Drug abuse: Experts raise concern as mental illness cases triple

by Amos Kalu

The 2023 World Drug Report launched by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, put the global estimate of people who injected drugs in 2021 at 13.2 million, 18 percent higher than previously estimated.

The report further indicated that over 296 million people globally used drugs in 2021, an increase of 23 percent over the previous decade.

Similarly, it stated that the number of people who suffer from drug use disorders has skyrocketed to 39.5 million, a 45 percent increase over ten years.


It further showed that demand for treating drug-related disorders remains largely unmet, with only one in five people suffering from drug-related disorders in treatment for drug use in 2021 and widening disparities in access to treatment across regions.

“We are witnessing a continued rise in the number of people suffering from drug use disorders worldwide, while treatment fails to reach all those who need it.

“Meanwhile, we must step up responses against drug trafficking rings exploiting conflicts and global crises to expand illicit drug cultivation and production, especially synthetic drugs, fueling illicit markets and causing greater harm to people and communities,” UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said.

According to the report, 70 percent of people in treatment in Africa are under 35.

Like many other countries, Nigeria faces significant challenges in combating drug abuse and trafficking. The country serves as a transit hub for drug traffickers due to its location and extensive international connections.

The inference from this year’s UNODC report indicated that 14.4% of Nigerian citizens aged between 15 and 64 abuse drugs. This is significantly higher than the global average of 5.6%.

At a UNODC joint press conference with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, on June 19, 2023, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Buba Marwa (Retd), Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of NDLEA, revealed that the fight against substance abuse and illicit drug trafficking had produced notable results in the previous 29 months with the arrest of 31.675 drug offenders, 5,147 of them prosecuted and convicted, while more than 6.3 million kilograms of various drugs were

The theme for this year, “People First: Stop Stigma and Discrimination, Strengthen Prevention,” advances the use of a society-wide strategy to combat the drug scourge, claims Marwa.

He claimed that over the previous two and a half years, the agency had improved national efforts to combat drug supply in society.

But shockingly, according to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, or NDLEA, over 40% of Nigerian youths abuse drugs, which adds to the high prevalence of substance use disorders.

Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party, LP, condemned a report by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime in Nigeria in response to the development.

The lack of effective leadership in the nation, the high rate of poverty and frustration, peer pressure on young people, and the high unemployment rate are just a few of the things Obi cited as contributing to youth drug and substance abuse.

The former governor of Anambra State noted in a statement that the health problems associated with drug abuse are unimaginable, including an epidemic of mental health cases and incidents of youth suicide.

He argued that the government must take additional steps to prevent the youths from succumbing to drug abuse.

President Bola Tinubu cautioned the larger Nigerian society against social and structural stigmatization of drug use victims, which prevents them from accessing necessary care and support. Tinubu was speaking Monday at the annual United Nations International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking celebration at the State House, Abuja.

Tinubu emphasized the importance of educating the public about the risks of drug abuse and the need to end stigma and discrimination while urging support for those who are impacted.

“We need to arm our youth with the information and abilities they need to make wise decisions about their lives, and we need to give drug abuse victims the tools they need to stay away from drug abuse.

“We must also support those who are battling drug addiction by giving them the support and treatment they need to kick the habit.

It is crucial that we adopt a people-centered strategy that emphasizes prevention and treatment as the main pillars of our response in light of these challenges, he said.

According to Dr. Okwudili Obayi, a consultant psychiatrist at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital in Abakaliki and the public relations officer of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, drug abuse has a serious impact on a user because it can impair memory, which can cause behavioral issues.

Obayi emphasized that the growing prevalence of drug abuse in the nation has negative effects on the family, society, and the government.

The medical expert also emphasized the reciprocal relationship between drug abuse and mental health.

He claimed that it could have an impact on, cause, or precipitate someone’s mental illness.

Yes, he said, there is a connection between drug abuse and mental health. There is, in essence, a bidirectional link. The relationship between drug abuse and mental illness is reciprocal in that either behavior can influence, cause, or hasten the other.

However, a person with mental illness may abuse drugs. For instance, alcohol can cause abnormal behavior when a person drinks, loses control and starts acting inappropriately.

On the other hand, a person with a mental illness, let’s say, someone who is depressed, low in spirit, unable to handle challenges, or whoever they are depressed with, can feel the way out is to use a drug to uplift his mood, so he now goes and engages in alcohol. The same holds true for all other commonly abused drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine, Indian hemp, and tramadol. Consequently, there is a two-way relationship.

“Generally speaking, drug abuse has a significant negative impact. The facility where the person is receiving treatment as well as the drug-abusing individual’s family may be held accountable. Additionally, society or the government as a whole may be affected.

“The impact can be physical on an individual. For instance, using drugs can cause or hasten the onset of physical conditions like hypertension. Additionally, it could be social, psychological, or mental. Many factors are at play in the social sphere. It can ruin a marriage. It can cause people to act strangely in public, break the law, and fail to maintain,

He continued, “Using drugs can either make the illness come earlier or worsen the illness for someone who is vulnerable and predisposed or has the chance of developing mental illness. It might even prevent the person with the mental illness from getting better.

“Someone may suffer from any type of mental illness, such as depression or what we refer to as psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, which is what most people consider to be the true mental illness in which the sufferer has lost touch with reality and is unable to comprehend anything.

The drug “can help both in the onset and perpetuation, even after treatment and while on treatment, when that person has a precipitate to develop it. It can also hinder recovery and cause a person to break down even while they are receiving treatment.

The impact of drug abuse on a person’s psyche is significant, he continued. For instance, a drug abuser may engage in other behaviors that inevitably aggravate or cause mental health issues.

“For instance, a drug addict who attempts to steal is apprehended, imprisoned in a jail or prison, and suffers from a mental illness. Or someone who uses drugs that impair his capacity to take care of his health, either through eating, exercising, or doing other things he should do to maintain his health.

It can also exacerbate or precipitate all medical conditions, which now inevitably can also result in mental illness. So it’s a really big problem to deal with.

Additionally, using drugs can impair a person’s memory and ability to recall things, which can cause behavioral issues. Additionally, it may make space for additional brain-related illnesses or exacerbate mental illness.

The family is also taken into consideration. The family starts to worry, spend money, and do other things. Of course, a drug addict cannot contribute meaningfully to society and cannot function well.

The decisions could just as easily be made by a politician, in which case many people would suffer harm. Again, the government is spending money as drug addicts frequently utilize hospital resources that would have been put to better use otherwise, he said.

When it comes to treating drug abuse, the psychiatrist emphasized that it should be treated like a brain disease and that the type of condition, its severity, and the location all affect how it is handled.

“Drug abuse can be viewed as a brain disease,” he said. If it is determined to be a brain disease, treatment should be provided. One, it’s common knowledge that prevention is preferable to treatment.

“However, the best strategy in any sensible society that seeks advancement is to prevent drug abuse. However, when a person already has a problem, either the person is using the drug excessively despite not having any other issues, or the person has become dependent and addicted to the point where he cannot function without it, or the person’s use of the drug has resulted in other problems, whether they be psychological issues like any type of mental illness or medical conditions like hypertension or diabetes, social issues, or issues with the individual’s place in society.

Treatment is based on the condition type, the severity of the impact, and the location. Additionally, medical care can be given while a patient is at home or while they are in the hospital. As long as the goal is to withdraw from the substance, it all depends on the person’s problem and the stage at which they are admitted to the hospital.

“Unfortunately, a lot of young people who start using drugs won’t even think that it’s hurting them; even if they end up in the hospital, they’ll claim that the drugs aren’t the cause of their issue or that it doesn’t affect them in any way.

“However, once they realize it, they might be willing to stop, but it is usually not simple. Because of this, patients who are already drug dependent receive better care when they are admitted to the hospital, but there are still difficulties.

The health expert lamented that most people mistakenly believe that drug abuse is brought on by evil and lamented the ignorance of those who abuse drugs about the risks involved.

He added that many families lack the patience to let their loved ones receive all necessary stages of care when they are admitted to the hospital.

“It’s possible that the person has a problem but is unaware of it. Even if the person is aware, he might not be aware that a hospital can treat drug abuse issues.

“They threaten to leave even when they visit the hospital. Many people frequently gripe that they have no business being in psychiatric hospitals, where such treatment is provided.

This is because they may see others who have different types of mental illness, unrelated to drugs or related, but may appear more severe than their own, and they may think that nothing is wrong with them or that they should not be in this place.

Then, a significant portion of people with these issues have harmed their family members or may not have enough money to pay for treatment in the future. These are all difficulties that drug users face.

“When a member of the family uses drugs, the family’s first assumption is that the person is abusing drugs because evil people, who are opposed to the family’s advancement, are to blame. Depending on how they view the cause, that is even after being upset with the person.

He hasn’t started the treatment he needs to understand the effects the drug has had on him, the necessity of stopping, and the necessity of doing so so he can continue to be drug-free when he gets home.

“Many families don’t have the time to seek medical attention. A further issue is money. Families frequently express concern about their financial situation because drug-related illnesses typically necessitate extensive treatment.

So it is a significant challenge. Additionally, there aren’t many hospitals in the nation that can provide adequate care. The community where many people use these drugs is far from some of these hospitals, some of which are tertiary hospitals and are frequently owned by the federal government.

“Availability is a challenge, but where hospitals exist, there are few facilities, and manpower also becomes a problem.

“Second, the drug user is not valued by society. He is quick to be dismissed and stigmatized.

The government, on the other hand, is making an effort but needs to go further. It must guarantee the availability of treatment facilities, including in our secondary and primary healthcare facilities, the man said.

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