The World Drug Day is celebrated on June 26 every year which coincidentally falls on my birthday. I was so carried away with my birthday celebrations which saw calls, messages and texts pouring in from all over the world that I completely forgot about the sobriety of the day in the noble battle against drug and substance abuse.

The Nigerian Psychiatric Scene wasn’t silent on this very important day despite the challenges that psychiatrists face in the supposed Giant of Africa tragically with the feet of clay.

Some prominent psychiatrists granted interviews to the state-owned News Agency of Nigeria and some of their thoughts will be aptly captured in this thought-provoking piece.

A psychiatrist, Dr Veronica Nyamali, said that the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and other law enforcement authorities should continually enforce their mandates and responsibilities against drug abuse.

Nyamali, who is also the Vice-president, Association of Psychiatrists of Nigeria (APN), said that NDLEA should focus more on prevention of drug abuse, considering its numerous devastating negative effects.

She said that a strong synergy and interaction between the NDLEA and the mental professionals was required to check drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking.

She said that a communication gap existed between the NDLEA and the mental health professionals, stressing that they ought to be on the same page on issues relating to prevention and health implications of drug abuse.

She said, “Our justice system as well as the NDLEA operating system need to be overhauled for optimal performance.

“Indeed, perpetrators must be punished according to the law of the land. This is the only way it will serve as a deterrent to others with similar horrible intentions.”

The psychiatrist said that family was the pillar of society where people should learn morals, values and behaviours that could transform their lives to be responsible citizens.

According to her, the moral upbringing of children is a primary responsibility of every parent.

“We should be more watchful particularly now that the 2023 general election is drawing closer.

“Electoral violence, snatching of ballot boxes, killing, kidnapping and lots of other social vices are being executed under the influence of drugs.

“This is why it’s pertinent for the parents and the society as a whole to shield the youths away from getting involved with drugs.

“As a parent, always monitor your children and keep a close watch on their activities because the young ones (youths) often used to perpetrate the acts are offspring of a parent,” Nyamali said

Also, a consultant psychiatrist, Prof. Taiwo Sheikh, called for more security, monitoring and tightening of the country’s borders where some of these drugs were being exported and imported into the country.

Sheikh, the immediate past president of APN, said that terminating the production and sources of the drugs were key in efforts to prevent drug abuse.

According to him, if there is no supply of the drugs, there will be no demand for them.

He said that government should continue to drive policies that would discourage people from getting involved in illicit
drug use and trafficking.

“The laws regarding drug abuse in the country should be reviewed, so as to have offenders duly punished. It will serve as deterrent to others.

“All the enforcement agencies including the government should collaborate in efforts to curb drug because it requires multi-dimensional approach,” Sheikh said.

Drugs like cocaine, heroin, morphine and the abuse of codeine as well as marijuana have done more harm than good especially in the lives of the youths and sturdy measures need to be taken to curb the menace. Many promising and bright futures have been cut short due to substance abuse. Prominent Journalist Adejuwon Soyinka, the Regional Editor West Africa for the Conversation while he was with the BBC went to some northern states to do an award-winning investigative piece on the abuse of codeine which was nominated for the Emmy Awards. There is an inextricable link between the insurgency and banditry in the north and the abuse of drugs.

Many armed robberies occur as a result of the abuse of drugs where the robbers become so hardened that they lose their humanity and kill, maim and rape their hapless victims.

The Federal Government must work hand-in-hand with the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency to effectively tackle this menace. It is not enough to parade suspects on television to create the impression that the NDLEA is working. The root cause of this malady must be tackled so that we wouldn’t be chasing shadows battling the symptoms.

Public policies should be geared towards keeping every child in school and teaching market driven skills so that the malaise of youth unemployment would be considerably reduced. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop and so the government must create jobs, jobs and more jobs backed with a relevant education, education, education – the latter quote is in apologies to the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair whose administration had a focal thrust on education which is a useful tool in effectively tackling poverty which will make the use of hard drugs unattractive.

June 26 is a reminder of why optimal mental health must be encouraged through the discouraging of the use of destructive drugs which act as a clog in the wheel of youth development.

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