All stakeholders must step up measures to contain the widespread threat to the future of the nation

The recent outcry by the Gombe State Command of the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) over the use of illicit drugs among children under 15 years, calls for urgent action by critical stakeholders in our country. The children, according to the anti-drug agency, inject themselves with prohibited substances. And from NDLEA’s investigation, these substances often embolden them to carry out all sorts of crimes. Indeed, many of the young men who reportedly were involved in unprotected sex are presently down with the HIV/AIDS virus.

Only few people would be surprised by the damning revelation. Hard drugs, ranging from cannabis, often called Indian hemp, to cocaine, heroin and amphetamines are increasingly available on the street in most towns in Nigeria and abused by both the young and the old. Yet, these are substances that cause serious problems for the user and the society at large. Heroin and amphetamine-type stimulants and over-the counter drugs are also being increasingly abused in most of our cities.

Even when statistics may be hard to come by, there must be a correlation between the abuse of drugs and the prevalence of crime in Nigeria. Many of the audacious crimes including vicious robberies and murders, raiding of banks, prisons, churches and kidnappings, are said to be aided by drugs, going by the confessions of the culprits that were caught.

What compounds the problem is that Nigeria is one of the largest growers of cannabis in the West African sub-region. Hectares of cannabis plantations have been discovered in Edo and some areas in the South West, particularly Osun State. And because the weed is grown locally, it is easily available, cheap and therefore the most abused of the illegal drugs in the country. But the real danger now is that many of our young people are already hooked on a substance that is more or less a one-way traffic to destruction.

Therefore, we are worried about the future of the nation when several of its youths are on substance abuse. It is more disturbing especially when our institutions do not really keep enough data to know what we are battling with and the needed infrastructural facilities to handle the deepening crisis. Experts have always argued that due to medical consequences of the prohibited substance abuse, there is increased disease prevalence that is made more difficult to treat while the lifestyle associated with addiction also contributes to a heavy cost on healthcare in the country.

From different findings, individuals with addiction and chronic illnesses such as asthma, cardiovascular disease or diabetes, are less likely to recover as quickly as others with the same illness but no addiction. Drugs and alcohol abuse lead to high healthcare cost and without adequate health facilities here in Nigeria, we will continue to fritter scarce resources. It is a notorious fact that Nigeria loses billions of dollars annually to India for medical tourism.
There is no doubt that the threat of drug abuse has eaten deep into the fabrics of our society; but we still believe that with effective counselling programmes and enlightenment campaigns, the problem could be tackled.

Therefore, the government, at all levels, should create drug awareness units, especially in schools. It is also important for religious and cultural organisations to join in the efforts to rid our society of this dangerous habit that can only impact negatively on the future of our country.

At a time the nation is facing a serious economic challenge, the social problem of having our young people hooked on drug is a major issue that should attract the attention of not only the government but all stakeholders in the Nigerian project.