All the stakeholders should fuse efforts to tackle the problem of drug addiction among our youths, writes Monday Philips Ekpe

My first encounter with the subject of chemical abuse was in the early 1970s, in my primary school days. My late father, Mr. Philip Ekpe Odekina, who was a headmaster then, paraded one of his pupils at the morning assembly. The boy had been caught in a rare, often concealed, act. In his self defence, he told the stunned audience that he wanted badly to end his run of failure in arithmetic. His friends then graciously proffered a simple solution: Indian hemp. That explanation did not impress his listeners. I can’t remember whether the strokes of cane he later received succeeded in turning him away from the lure of smoke or any other stimulant.

One thing is certain, though. The truism that the more things change, the more they remain the same applies well to the drug addiction issues in Nigeria today. That episode over four decades ago still attests to the fact that this affliction, in all ramifications, is rooted in falsehood; in the promise to provide succour, solace and soulful satisfaction. No doubt, the affinity between educational prowess and puffing is far-fetched; so also is the ability of the numerous unauthorised substances that have emerged over the years to shield young people, especially, from the various vicissitudes they constantly face. The sad reality before us now is that people, both young and old, embrace and utilise drugs beyond the dictates of rational medicine. Both hard substances and prescription drugs have put many lives in chains. In some other cases, young people smoke or inhale latrines, industrial gum, lizard droppings, paint; just about any smell that can get them on a “high”. End result: complicated, shattered lives. Why do they through the dark, treacherous paths to euphoria, sense of self-worth and enhanced sexual drive? What happened to recreational activities, healthy diets and other agents of energy acquisition and release?

Ahmed Lawan, Leader of the Senate, put the tragedy thus: “Between Kano and Jigawa states, over three million bottles of codeine are consumed daily and, according to report, 70 per cent of the drugs that come to northern Nigeria go to Sambisa Forest. You know what the forest is associated with. We have many issues associated with drugs and we have to do something. If we do not, we may end up wiping out our youths, especially in the northern part of the country, through military action against insurgency.

“Those who escape military action will be destroyed by drugs. The country is heading for a serious crisis until we are able to deal with it. I consider the fight against drug addiction an important fight. It can be as important and equal in significance to fighting the war against insurgency and banditry. Drug addiction costs us so much in terms of security and it is leading to the loss of lives of the youth that ought to be very productive under normal circumstances.”

Equally disturbing is the pronouncement of Prof. Moji Adeyeye, Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), on the matter. Her words: “Using drugs is centrally controlled or central nervous system-based which means it hits the brain immediately and it changes the user to somebody else. During the first use and second use, the brain of the user becomes very different because of dependence. The youths are then no longer able to control themselves, and that is where the crimes, terrorism, come in. Therefore, please let the word go out that drug use comes with consequences. Many youths are dying of drug overdose because it is very easy for them to access addictive drugs…”

Even though many watchers of this sad phenomenon agree that the far north suffers more than the rest of the country, the way forward is to see it as a national menace and fight it accordingly since every part has a recognisable share of addicts and potential abusers. Signs of derailing already exist, unfortunately. Some people are of the view that suppliers mainly from the east are only glad to service the ever-growing market up north, that there is a deliberate attempt to render the youths of the target destination useless through this nefarious means. The nation cannot afford this distraction now. The items that constitute hard substances keep multiplying in quality and number. At the moment, codeine, an otherwise innocuous pharmaceutical ingredient of cough syrup in the country, is taking hard knocks for also being in hot demand among junkies. Others like tramadol, valium and alabukun are working in concert to keep the young bound, first in their minds and then the other departments of their lives. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), National Orientation Agency (NOA), other relevant bodies, places of worship, educational institutions and parents should be encouraged to do the right things. This is one battle we cannot afford to lose.

Where is Lola Fani-Kayode? Nigeria needs professionals like her now. In 1990, this foremost Nigerian female film producer and director created a television series titled, “Mind Bending”. Highly informative and educative, the short films – On Edge, Last Days, Wake to the Night and Scars Within – displayed the clear dangers of drug addiction. The successes recorded by those outings urgently need to be replicated now. The current generation of youngsters who, interestingly, are big fans of the social media and television, should be taught that escapism has its own limits, that not many people have the luxury of turning back from the tip of the cliff.