There is an urgent need to embark on enlightenment campaigns against the use of hard drugs

The alarming rate at which vulnerable groups among the young and old are getting hooked on illicit drugs caught the attention of the Northern Traditional Rulers Council last week. In the communiqué issued at the end of the council’s General Assembly, the traditional rulers “noted with grave concern the alarming rate of drug abuse and drug addiction” and resolved to partner with coalition of northern groups to check the menace in the North in particular and the nation in general.

While we commend the traditional rulers for their timely intervention on this social malaise that is threatening the future of a generation, it is regrettable that President Muhammadu Buhari does not seem to appreciate the gravity of the situation. ‘‘I have charged them (Customs officials) and other law enforcement agencies to go after those trafficking in illicit drugs that are causing much harm especially among young people,” he said in Kano last week. But the issue goes beyond trafficking in drugs, even though it constitutes a serious problem on its own. The consumption of illicit drugs has become a major health problem in Nigeria.

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 crimes in our country today. Indeed, 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 some of the culprits that were caught. But the real danger now is that many of our young people are already hooked on substances that are more or less a one-way traffic to destruction.

Therefore, we are worried about what the future of the nation would be 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 facilities to handle cases of drug abuse. 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. The implications of drugs and alcohol abuse lead to high healthcare cost and without adequate health facilities, we will continue to lose resources to other countries. 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, the problems can be tackled, in addition to sensitisation campaigns by government and other appropriate authorities. 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.