A viral video of young people high out of their minds from the use of illicit drugs makes the rounds of Nigerian blogs every now and then. Their aim is always the grasping for comedic content, with an occasional aside of “this is why you shouldn’t do drugs, kids.”
Nigeria has a drug problem. This is an established fact that is sadly not easy to back with dependable year on year data. There is very little information on how many drug users there are in Nigeria, but a report on drug use and health in Nigeria in 2018 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recorded a prevalence of 1 in 7 people for the year 2017. The numbers are markedly higher than estimates of past years. It is unlikely to have dropped because treatment is inadequate and social attitude doesn’t encourage drug addicts to seek the help they need. The seasonal use of videos of people with drug addiction problems as joke fodder doesn’t help one bit.
Drug addiction or substance use disorder is a disease that affects a person’s brain and consequently their behaviour, leading to inability to control the use of legal or illegal drugs. That people can get addicted to legal drugs is worth noting because many don’t consider alcohol the legal drug that it is, nor addiction to it as grave as addiction to much harder or illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin.
Turkish novelist, Elif Shafak, noted of obesity and depression in her novel 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, “People with other illnesses receive at least a degree of sympathy and moral support, not the obese or the depressed.” The same can be said of people suffering from drug addiction, in Nigeria at least.
“You could have stayed away from drugs,” is something many will casually imply if they don’t say it outright. Perhaps there is a truth in this, but the truth in that we could still empathize with people suffering from addiction is not mutually exclusive to this other possible truth.
Addiction can happen with a number of drugs, including something as innocuous as prescription pain killers. The UNODC report from 2018 recorded a 4.7% of the population prevalence of opioid addiction – a whopping 4.6 million Nigerians.
The brain is wired to make us want to repeat experiences that makes us feel good, and whether by accident or design people could find themselves entwined in this thrill-seeking. What we owe them is not mockery and contempt but enough empathy to make them understand that help is available if and when they seek it or their friends and loved ones seek it for them.
This begins with a change of attitude towards drug addiction by you and I.