Drug addiction in Nigeria is a disease that is branded and disregarded. And as long as society, government and the medical community continue to ignore it and fail to identify it for what it is, it will continue to be an epidemic that is on the increase.
Notwithstanding the fact that this epidemic is essentially a disease, the victims are stigmatised and criminalised by the court of public opinion and there is no public policy in place for treating it or halting the spread of this disease. Unfortunately, our reaction to drug abuse is fraught by our failure to recognise addiction as a disease that needs wide-ranging health solutions. It is completely misunderstood by the public, who see it as a personal or moral weakness of those who suffer from it. Those afflicted with this illness continue to be victimised by the shame against the disease, a stigma that stems from misinformation.
The epidemic has become so widespread in Nigeria and the unyielding destruction it leaves in its wake, is felt by so many families and communities. Because there is no set of authenticated rules accessible for outlining how to manage this all-consuming crisis, families become overwhelmed when drug addiction exists in their lives. Those living with people that are tormented with this disease do not really know how to act or what to do.
Research tells us that drug addiction is an intergenerational disease, just as rampant in the family tree as cancer or diabetes. It doesn’t discriminate when it comes to age limits, geographic location or socioeconomic placing. It is a serious brain disease that can strike anyone. When drug addiction happens, it takes over the key functions of the brain, substituting our innate instincts with the urge for the drugs it has become dependent on.It captures the very parts of the brain that is in charge of reason, the part that gives the human being motivation. It completely devours a sufferer.
The problem in Nigeria is made worse because we have few drug treatment facilities and programs and the existing ones we have are not properly structured and regulated. The difficulty here is that those who are providing treatment that is not consistent with medical standards and proven treatment practices are not held accountable. This could invariably lead to a slippery slope.
It is a fact that the majority of those who are giving treatment to drug addicts in Nigeria are not medical professionals with the training, knowledge or skills to implement evidence-based services. This results in a situation where addicts seeking treatment are left to rely on a number of physicians who may not have the required medical standards needed for drug rehabilitation.
In spite of the considerable data authenticating that drug addiction is a reversible, treatable and controllable illness through prevention and treatment techniques, we still somehow seem to turn a blind eye. Meanwhile, substance abuse continues to cause illness, injury, death and crime, it continues to savage our children, overwhelm our societies and impede education. We must adjust our reasoning and convert new ideas on drug addiction into transformative actions. We must wake up and truly attend to fighting the scourge of drug addiction before it spreads even further.
Unless we overhaul the whole drug treatment facilities and programs in Nigeria while supporting the few authentic treatment centers we have, most of the medical professionals who are currently being used to give treatment and manage drug addiction remain insufficiently trained and inexperienced to diagnose or treat the illness.
Just like drug addiction itself, our medical community needs to be rehabilitated in a way that the immediate life-threatening situation of addiction is treated at the same time as steps to prevent its recurrence is taken.
The wonder of modern medicine has produced new antidotes to manage and treat drug addiction and new machineries to help recovery. As a nation, we need to utilise these in a comprehensive attempt to address how we treat this disease, focusing on an international medical model of care for addicts that tackle their long term needs to assist them in realising and sustaining recovery.
We need to educate ourselves more about drug abuse because the shame that society imparts on it results in our inability to eradicate the disease. The stigma of drug abuse creates ingredients of discrimination. This in turn obstructs recovery because it leaves sufferers with feelings of guilt, shame, rejection, and leaves them feeling excluded by society, destroying their self-esteem.
We need to embrace the stories of the families living with this disease as much as the experts in the field. That way, we can establish our very own localised tools and identified resources that will make an impact in addressing substance disorders. In order to help the millions of Nigerians suffering from this affliction and end Nigeria’s critical trajectory, these efforts need to be expanded.
To have any real impact on reducing addiction in Nigeria, our government must pump more resources towards prevention and treatment channels. Authentic public and private rehabilitation centres should be supported and those that are run down should be restored. The provision of capital for treating addiction is needed to ensure that the medical profession’s ongoing inadequacy of providing sufficient education and training is corrected.
Unless we devote a considerable amount of funds to treat drug addiction, improving addiction medicine education for doctors and correcting societal stigmas toward the sufferers, this disease will continue to destroy millions of people and communities in this country.
Furthermore, to end the drug crisis, we need to educate ourselves about the dangers of drugs, encourage drug users to seek medical treatment and vehemently prosecute the traffickers who are providing the drugs. Public drug treatment facilities should be funded by the government, so that they are accessible to every Nigerian who may need to utilise them. The few authentic private drug rehabilitation centres in Nigeria such as Cognition Rehabilitation Centre in Abuja run by Dr. Daramola needs to be supported.
Our youth make foremost health choices at a young age. These decisions could be whether to smoke or to use drugs. In order to get in front of this, information on drugs must be given to them early and effectively by using well-informed mentors that understand the slide that may drag experimentation to dependence. We have to provide more drug education in our schools and train all teachers on how to emphasise the relevant information and statistics.
Our children watch hours of TV and have access to the Internet before graduating from school. A lot of the content from these sources ensures that drugs pervade into our homes. Communications firms broadcasting on our airwaves should take some measure of responsibility where the entertainment provided is coherent with health and research information. For the reduction of drug abuse to be maintained, parents, schools, government, industry, courts and television must work in conjunction.
When enough Nigerians care to adjust what is seeping into our living rooms, schools and offices, what we watch on TV and what we tolerate in our communities, a reliable and intense obligation will take hold, and our children and this country’s future will be the better for it.
When the Ebola pandemic broke out in this country some years ago, the nation effectively organised itself, contained the outbreak and successfully treated the sick. With the Flu pandemic, new vaccinations were developed, public health protocols were put in place, physician education and awareness was raised on how to prevent the disease. I truly believe that we need to take the same approach with drug addiction. We need the same kind of medical urgency in tackling addiction as we have for any other illness that we have mobilised a national response to.
From the science and interventions point of view, we have at our disposal the tools required to treat drug use disorders. There is no time like the present for us to advance with resolve to apply them.
This is a medical emergency practically without precedent in our country and it must to be attended to appropriately, from the doctor’s exam room to the legislature. Laws can be passed that regulate drug treatment facilities and support sufferers. We can save millions of Nigerian lives if we respond to drug addiction as a medical conundrum that is as deserving of compassion and care as any other illness.
Those suffering from drug addiction need all the help they can get; new research and more support from our local communities, the medical community, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary backed by citizens because the data on the matter is clear- it is not some stranger at risk of addiction, it’s the children in our homes. We must be updated on the most feasible alternatives for understanding and treating addicts.
“Ya Allah, my du’a is for drug abuse to stop!”
Hannatu Musawa; @hanneymusawa; www.hanneymusawa.com; www.facebook.com/hannatu.musawa; www.youtube.com/HannatuMusawa