Tougher measures are needed in the face of the illicit drug crisis

TODAY, global attention is focused on a major problem that afflicts humanity: drug abuse and illicit trafficking. Since the United Nations designated June 26 each year as the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, or World Drug Day in 1987, the illicit drug conundrum has deepened. This merges with other destructive challenges faced by governments and organizations such as the financing of terrorism, the illegal arms trade, wars, sex trafficking and modern slavery.

This year’s theme, “Addressing Drug Challenges in Health and Humanitarian Crises,” provides another opportunity for the international community to consider countermeasures and step up action to defeat the scourge.

For Nigeria, this is a wake-up call. There is no doubt that the country not only faces a potentially explosive problem of drug use, but is also firmly entrenched in the whirlwind of international drug trafficking. It has large insurgent armies of Islamist terrorists, bandits and criminal gangs whose fighters are drugged; violent non-state actors control the border territories and impose their domination on the population. With state institutions, including security agencies, weakened and often compromised, and a distraught regime at the center, the country is headed for state failure.

Security experts have also long warned that unless urgent and effective action is taken, Nigeria could slip into ‘narco-state’ status. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Retired), should act decisively and relaunch the war on drugs.

Drug addiction is a global public health problem. Its corollary, trafficking, fuels crime, terrorism and state failure. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated the global value of drug trafficking at $322 billion in 2007. In 2014, Global Financial Integrity – an American think tank – said it ranged between 426 and 652 billion dollars.

In Nigeria, the alarm bell has been ringing for several years. The recent UNODC survey on drug use in the country revealed that 14.4% of the population aged 15-64 (14.3 million people) had used drugs in the past 12 months .

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance, followed by prescription opioids (such as tramadol, codeine or morphine) and cough syrups containing codeine or dextromethorphan. High-risk drug users are estimated to represent 0.4% of the population (approximately 376,000 people) and almost all of them regularly use opioids. Among high-risk drug users, nearly 80,000 or 20% were injecting drug users.

Its geopolitical position in Africa compels Nigeria to be more proactive. In 2017, the International Narcotics Control Board said West Africa remained a key transit point for drug trafficking. In addition to cannabis and cocaine, seizure data indicates trafficking in precursors such as ephedrine in Nigeria and a synthetic opioid, tramadol, which is increasingly being misused in the subregion. The illicit domestic manufacture of amphetamines and the cultivation and production of cannabis have also become concerns.

Areas that were once relatively drug-free are now being affected. In the Centre-Nord zone, the estimated annual prevalence of illicit drug use is 10%, which is equivalent to 1.5 million users during the previous year. The estimated annual prevalence of drug users in the North East zone is 13.6% of the more than two million users of the previous year.

In the North West, with the largest (official) population in the country, the prevalence of illicit drug use is 12% of the population, with around three million users between the ages of 15 and 64. In the South-East zone, the prevalence is estimated at 13.8% of the population, or 1.5 million people aged 15 to 64.

For the South West, the prevalence of any drug use is nearly double the national prevalence – an estimated 22.4% or 4.38 million people aged 15-64 have used drugs in the past the last year. In the South-South zone, it is 16.6%, or 2.1 million people aged 15 to 64.

The close links between drug abuse, crime and terrorism have long been established. Addicts are more likely to commit crimes to pay for their habit. In addition, many criminals are under the influence of drugs. Drug trafficking contributes to the creation and maintenance of organized crime and terrorism; Nigerian troops who loot hideouts or capture terrorists and bandits usually recover caches of illicit drugs as well as weapons and ammunition. The Taliban in Afghanistan and the guerrillas in Colombia have funded their respective decades-long insurgencies by producing and trafficking drugs. Research conducted by PubMed Central, a research repository, showed that 70% of male prisoners in the United States were drug addicts.

Highlighting the prevalence, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency recently reported rehabilitating over 11,000 drug addicts. She arrested 10 drug lords between 2021 and 2022. That seems like a huge step forward, but it’s not enough because it doesn’t significantly deter traffickers. The focus should be on barons, smugglers and financiers. Many captured couriers, which the NDLEA celebrates, are minor cogs – “mules” in industry jargon – who don’t even know the barons.

NDLEA Chairman Buba Marwa revealed that in 2021 over 8,000 drug addicts have been counseled and rehabilitated. In the first five months of 2022, an additional 3,523 people were counseled and treated at NDLEA facilities. UNODC, in another report, said that one in five people who have used drugs in the past year suffer from drug use disorders and there is an unmet need for treatment. drug addiction.

Addressing drug use and addiction should be a collaborative national program between federal, state, and local governments as well as NGOs, communities, schools, faith-based organizations, and the media. Objectives should include the prevention of substance use and addiction among young people, the most vulnerable segment of the population, the provision of treatment and counseling services and the application of stricter law enforcement measures against traffickers and producers. Reach the 40% of high-risk drug users who seek treatment but cannot obtain it, reduce the cost of treatment, overcome the stigma associated with drug use, and overcome the limited availability of drug treatment services drug addiction are major obstacles that must be eliminated.

States and LGs should provide well-equipped rehabilitation centers where addicts can self-report and find help. The NDLEA should, in collaboration with relevant agencies, focus more on drug rehabilitation than prison. For barons, producers and traffickers, there should be zero tolerance and tough penalties, including long prison sentences.

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