The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control’s recent closure of three major pharmaceutical companies in Nigeria brings to light the epidemic currently ravaging Nigerian youths (aged 18-35 years). This comes after a BBC documentary that brought codeine addiction to the forefront. MrOtunbaIpinmisho, the former Director-General of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, estimated that 40% of Nigerian youths (the country’s future leaders) have used drugs for non-medical purposes at least once. In such a sick country, how can we expect economic growth?
Alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, inhalants, opioids, sedatives, and stimulants are among the drugs most commonly associated with these terms. This can result in health issues, social problems, criminal tendencies, physical dependence, and psychological addiction, depending on the compound. Before the 1990s, only the “bad boys” used alcohol, morphine, and heroin (diamorphine). This trend shifted dramatically at the turn of the twenty-first century. It used to be possible to predict who would develop a drug problem; however, this has since changed. As depicted in Olamide’s song “Science Student,” ingenuity has been introduced into drug abuse with complex mixtures, experiments, and new discoveries. Inhalation of volatile solvents (gasoline, nail polish remover, kerosene, and petrol), fumes from pit toilets/soakaways (biogas), “goskolo” (a concoction of unimaginable substances), (a substance resembling tea leaves), and pharmaceutical products (tramadol, rohypnol, methadone, hydrocodone, and codeine) mixed with soft drinks are now commonplace.
Opioids such as tramadol, hydrocodone, and codeine belong to the same family as morphine. They are used to treat moderate to severe pain in humans. Tramadol is used to treat post-operative, injury-related, and chronic (e.g., cancer-related) pain in dogs and cats, as well as many small mammals such as rabbits, rats, and guinea pigs, in veterinary medicine. Codeine is also used as a cough suppressant. The liver breaks down codeine into morphine, which is how it works. Despite the fact that codeine (the most commonly used opioid) is on the WHO’s List of Essential Medicines (the most effective and safe medicines required in a health system), its misuse could be disastrous. Some patients convert codeine to morphine very efficiently, resulting in lethal blood levels. A person sleeping and not waking up is a common occurrence. Furthermore, because codeine is metabolized to morphine, morphine can be passed through breast milk in potentially lethal amounts, depressing a breastfed baby’s respiration fatally. In Nigeria, the use of prescription drugs is quickly overtaking that of illegal drugs. Prescription drugs can be obtained in a variety of ways, including sharing with family and friends, illegally purchasing drugs at school or work, and “doctor shopping,” which involves finding multiple physicians to prescribe the same medication without the knowledge of other prescribers.
Adolescents are more likely than adults to begin using drugs, and older people are more likely to experiment. Street children (almajiris) in northern Nigeria, to dull the senses against the hardships of life on the street; artistes, to deal with the stress of p erforming by increasing alertness and causing feelings of euphoria; veterans, to increase alertness and reduce the effects of long absences from their families; and an increasing number of students in secondary and tertiary institutions. Academic frustration, peer pressure, a lack of self-esteem, and the impulsivity that comes with being independent from their parents are all risk factors. According to the United Nations, there are more than 50 million regular drug users worldwide. It is impossible to overestimate the overall economic losses caused by health-related costs, productivity losses, and non-health direct expenditures. Nigeria loses $2 billion per month to India due to medical tourism!
This emerging threat to tomorrow’s leaders can only be addressed as a group effort. Unfortunately, drug abuse, misuse, and overuse are often undetected until the individual (and society as a whole) suffers the consequences. The majority of governments have enacted legislation that makes certain types of drug use illegal. Even for simple possession, the legal consequences can be severe (including the death penalty in some countries such as Philippines). Large, organized drug cartels still operate in Nigeria, despite (or perhaps because of) drug legislation. “Enikanninbi’mo, igbaeniyanni o to,” as a Yoruba proverb goes, “a couple gives birth to a child, and the society raises the child.” Guidance and counseling units in our educational institutions should be revived in addition to referrals for rehabilitation. Drug education, including drug refusal skills, should also be included in student orientation programs. Through effective collaboration with the school, parents/guardians should be more involved in their children’s/wards’ educational progress. Also, as much as humanly possible, we should monitor our children’s activities in terms of the types of friends they keep, their late-night activities, and their internet usage. Secondary and tertiary institutions of learning should establish a tripartite communication system between parents, teachers/lecturers, and students for the students’ overall well-being rather than for commercial gain.
The opioid crisis is exacerbated by the overprescribing of drugs. Over-the-Counter drugs should not contain codeine or other opioids. Prescriptions are required for codeine preparations in India. Physicians, pharmacists, and veterinarians should learn how to recognize medication-seeking behavior in their patients and clients, as well as the “red flags” that indicate possible prescription drug abuse. It is critical to remember that a healthy nation is a wealthy nation!
By Tayo Adesanya