, cannabis, ecstasy and methamphetamine to mention but a few.

They tend to have several street names, which vary from country to country or city to city and may change over time. Some of their street names are Smack, Crack, Snackies, New Yorkers, Bazooka, White Lady, Bongo, Igbo, Cake and Thai Stick. It is against the law to own, use or sell these drugs worldwide. Users of drugs can swallow, sniff, snort, smoke or inject them. All illegal drugs have immediate physical effects but can also severely hinder psychological and emotional development, particularly among young people. Drugs cloud the judgement of users.

This means that drug users often take more risks, such as having unsafe sex. This can lead to them getting infected with hepatitis or HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. There are lots of reasons why people take illegal drugs. Some take them to escape problems while others are bored, curious or just want to feel good. People may be pressured into taking drugs to “fit in” with a particular crowd (to belong) or to rebel or get attention. Drug users come from all kinds of backgrounds. They are male and female, young and old, rich and poor, working and unemployed from the city and the countryside—it does not matter. Drug use can affect anyone. While some of the physical effects of drugs might sound nice, they do not last long.

Drugs can relieve users´ tension, anxiety and depression. Drug users feel isolated from emotional or physical distress or pain. With large doses, users may experience euphoria. Many people get depressed and lonely afterwards and start feeling sick. Also, it is common for people who use drugs to seem confused, have red eyes, sweat a lot and not care about their physical appearance. And, of course, there is the risk of becoming addicted. Drug use could cause lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. In fact, recent studies in the United Kingdom show a link between cannabis use and an increase in schizophrenia.

The truth is that unless the global demand for illicit drugs is reduced, we can never fully tackle cultivation, production or trafficking of drugs. Little wonder the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, in a message for the event in 2011 opined that governments have a responsibility to counteract both drug trafficking and drug abuse, but communities can also make a major contribution. The UN Scribe charged families, schools, civil society and religious organizations to do their part to rid their communities of drugs, adding that businesses can help provide legitimate livelihoods while the media can raise awareness about the dangers of narcotics. In addressing the menace, community support is extremely important to prevent, treat, rehabilitate and accept those addicted to substances.

All hands must be on deck. Be a good role model and empower young people to deal with life challenges by staying away from substance abuse. We can achieve this by forming drug-free club in our schools and also making drug education part of the curriculum of primary and secondary schools in Nigeria. Be a messenger – provide factual information on the negative socio- economic effects of substance abuse to bring about behavioural changes. As responsible adults, we need to talk about the problem of drugs. Teenagers need to get the accurate and detailed information about substance use from a trusted and reliable adult – be it a parent or a teacher.

All manner of fables steadily propagated to entice students need to be addressed and debunked before it is too late. The media and celebrities need to become aware of their influence on young minds and take a more sensitive approach to the portrayal of substances in public. Above all, as adults, we must remember that our kids learn from watching our actions – and so every time you light up a cigarette, have a drink, or consume any other illicit substances – know that you are telling those around you that it’s okay for them to do the same. So, like the theme of this year’s celebration stipulates, let’s develop our lives, our communities, our identities without drugs.

•Eze, a Public Affairs Analyst and Founder of Mezie Okposi, a Community-based organisation on ethical revival wrote in from Okposi, Ohaozara, Ebonyi State.

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