As a society, we tend to believe the only group of people who take hard drugs and participate in drug dealing are thugs or area boys, basically people that can be easily spotted and identified as criminals. However, shocking as this may sound, that is really not the case as recent events have shown that drug abuse is somewhat common among ordinary Nigerian youths today, regardless of their financial or family background.
Now, when I say drug abuse, some might immediately think about “popular” drugs like cocaine, cannabis or maybe even heroine. But, what if I told you that I am talking about everyday drugs like painkillers and cough syrup? Tramadol, Codeine & Rohypnol (popularly known as Refnol) are among the few “normal” drugs being consumed in high doses to achieve some kind of high.
Hearing first-hand accounts about the ugliness of drug addiction and drug abuse can be hard to stomach. It becomes even harder when it happens to someone who could be your son or daughter.
Peter*, the son of a well-to-do family, graduated from a prestigious high school in Lagos and went on the UK to continue his studies at a University in London. A star student, Peter did not disappoint as he continued making his family proud by getting a first class in his first year at the university.
But, something else was happening behind the scenes.
Peter had been using Marijuana, popularly known as “weed” since he was in high school in Nigeria. However, as soon as he got to the university in London, it became much easier for him to buy & take as much weed as his heart desired, as he had so much freedom. One might think that this would instantly cause a damper on Peter’s mental health and academics, but he continued to be very high-functioning. Nonetheless, the popular saying that weed is a “gateway drug” still stands. Weed just wasn’t doing it for Peter anymore, and he was exposed to opioids, specifically heroine. Peter unfortunately became an avid user of the drug and even resorted to “shooting up” which is injecting the drug into his system with the aid of a syringe. His friends started to notice some changes in him as he became distant and his good grades started to slip. One fateful night, Peter passed out while at a friend’s birthday party and was rushed to the hospital. His addiction was discovered and his family was notified. Of course, they were heartbroken and he was sent back to Nigeria, his parents hoping closeness to home and familial love will be enough for him to get over his addiction.
But alas, it wasn’t.
As soon as Peter began experiencing withdrawals, back home in Nigeria, he was able to sneak out of his house, go to a local chemist and obtain at least 4 boxes of Tramadol for as low as N2500 (painkillers are also a type of opioid). While this was going on, he maintained the illusion that he was getting better and his family thought everything was alright, until, Peter overdosed. Luckily, the doctors at his family hospital were able to pump out most of the pills from Peter’s stomach. His family then realized that something needed to be done about his addiction and Peter was admitted into a professional rehabilitation center in Lagos, and he is currently undergoing treatment.
There are other instances happening even closer to home.
About a month ago, a young Nigerian man on twitter, let’s call him Bola*, decided to share his story about how he almost lost his life. At first, I thought it would be something relating to maybe an accident or a run-in with robbers or something, but I was stunned to see that it was actually from drug abuse.
He opened up about how he was introduced to seemingly harmless painkillers like Rohypnol and Tramadol only to get addicted and have a near-death experience. He ended his story with a warning to all Nigerian youth to stay away from drugs no matter how “harmless” they appear.
I am sharing these accounts of firsthand experiences with you all to help us all realize that it’s high time we stop acting like drug abuse is only something area boys or “Westerners” do. It is affecting our youth and is no longer seen as a taboo anymore. Over-the-counter drugs are easily accessible and everyone is looking for a way to relieve stress these days, no matter how they get the relief. One can buy a packet of Tramadol for just about N500 at any local chemist. These drugs are not easy to access at licensed pharmaceutical companies, however, but there is no shortage of chemists that will be willing and ready to provide.
So, what can be done to stop this problem?
As a teenager, I know what an important role parents can play. Parents, get close to your kids. Teach them about how dangerous drug abuse is; Don’t rely on their schools to do this. Talk to your children (don’t shout at them please, just talk to them). Some of them are going through hard times, and they believe their only refuge is in the high they get from these drugs. Also, here are some red flags to watch out for with your children:
- Medication in their rooms or in their bags when they are not sick (e.g. cough syrups and pain killers).
- Drastic change in personality e.g. they become moody, irritable, angry, distant or reclusive.
- Injection marks or bruises on their bodies that cannot be explained.
- Dark Lips (could either be smoking cigarettes or marijuana).
- Frequent trips to the chemist, without any concrete reason.
The Federal and State governments also have a role to play in curbing this Drug Abuse problem. They need to clamp down on local chemists who are operating without licenses and giving out these drugs without any second thought.
We all need to take control of this problem now, before it gets completely out of hand.