Will Nigeria treat drug addicts any better?

By Eseosa Cole

Nigeria is a place where we choose to believe that drug abuse/dependence is alien to our culture. The prevalence of drug abuse is actually very high in Nigeria and it is an epidemic that is ravaging Nigeria. I personally carried out a research and found out drug use OF cocaine, cannabis, tranquillisers and sedatives is particularly high in the FCT, Kano, Kaduna, Lagos, Benin, Enugu and Owerri.

Drug addiction/substance abuse is a chronic disease characterized by uncontrollable drug seeking and use despite the deleterious consequences.

This eventually leads to negative and long-term changes in the brain. The changes can be permanent as well. These brain changes can lead to harmful behaviour of the drug user. Drug addiction is also a relapsing disease, a relapse resulting in the return to drug use even after treatment and an attempt to stop an addiction. In line with this, the scientific world has established substance abuse as a neuro physical condition that requires medical treatment.

Drug abuse is a reality all over the world and it’s a problem that all nations should be concerned with and prioritise. In Nigerian there is hardly any documented research on drug use and prevalence of use. The government does not provide any revenue for drug related matters. The relationship between our legal system and drug traffickers /users is vertical, very clear and calls for incarceration/imprisonment. There is no soft landing for drug users, which ordinarily would accommodate treatment and rehabilitation. Every time drug users are caught they are most likely to be clamped in jail with long terms. In the length of time wherein drug users have been incarcerated or shot dead as in the case of the Philippines, drug use and addiction has not reduced. The reason why this is, is that there are no research or rehabilitation centres to help alleviate the problem of drug use and addiction.

It is no wonder then that the crime rate in Nigeria has a certain relationship with the rate of drug abuse. There is an interwoven relationship between drug use and crime because substance dependence impairs logical and moral reasoning. This inevitably leads to and in turn enhances crime. We find out that despite the incarceration of drug users, the crime war is still very far from being won by the authorities. This therefore calls for measures beyond what already subsists. The way things are now, there is no justice in treating non-addicted felons and addicted felons the same way. Most addicts are convicted without access to resources to fight their addiction, and therefore a chance to live life away from crimes attached to drug abuse.

According to the UN world drug report, New Zealand and Iran not only have high rates of drug abuse cases but they have created appropriate measures to tackle drug addiction. New Zealand is paradise for marijuana users. This availability and accessibility ultimately contributes to the high rate of consumption of this substance. To tackle this high level of the consumption of marijuana, Auckland spends the equivalent of $120million every year to treat and rehabilitate addicts. The US spends $92 billion on drug addiction treatment and programmes and has 14 500 drug treatment facilities. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Iran holds the record as second highest rate of treatment as it sits next to Afghanistan which is the number one country in the world in the production of opium and its trafficking thereof. In Nigeria there are no funds made available for research and rehabilitation to provide treatment for drug users. According to a W.H.O report, a lack of public awareness in this area thwarts the prevention effort. Due to problems of funding and dearth of potential researches, Nigeria is not making progress in formulating critical policies to take care of drug addicts/users.

The law should stop ignoring the complex issues which substance abuse throws up. This is not to say that addicts are purely victims. Even though they must be made to account for the repercussions of their addition to drugs, there must structures in place to rehabilitate and put them back to society in the production chain. My take is that however concerned we are about delivering punishment, we should consider how to rehabilitate and prevent convicted drug users from re-offending. We should make sure the appropriate judicial mechanisms rare put in place.

As a solution, I recommend that there should be a policy which successfully integrates medical treatment of substance dependence to punitive sanctions of incarceration. This solution requires a change in legislation, amendment of current laws and the education of our people. This would blaze the trail towards a more proactive rather than a reactive path to the resolution of this big problem. I also suggest that we help to empower our leaders to take a stand in favour of integrated approaches which will encourage drug addicts seek help. In developing countries such as Nigeria, research will would do well to blend inquiry with practices. Research is needed to fully understand the specific needs of drug addicts in a developing society like ours.

Cole writes from Open Justice Society, Lagos.