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Drug Menace, Health & Reputation

It will not be an overstatement to say that the issue of drug abuse is as old as humanity. Every nation or society has its traditional drugs which are either used to stimulate or release inhibitions or depress tension. For instance in the traditional societies of Thailand, Indonesia, Burma, Laos, and Pakistan, marijuana and opium were used as socially acceptable drugs and as such not perceived as a significant problem. In Nigeria, alcohol of all varieties will readily come to mind as a socially acceptable but dangerous drug.

From studies, some of these drugs started as social gifts or were used for entertainment. In some cases also, some of the drugs were used initially for medicinal purpose to cure ailments and make life comfortable. However, their potency became abused over time.

Before the availability and use of hard drugs became obvious in the early 1980s, many studies by notable experts, showed that alcohol and cannabis were commonly abused by Nigerians of all social classes and ages. Prior to the 1970s,alcohol was commonly used by adults resulting into pathological problems requiring hospitalization. The impact of the nascent oil boom in the 1970s was evident on industrial alcohol production. With the affluence, the increased national taste for foreign goods was reflected in the figures for the volume of alcohol imported during this period. Evident on industrial alcohol production. With the affluence, the increased national taste for foreign goods was reflected in the figures for the volume of alcohol imported during this period.

From the Police and media reports, cannabis sativa (Indian hemp, marijuana) is illegally cultivated in many parts of Nigeria since its introduction into the country after World War II by ex-soldiers. The risk groups identified in the use of marijuana from many studies are adolescents and youths. It has even been found out that some children start using cannabis as early as the age of eleven. It is important to note that youths from both privileged and less privileged socio-economic backgrounds indulge in the use of cannabis. Most of them were found to have psycho-social problems complementing their impaired personality development. Cannabis remains the most widely abused hard drug in Nigeria with its use cutting across various social classes.

Before the incursion of other hard drugs like cocaine, crack, heroin, LSD, tramadol etc., studies also showed that amphetamines and other stimulants were freely usedby students ostensibly to keep them awake for their studies. Also sleep inducing drugs of the benzodiazepine and barbiturate types have been found to be commonly abused through self-medication.

In the drug abuse scene, the consensus of opinion is that before 1980, trafficking in and use of narcotics and cocaine was an uncommon event in Nigeria. This should not be construed to mean that the abuse of narcotics was not evident.

The situation exposed innocent Nigerians travelling abroad in pursuit of their legitimate business to a lot of degrading and discriminatory immigration screening in most countries of the world. The death penalty was removed in 1986 and a range of prison sentences of up to life imprisonment were substituted. The Government also sponsored national studies of the problem and came up with a new decree in 1989 which gave birth to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) the establishment of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency was recognition of a problem and the will to solve it. The Agency was based on a multi-disciplinary approach involving coordinated efforts of law enforcement agencies, legal officers, health workers, social workers, media men, etc. Since its inception, the Agency has taken the bull by the horns by cracking down on the supply channels and making desperate efforts at curtailing the abuse. Apart from putting the laws into effect, the Agency has gone further to expose those Nigerians languishing in jail abroad by publishing their photographs in newspapers and posters. Another policy embarked upon by the Agency is bilateral agreements with some countries, especially Asian countries whereby Nigerians wanting to travel to such countries have to get clearance from the Agency.

According to Decree 33 of 1990 which serves as amendment to the parent law establishing the Agency (Decree 48 of 1989), any Nigerian convicted abroad for drug trafficking will undergo another trial on his return to Nigeria. Upon conviction, such a person may be sent to five years imprisonment or a fine or both. This is a bold step to redeem the image of the nation in that the offender has, through his action, brought Nigeria into disrepute. As should be expected, some of the policies and laws of the Agency have been applauded by some people while others have been critical of them.

There is a crucial contention in the issue of drug trafficking and drug abuse. Some people believe that legalistic approach in which all drug offenders are arrested and put behind the bars is the best approach. If you can round up all drug traffickers and peddlers and put them in jail, you must have won the battle. The other school of thought are vehement on prevention approach. It is their opinion that strategies must be designed to prevent the otherwise innocent populace from ever getting involved in drugs and also to get those who have started to stop the habit (through treatment) and give them a new life, integrating them into the sane society (rehabilitation). It is a common knowledge that treatment of an ailment or disease is costlier than its prevention. Treatment of drug related health problems are even more complicated because dearth of treatment facilities and the social variables involved.

The issue of which approach is the best need not be overflogged. It is a well-known fact that most people who traffick in narcotic drugs consider it a business venture. To them, any problem encountered is another business hazard. From a modest study carried out by the Counseling Unit of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency of 87 people arrested recently, the following observations were made:80% were between the ages of 18 and 33, 87% were males while 14% were females, 60% were single while 40% were married, more than 50% were engaged in self-styled business or trade with no visible base while 50% were either unemployed, drivers, artisans, students, civil servants or law agents, and the prime motivation for trafficking in these drugs was the desire to “get-rich-quick”.

The implications of these findings are that our youths are being seriously lured into drug trade because of the financial worth. The ingenuity they bring to play in concealing their wares is unimaginable. If the desire to get-rich-quick remains the main factor on which drug trafficking is embarked upon, the control of supply is a herculean task.

It will not be much of stating the obvious by saying that drug abuse constitutes major threats to the survival and functioning of our society and any society for that matter. A significant number of deaths from accidents and violent crimes have been traced to effects or influence of hard drugs. Homes are broken and families disintegrated because of drug use. Drug addicts swell the number of destitutes roaming the big cities of Nigeria. One can say that the nation is held hostage by the activities of drug traffickers and their twin brother- the drug abusers.

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency recognises the importance of prevention and its strategies in this direction should be pursued rigorously by the Agency. The demand-reduction war against drug abuse should be pursued through public enlightenment programmes directed towards specific target groups at risk. Though the general public needs education on the dangers and consequences of hard drugs, the following groups have been identified for proper education: the family, youths including students, children and young adults; and workmen like artisans, factory workers and young adults.

With the giant studies already recorded by the new Chief Executive of the NDLEA, Brigadier General Mohammed Buba Marwa (Rtd). Within the few months in the saddle.We are optimistic that a lot wouldbe achieved in the fight against the drug menace. We however, plead for attitudinal and behavioural change towards the drug war.

 

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