In December 1987, The United Nations designated June 26 as the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, and this has been celebrated annually since 1988. The International Day Against Drug Abuse and Trafficking serves to draw awareness to the rise in drug abuse and educate people on the major problems that illicit drug use and drug abuse represent to the society. This day also serves to recognize the serious health implications that illicit drugs have on human beings, as well as the negative effects on the development of a country.
The global theme for this year is “Listen First: Listening to Children and Youth is the first step to help them grow healthy and safe.” Unfortunately, 40% of Nigerian Youths engage in substance abuse of some sort, and this drug abuse poses a serious threat to public health and to the leaders of tomorrow. First, let me differentiate between Drug Misuse, Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction.
Drug Misuse: This is when a person ingests a drug for purposes other than that for which the drug is intended. Majority of the people that misuse a drug are not necessarily trying to get high. For example, if you have pain and you are instructed to take two tablets of an analgesic and after a few minutes, you still have pain, then you might decide to take another two tablets so that the pain relief will be faster; that is drug misuse.
Drug Abuse: This is defined as the unwarranted use of a drug or substance in order to achieve a ‘high’ or for performance enhancement. People that abuse drugs usually don’t have a prescription for the drug. Abusing a drug usually leads to dependency and addiction.
Drug Addiction: Recurrent use of a drug or substance over a 12-month period and the inability to stop.Drug Abuse and trafficking go hand in hand and this has been classified as a global health problem. Globally, over 246 million people abuse drugs and most of them are teenagers. Previously, drug abuse in Africa was not a major problem as it were internationally. However, since the 80s and with the emergence of trafficking of illicit drugs into Nigeria, drug abuse and the availability of illicit drugs has grown very rapidly. In the past, drug abuse in Nigeria was limited to mainly tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and khat. In recent times, trafficking in narcotics such as heroine, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, barbiturates, etc has made these drugs readily available here in Nigeria, and our youths become the easy victims. Research conducted by the National Drug Law and Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) revealed that those mainly affected are between 13-35 years of age.
Sadly, this is the truth! As physicians, we regularly encounter several cases of patients that abuse drugs or are addicted to some type of medication. Most times, companies send in their employees for their annual health check or for pre-employment drug testing and most times, their health tests reveal regular drug abuse. I remember a 17-year-old boy brought by his parents to my work facility. He was bleeding from his nose. Blood and urine analysis showed the presence of marijuana and cocaine metabolites in this young boy’s system. To say that I was heartbroken would be an understatement. So many questions ran through my mind as I reviewed his results. “How did he get into this bad habit? Where does he get the drugs from? Are his parents aware? How could his parents miss this? Does this young boy know that this could ruin his future?”
The use of illicit drugs among teenagers and young adults has become a subject of public concern. Majority of Nigerian teenagers cultivate this habit during their secondary school years out of peer pressure or mere curiosity. It starts out as a harmless singular, one-time act and it soon progresses to drug dependence, and then a full-blown drug or substance addiction. This habit is linked to poor health and severe organ damage such as liver disease, brain deterioration and memory loss, kidney failure, endocarditis (inflammation of the heart) etc. Prolonged drug use has also been linked to erectile dysfunction, decreased fertility, low sperm count in men and abnormal ovulation in women. Drug abuse has also led to the increase of disease contraction such as HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C through sharing of needles used in drug administration. Drug abuse also affects mental health. Sometimes, people turn to drugs when they are depressed because they think it will make them feel better. Surely, it gives a sense of euphoria initially, but ultimately, it makes the depression worse. Severe anxiety disorder and schizophrenia are also other side-effects.
Parents have the most influence in helping their children to grow healthy and safe. Parents must learn to pay close attention to their children, be more observant and do not ignore any behavioral change. Talk to your children, ask them questions, know what they are doing and where they are. It is important to have open lines of communication. Children that have involved parents are five times less likely to engage in any substance abuse. The implications of prolonged drug abuse on an individual, the family and society as a whole, are terrible. Drug abuse can kill. The time to act is now!
Disclaimer: The medical information provided on here by Dr. Nini Iyizoba is provided as an information resource only. This information does not create any patient-physician relationship and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment
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