The Chief Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director, Karu General Hospital, Abuja,
Dr. Ede Ojo, speaks on drug abuse in this interview with Kassim Omomia
Are you not worried about the growing menace of drug abuse, especially by youths in the country?
To say I am worried is an understatement because it is what I see every day. The problem is getting worse and those of us in clinical practice, we are seeing how these drugs are ravaging the people, especially young people. There is a high rate of school drop-out among them. There are also those of them with psychotic disorder, meaning they lost their minds because of drug use. There are a lot going on in society and I hope we know that drug and crime go hand-in-hand. So, presently drug menace in the country is alarming, mind boggling and really a cause for concern.
Can we have the numbers, a kind of national statistics of those who have abused drugs?
I cannot quote figures now. But I know the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) did a report on it. The organisation is looking at as much as between 10 and15 per cent of people aged between15 and 45. UNODC did it alongside the National Office of Statistics. I suspect the report came out sometime last year.
Recently, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency proposed that political office holders should be subjected to drug test, what is your thought on this?
Let us not talk about politicians. I want to talk about the youths because they are the leaders of tomorrow. If we have drugs ravaging our youth population, how do you think that we shall have a country to be proud of. You see, a lot of young people start to use drugs before they are 10. I mean at this age, some many of them have started experimenting with drugs.
By the time they are 13 and 14, they would have become regular drug users. And these are young people that are in school, in families and in the society. It is at this stage that you begin to see behavioural challenges in them. Many of them will begin to join cults, they become truants, they begin to cause problems for their parents at home and their academic performance will begin to decline.
It is very typical, especially for those of them who begin to abuse drugs from maybe senior secondary (SS2 or SS3). By the time they get to the university, you will just notice a significant drop and downward drift even in their studies. May be first year you see GPA is maybe 4.2/5, second year GPA is 3/5, third year GPA is 2/5 and that is they if they do not eventually drop out.
So, you just see, it takes its toll on them. And at home, they become problematic. They are rude to their parents; they hang out with criminals; they keep late night, and they begin to steal things from the house to sustain the drug habit. So, you see a lot of difficulties, a lot of problems. And if some these things are not addressed, it culminates in a schizophrenia- like illness, especially for those who abuse Indian hemp.
Can you give us further insight into schizophrenia?
It is a problem with the way they think, they feel and the way they behave. Some of them have this psychotic break down because of the use of these drugs. The codeines, and some of these drugs they use make them depressed. Many of them kill themselves in the context of drug abuse. So, a lot of the criminalities, suicide, psychiatric disturbances and many other things go with drug abuse.
How does drug abuse affect national growth and development?
It affects national development in all ramifications. For example, somebody who is not well because of drug abuse has a mental health condition. The person is not well because drug has taken hold of his brain, So, this person’s thinking, feeling and ability to make decisions, rational decisions are completely impaired?
This is where you can begin to talk about politicians. The politician who is abusing drugs, how can he make rational decisions? It is like the drug chains the brain and focuses it on the kind of activity that it wants the brain to focus on. And those are activities that surround drug use. For example, you see somebody who has especially important business meeting will prefer to go partying where drugs will be freely available. Or in taking a decision, he is seeing A and it is looking like C to him. So, these are real issues.
So, it is a sickness inflicted on the brain by the substance. And until that person is treated, the person cannot be said to be rational. The drug abuser uses his school fees to buy drugs: There are drug abusers who own property in Abuja here, today they sleep under trees. They sold their properties, everything they have. They sell and sell even their mattresses and sleep on the floor.
So, how can somebody in that condition contribute his quota to national development. Most of the time, they go into criminal activities. They only contribute to criminality in the country.
What solutions can you proffer?
It is for government, parents and institutions to work together. When I say government, it is the relevant institutions of government acting together. For example, there are locations in Abuja where drugs are sold openly. Yet you hear they go for raids. They will raid today, tomorrow they are back, so what is going on? Are there people who have interest in this drug trade? Do not forget the drug abuse effect on the user. Drug trade is a multi-billion dollar trade. The money to be made is a lot. So, there are people who would want to make sure it does not end because of the money they make.
So, government must have the will to go after them, plug their trafficking routes. Destroy factories where drugs are been manufactured in Nigeria. Ensure they identify and destroy such farms. They must look for the kingpins. Most of the time, they pick up sellers on the streets, forgetting the very well organised distribution rings. Government must put intelligence in those areas.
Then the role of the families. Parents must endeavour to keep an eye on their children. The mistake a lot of parents make now is that they think it is a boy’s problem. Guess what, drug abuse among the girls is increasing and might soon overtake what you see in the boys. There are girls who are using drugs actively in their homes that the parents do not know. Because their parents do not look for signs and symptoms of drug abuse. That is why I say all hands must be on deck.
Even in schools, teachers can identify drug use among their students by paying close attention to some things. Churches and mosques must all contribute to check this menace.
While canvassing that the battle be taken to farms where cannabis is grown, some states like Ondo are pushing to legalise Indian Hemp so as to make foreign exchange, what is your view on this?
We are going to see more of that. Sometimes I tell my students and young people that Indian hemp is likely going to be legalised. But guess what, it is a world system and is the system that is out to make money. It does not matter who dies or who is destroyed in as much as they make money. Look at what is going on in the US, most of the states now have officially legalised India hemp, but guess what, the psychotic illnesses, the addiction is on the rise. The young people as young as nine are getting addicted and nobody is looking at that. Experts in those country are also shouting, do not do this, you are destroying people. So, ultimately the decision is yours. You cannot trust government to protect you because governments are going to think about money. I know, maybe not in my time, but in the near future, that India hemp is going to be legalised.
Sometimes I tell my patients and clients that if they love you so much why do not they give it to you free of charge. Then we know there is no financial interest in it, and they keep getting money from you and when you become sick and you break down, they are not there. So, money is involved. I remember Colorado was one of the first state in the US that legalised cannabis. That first month they made so much excess in taxes over a $100 million. The money is big, and politicians are tempted, because of the big money in it.
But nobody looks at the value of the human lives. They say it is their choice. There are parents who use drugs and begin to give their children drugs, all sorts of things are happening, and we are going to see worse.
There was a man who was brought here to this hospital and the wife said she cannot continue, why, because the man will send the child to buy India hemp, lit it and smoke and will want to give it to the child. This is a child whose brain is still developing, tomorrow that child cannot do well in school, he becomes a drop out. And because the child wants to succeed might go into criminality and because of this those of us in society are not safe.
What is your advice to the victims and users?
Drug abuse or use of drugs is dangerous. You do not play with drugs; it can take your life. I interact with a lot of young people who use drugs. Many of them have told me a lot of stories even about their friends that have died from addiction. But you know the interesting thing, nobody tells you the bad part of it. They make it seem like it is the new norm.
Now, you tell people that is not good to use India hemp, and they are looking at you, like what are you talking about. But we know, we have a ward where people who are broken down mentally because of drug abuse, we treat them, many of them do not know. They only know about social media, they talk about their favourite artists and actors who do drug and so it is good. It is not all good and nobody tells them. Those of us that are on the field, you know there is so much confidentiality. But I thank God for the young people who have had this experience that are coming out openly to say do no, do not do this, this is what it did to me.
Drug addition is not good. It is just that people do not talk about it. If you sit with parents whose children are victims, you will see grown men and women weeping over their children. It is terrible. But you know, everybody is hiding, you hide your own, I hide my own and we all look good on the outside.
So, young people, it is a trap. Drug abuse is a trap. A trap that tells you to come and have fun. But you know what, when it takes hold of you, you are almost going nowhere. It ruins you, ruins your future, it destroys your brain and without the brain no other thing can function. As a young person your brain is still growing until your mid-twenties. So, if you begin to abuse drugs early in life, you cannot go anywhere, and your brain cannot reach its full potentials. Forget whatever they tell you. Drugs arrest and interfere with the growth of the brain, they derail the brain.
How many bad cases have you managed successfully?
Uncountable. I have been in this speciality since 1996. So, I cannot even begin to count. If they start exceedingly early, it is more difficult, more difficult because the brain is growing. There are some of my patients who have today succeeded, and I am so happy and proud of them. They take it one day at a time, but they are doing well. I have patients who still struggle and patients who have died because of drug use.