The consequences of uncontrolled use of alcohol and drug abuse have significantly placed a burden on Nigeria’s healthcare sector. The former Director General, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Mr. Otunba Ipinmisho, in this interview with Kasim Sumaina, spoke on the implications of substance abuse to the society and its cost to health facilities in the country
What is your take on the series of recent reports on drug abuse in Nigeria?
I sometimes ask myself what the future of this country will be when almost half of its youths are on substance abuse. It is very important to note that a healthy nation is a wealthy nation, because it is a common belief that only the healthy can tend to the needs of others. But, a nation where about 40 per cent of its youths are on drug abuse can be very disturbing. The implications of this cannot be overemphasised. How do you expect economic growth in a sick nation?
Let me inform you that a recent research findings by the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 2009; revealed that 58 per cent of all alcohol, drug, and tobacco abuse-related costs paid by the federal and state government in United State were attributed to healthcare spending, amounting to more than $216 billion in 2005. Can we say same of our country, Nigeria, no! To start with, do we really keep enough data to know what we are battling with? Do we have the needed infrastructural facilities to handle cases of drug abuse? Health implications of substance abuse is enormous. Check out the budgetary allocation to the health sector in this year’s budget and see how dismal it is.
I got up usually to address cases of drugs in mosques and people will come and say, if you were in my house you would have known what I have been going through. It is very important to note that due to medical consequences of substance abuse, there is now increased disease prevalence that is made more difficult to treat by ongoing abuse of substances, and the lifestyle associated with addiction, contributes to a heavy cost on healthcare facilities in the country.
More illnesses lead to more cost. Individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol, use expensive forms of acute care more often than others. A growing number of studies show that individuals with addiction and chronic illnesses such as asthma, cardiovascular disease or diabetes, are likely to follow good self-care practices and, overall, receive lower quality of care than others with the same illness but no addiction. Nigeria loses $2 billions monthly to India for medical tourism. We don’t like long term project and these are the things that drive development. Infrastructure is absolutely vital to a nation’s development and growth. The implications of drugs and alcohol abuse lead to high care cost and without adequate health facilities here in Nigeria, we will continue to lose resources to other countries.
Are there ways substance abuse contributes to the spread of HIV /AIDS?
Yes of course. Drugs and substance abuse compounds cases of HIV spread in the country. Because the young boys and girls who abuse drugs don’t care where the syringe they use in injecting the substance is coming from, they just inject it and in a couple of minutes pass it around themselves. It is the fastest way to spread the diseases not just AIDS even the STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases). And somebody who is high will sleep with anything at that moment without any precautions. All this will fall back to the society and many of them may not keep one partner. The moment that young boy or girl have sexual intercourse with their partner and that partner in turn sleep with another partner, the spread of disease continue unabated. All these fall back to the already overstretched health sector, including wastage of manpower and the pressure of the virus pile up on the family. Though, successful treatment of substance abuse can lower healthcare costs, but treatment may not completely eliminate cost differences between individuals with and without substance use disorders.
That is why we can not move forward in this country because, the President may rule for four years and achieve nothing because he is pouring water in a basket and this predicaments is the drainage through which efforts are being wasted. For instance, there is no school you enter presently that you won’t find cases of drug abuse, and often times, the school authorities cover them up in order to protect their name. But at home who will cover it up? The boy taking drug at home is as dangerous as the arm robber in the night. That is a murder in waiting. Because any one who attempts to stop him might end up loosing his or her life.
What is your assessment of the level of drug abuse today in the country?
In Nigeria, it is very frightening, go to political rallies and see what drugs are doing to the youths in the country. Particularly in the North, they have a lot to worry about when it comes to drug abuse as individuals and as an entity. Most parents think they are sponsoring children abroad and never care about drugs in their life. There is this apple flavour they call shisha. If they are that concerned for flavour why not go to the market and get one. These are the ways of taking drugs. If you take an estimate of 10 boys particularly in Kano, seven will be on drugs. How then do we ascertain peace in such a place. That is why the governor will labour and see no result because the average teenager there is on drug. Actually they see developing the roads and bridges but for who? My concern is that the governors of these places do not seem to understand the ravaging issues on ground. Their concerns, is that when election comes they use these guys and of course, you can’t use normal human beings to do the kind of job they want but never remember that they won’t be in government forever. Their children will go to mosque, church and markets and meet those boys on drugs. I think the modern leaders in the North should gather under one roof and trash out these issues, they should put human development in high priority, otherwise, I cannot rest, because I am not going to settle anywhere else except in this country.
Are there ways we can prevent new drug entrants into Nigeria?
Government can stop the cultivation of these substances, but the problem is NDLEA (National Drug Law Enforcement Agency) has not been equipped. Government is always willing to use the agency it didn’t equip. NDLEA knows how to do all these. They know how to go into the air and spray the farms in a couple of minutes, and the whole farm will die off. Government should empower the agencies saddled with the responsibilities of tackling illicit drug trafficking. Series of findings resulting from the awareness campaign by NDLEA shows that drug issues in Nigeria are of serious concern. This could be attested to by the huge drug seizures and arrests made by NDLEA across the country in recent times. That there is thriving Indian hemp cultivation in the South-west and South-south geo-political zones of Nigeria.
That the North-west, North-east and North-central zones of the country have been bedeviled by the same malaise and the wanton abuse of drugs, including Indian hemp, psychotropic substances and solvents, with the South-east and some parts of South-west having significant prevalence of trafficking; That drug problem is identified as prevalent, owing to lack of awareness of the general population, especially on the inherent dangers of drug abuse and alternatives to illicit drug trade; and that the opportunities available in the mass media should be harnessed to bring the anti-drug message to the door steps of all and sundry. Federal Government should provide considerable budgetary allocation for the effective anti-drug awareness campaign across the country.
Specifically places like Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Borno and presently, Niger States should put priority on this if possible, include health agency to ensure all access to drugs are blocked. Now, the spate of unemployment which is the major agenda of the present government will help because most abusers, during interviews confess to idleness and peer pressure.
Parents should educate their children on self-esteem. They don’t need drugs to do anything or to belong. Because it’s sometimes feeling of inadequate and self low esteem that causes it often times. If they are already aware of who they are at home, they won’t need it, just like I do to my children.
Almost every party you go to now, they serve cocaine. I learnt recently that women who don’t want to be fat, who want to be slim now take drugs in place of food. I don’t know how we get into all these. Women should champion a cause against this. The First Lady should please take the lead on this.
Do you think the agency saddled with the responsibilities of tackling illicit drug trafficking are doing well?
If I send you to Lagos to get me something worth N300,000 and I give you N70,000, would you be able to deliver? No. The problem then is that we have well trained agencies but no resources enough to function.Because they want to hold on to positions as far as salaries keep coming they keep quiet and manage through. Except for someone like me, who cares not for the money but the future of his children and the country as a whole. Lagos has not up to two functional vehicles likewise Abuja too. When they have to go on operation they will have to borrow official car and believe me not all directors have cars anyway. You see only one Hilux van and probably a private car. They buy handcuffs, belt and the likes with their money, where then are we going to get the commitments from? The government has actually spent over five billion naira to train these agents with no resources to function.
With these frightening pictures you have painted, what do you think is the way forward?
For our country, the parents have to take up the lead and the government follows too as a matter of priority. Not minding getting finance from power, road etc. By the time the road and power are fixed, there may be no peace to enjoy it and without peace development will stop and may affect everywhere in the country.
Having interviewed some of these abusers, I got to know that some of them don’t feel like human beings after taking this substances, now imagine having so many of them in the country. Go to Wuse ll in Abujaand so many sport centres today, you will see what drugs and alcohol are doing to the youths of this nation.
NDLEA is very much aware of these, but can’t do anything, find out when was the last time the minister collected money or they should even ask where they are getting the seizures from? It does mean we are back to the old story where you catch six, collect money from four and and deliver two at the station, because you need their money to carryout the operations. When I asked what the meaning of that was, they said their former chairman usually said “when you go out for operations use your sense” for how long are we going to be deceiving this country? These agencies are just window dressing, so why do you spend so much money to train personnel of these agencies without resources? And can’t deliver their objectives. I am so bittered about what is happening in Nigeria.
I want to draw your attention to the local areas where they are cultivating these substances, what is the government doing about them?
You want to know what the Government is doing? Should the government fight with the farmers and producers? No! Government can stop the cultivations if actually it meant it. But, did they equipp NDLEA? No. Government is always willing to use the agency it didn’t equip. NDLEA knows how to do all these. They know how to go into the air and spray the farms in a couple of minutes the whole farm die off. But, many are happy to work with NDLEA because they share money from the seizures. There is even no money to follow the barons thereby putting the life of the agents at the mercy of the barons.