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How drug addiction drained our life savings, truncated our education, relationships –Survivors

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…reveal how rehab homes rescued them from narcotic-induced tragedies

Revisiting the past is often a tough task for survivors of drug abuse amid increasing use of narcotics by youths, AFEEZ HANAFI writes

As a university graduate and cloth designer, the route to success was widely open to Nneka. Even without formal employment after completing the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps scheme, she was making headway in her vocation at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, raking in cash on a daily basis.

It was seemingly apparent the young lady was coasting to the Promised Land until addiction to crack threw a spanner in the works. Nneka (pseudonym) worked really hard and earned big only for the proceeds of her diligence to go down the drain. As time went by, the 30-year-old became a compulsive smoker to the detriment of her thriving business. Clients disappeared, shop shut and suddenly the odds were stacked against the budding entrepreneur.

The habit that almost left Nneka’s life in ruins started five years ago when she was in 300-level. Friends lured her into marijuana. She fell for the high after the first attempt and was trapped in the allure of drugs afterwards. Because she did not know how to ‘wrap cannabis,’ she stopped smoking after graduating from school. It, however, turned out to be a temporary break. A female friend she met after completing NYSC in Abuja not only taught her the ‘art’ of wrapping but also took her to the worst level.

“After a while, I went into crack,” Nneka said, as she began to narrate her journey into the weird world of drugs to Saturday PUNCH. “It gave me another life. After I finished taking it, I became depressed and bored. I was working hard and making a lot of money but everything was being spent on crack.”

Before long, she started losing it all to crack; her striking beauty and admirable stature faded away like withered leaves. The deeper she went into drugs, the worse for her health. And it got so bad she could barely eat.

She said, “I looked unkempt and was losing weight. Sometimes, I had to smoke marijuana so I could have some appetite. I once smoked crack for four days at a stretch. I spent a huge amount within four days on crack. One gram was about N20,000 to N25,000 depending on the dealer and I could finish it within eight hours.

“Most times, I shared with my friends and I was the one who always bought.  We finished one gram within four hours. Unfortunately, crack is never enough. When I finished a pack, I craved for more and kept buying.”

At the nadir of addiction, Nneka said she would call her mum and some relations at night for money if she could no longer do transfers from her bank account.

“By the time I called four to five people, I would get N50,000 and used it to order for crack. I would just continue from where I stopped. My people never knew they were assisting me to buy drugs. I lied to them that I wanted to send the money to a customer to get me clothing materials,” she revealed.

At times, she would call a drug dealer as early as 7am to follow her to the bank if she didn’t have enough money in the bank account she uses for transfer. While at it, she got ‘one for the road’ from the dealers to sustain the urge.

“They gave me because they knew that as my body was charging, it would make me go to the bank and they would make more money,” she noted swiftly.

The turning point

Nneka decided it was time to go for rehabilitation in April after learning the hard way. In a fit of anger, she nearly stabbed a friend for stealing her crack.

She looked abysmally pale and way older than her age. Her personality was fast sliding into a total mess alongside a business that had hit a brick wall.

She stated, “No matter what I wore, I still looked unkempt. Someone once asked me if I was 70 years old because my body had shrunk. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.

“Drug also affected my business. Once I smoked and I had not slept, I liked to be in a quiet environment. If I go to the shop, customers would want to discuss with me and I could shout at them. I didn’t go to work and it killed my business.

“I went for rehabilitation in Lagos in April and was discharged after three months. It wasn’t that easy. Sometimes, I crave it but it is my decision not to do drugs again. It is a strong decision; I have always wanted to stop drugs and have a better life.”

Aside from self-motivation that aided her rehabilitation, Nneka said her treatment gulped an amount enough to deter her from returning to drugs.

She added, “I spent about N600,000. Looking at how I was before I went for rehab and now, it is a big difference physically and health-wise. My advice to those still taking drugs is to stop and turn a new leaf.

“They should look at the bright side of life. Imagine how much I spent in a month on drugs. It destroys lives. Some girls sleep with dealers in exchange for crack if they don’t have money. I was just grateful to God that I never reached that point because I had money.”

Nneka explained that she had cut off links with the drug dealers on her list and in the coming weeks, she would return to Abuja to resume her vocation.

“I memorised many numbers of the dealers because they (the numbers) were all simple. I had to consciously delete them from my memory. I have also broken my former SIM card.  Even if they eventually see me when I return to Abuja, I have made a decision not to do drugs again,” she stated.

Dropped out at final year

Olalekan, as he prefers to be identified, now knows better the far-reaching effect of drugs. Sadly, the realisation came after the 29-year-old resident of Mushin, Lagos lost an opportunity to earn a degree in Urban and Regional Planning four years ago.

Although he is now rehabilitated and works as a cobbler, he struggles hard to reconcile with the reality of dropping out of school in his final year.

He stated, “I got on the wrong side of things and started smoking cannabis. I felt it was something I needed at a point in time. I was in my early 20s then. It really affected me drastically. It affected my cognitive level.

“I didn’t have total focus on my studies and my anger management was poor. It was part of the reason I dropped out at 500-level. I underwent rehabilitation five years ago and since then I have never returned to drugs. It was a relative who knew I was doing drugs that advised me to go for a rehab.”

Prevailing drug abuse in Nigeria

Despite sustained crackdown on drug traffickers and seizure of hard drugs by agencies, including the National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies, National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, Nigeria Customs Service, and the Nigeria Police Force, drug peddling and use have persisted on a large scale across genders and class.

A 2018 survey on Drug use in Nigeria sponsored by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime revealed that ‘‘one of four drug users is a woman.’’

The survey indicated that in 2017, there was a high use of psychoactive substances such as cannabis, opioids (tramadol codeine, or morphine) and cough syrups, with 14.3 million people aged between 15 and 64 years said to be using drugs. The figure is high when compared with the 2016 global annual prevalence of any drug use of 5.6 per cent among the adult population.

The report also confirmed that injection of drugs was rapidly gaining ground in Nigeria with one out of five high risk drug users injecting drugs.

Globally, drug use has assumed a proportionally disturbing dimension. The 2019 World Drug Report of UNODC estimated that 271 million (5.5 per cent) of the global population aged between 15 and 64 years, used drugs in 2018 and it was projected that 35 million individuals would be experiencing drug use disorders.

In the 2020 World Drug Report the international body disclosed that about 192 million people used cannabis in 2018, making it the most used drug globally while 58 million people used opioids. Also, some 11.3 million people are estimated to have injected drugs in 2018, accounting for roughly 10 per cent of HIV infections worldwide.

More worryingly, about 585,000 deaths were traced to drug use in 2017 alone while organised crime, illicit financial flows, corruption, and terrorism were attributed to drugs.

The report added, “More than one million people who inject drugs are living with HIV and 5.5 million are living with hepatitis C. Of the roughly 585,000 deaths attributed to drug use in 2017, half were due to liver diseases caused by hepatitis C, which continues to mostly go untreated among people who inject drugs.

 “Cannabis is the drug that brings people into contact with the criminal justice system, accounting for more than half of all drug law offences cases, based on reports from a total of 69 countries over 2014–2018.”

At the inauguration of the War Against Drug Abuse in Abuja, in commemoration of the 2021 United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), raised the alarm that drug war was more dangerous than wars against insurgency and banditry “because it is a war that is destroying three generations.”

Buhari had said, “I’ve seen clips of where grandparents are on drugs, parents are on drugs, and by extension, their wards, their children are on drugs. So, this is a war that is targeting three generations in a stretch.

“I believe strongly that every effort must be put in place to ensure that we deal with the issues of substance abuse and trafficking and manufacture so that we can get to the root cause….

“I believe strongly, with every bit of conviction that if we are able to deal with the issue of drug abuse, our security challenges will drastically reduce as we walk toward a drug-free Nigeria.”

Speaking on the illicit drug market at the event, the NDLEA Chairman, Buba Marwa, said N90bn worth of drugs had been seized by the agency in the last five months.

The sum echoed a 2017 Global Financial Integrity report that pegged the annual global market of drug trafficking between $426bn and $652bn, making it the second most lucrative illicit market after counterfeit and pirated goods.

Marwa also revealed that a record 2.05 million kilograms of drugs were intercepted across the country during the five-month period and 2,100 drug offenders prosecuted with 500 sentenced to various jail terms by courts.

“Over 2,180 traffickers have been arrested, including five drug barons controlling different cartels across Nigeria. While the statistics are impressive, we wouldn’t deceive ourselves that we have succeeded in cleaning the Augean Stable in five months. We have only made a head start. We need to sustain the momentum. We need to win the drug war. We cannot afford to be complacent,” he noted.

A long walk to rehabilitation

Samuel (not real name) is currently waging a personal war against drugs at a rehabilitation centre in the Alagbado area of Lagos.

The 28-year-old native of Ondo State was recently admitted to the centre after being knee-deep in Indian hemp for five straight years.

“It was peer pressure that led me to it,” Samuel, a graduate from a university in Lagos, said.

“I started taking it with my friends when I was in the 100-level. I took cannabis and SK (short for skunk). My parents discovered I was into drugs when I was in 300-level and advised me against it but I continued.

“I was brought to the centre by my father. The first three days here without drugs were tough but I have started getting over it gradually. I have lost friends because I was into drugs. They ran away from me when they knew I was doing drugs. My girlfriend also left me.”

Chinedu was 18 when he got hooked on drugs. It took six years before he realised he was into a destructive relationship with skunk and ‘loud’ – a street lingo for marijuana.

Now 24 and in 500-level at a university in Anambra State, Chinedu is gradually wriggling his way out of the shackles of drugs.

“I saw a couple of friends doing it and decided to try it out,” he told our correspondent. “I started with Indian hemp. Afterwards, I was taking SK and loud.”

Chinedu said he decided to seek rehabilitation because drugs had drastically affected her academic performance.

He stated, “I couldn’t concentrate on my studies as I am supposed to. I came here for rehabilitation over a month ago. It was quite difficult living without drugs in my first week of rehabilitation but I am getting used to it. Money was never a problem for me to get drugs. Even if I didn’t have money, my friends would always buy and share with me.”

Uzochuckwu from Imo State got addicted to drugs as early as 16. In Senior Secondary School 1 then, it took a long while before his parents suspected he was a smoker.

After completing secondary school education in 2018, many of his friends had furthered their studies to higher institutions and are on the verge of earning a first degree in their various chosen fields.

Unfortunately, five years of puffing on hemp and SK had set Uzochukwu metres apart from his friends on the academic ladder. Our correspondent learnt he was brought to the rehabilitation centre in Lagos handcuffed sometime in May.

“I worked as a labourer at borehole construction sites and used my income to buy drugs. I feel so sad for the time I have wasted. Some of my friends are now in the university,” he said, his voice laden with remorse.

He added, “I smoked every day. My parents suspected I was into drugs this year when I started behaving strangely and returning home late.” As he is about to complete rehabilitation in the Lagos centre, the 21-year-old has resolved to turn a new leaf and utilise his second chance at life.

Rehabilitation, a Herculean task    

Winning the battle against drug addiction is not an easy ride, an Assistant Director of Nursing, Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Ezeh Ogochukwu, stated. According to her, drugs are a brain relapsing disease but many people do not understand it that way.

She noted that self-motivation was central to successful rehabilitation as it gave drug users a head start, adding the timeline for the process varies, depending on individual cases.

Ogochukwu said, “We have at least a minimum of three to six months which we believe that within this time, the person could do without drugs. In the first two weeks to one month, they are busy battling with withdrawal symptoms. Some who have psychosis are trying to settle down and so on.

“The first step involved in rehabilitation is motivation but most often you find out that many people are not motivated. They are coerced into rehabilitation. After arriving at a rehabilitation centre, there is a phase of withdrawal. It comes with different signs, ranging from restlessness, diarrhoea, stooling, running nose to sweating, shivering, tremor and craving, depending on the drugs individuals abuse.”

Ogochukwu, who is also the Chief Executive Officer, Adicare Rehabilitation Home, said after overcoming the withdrawal stage, psychological care would be initiated for the survivors. This, she said, involved personality assessment, application of cognitive behavioural therapy, among others.

She said, “Within this period, we have a lot of things we use to engage them; a form of therapy to divert their attention (from drugs) and make the place habitable for them. It includes games and reading. There are also occupational therapy sessions. We don’t want them to be idle. We engage them in one occupation or the other so that when they are returning to society, they are not idle.”

Another rehabilitation session is termed “psychodram,” where survivors acted out their behavioural patterns while they were on drugs, the expert said.

“We get the patient to act out what they look like, look at it and judge. In an alcoholic psychodram for instance, we ask alcoholics to act the way they staggered, tore clothes, fell down and so on. We then ask them how they feel seeing themselves in those situations,” she added.

In the psychotherapy session, Ogochukwu stated that experts were invited to give “life-model topics,” that could elicit remorse from patients.

She said, “For instance, the person can talk about one Mr James and how much he invests on smoking. By the time you calculate what he has spent on drugs within three years, it will be huge.

“Let assume he is doing crack and in a day he spends up to N5,000, we will multiply the amount by 30 (in a month); then multiply 30 by 12 and then 12 (months) by three. Some of them will break down in tears; they will see how much they have wasted.”

As the discharging period draws near, Ogochukwu said “family therapy” would be applied to integrate the survivors with their families and society at large.

The nurse however observed that some families still had negative impressions about the survivors and feared to reunite with them.

She said, “No matter the training we have given to such people, those at home do not believe they are good. I have a patient (Uzochukwu) who is due to go home but his parents are saying he should still stay here.

“When we finish our job, let the person return to society, apply all we have taught him and see if he is positive or negative. The family said he threatened to kill his father when he returns home but he said so in anger. He was handcuffed from Imo State to Lagos. I was with him a fortnight ago and told him how he threatened to kill his father. He said he never said so.”

After discharging patients, Ogochukwu said follow-up sessions would be scheduled to monitor them with an initial appointment of two weeks.

She added, “Over time, if we see they are doing well, we give them one month. During the follow-up sessions, we carry out a urine test (toxicology) on them to find out if they are lying or not. We also follow up through phone calls.

“My pain in rehabilitation has been that most of the patients when they go for rehab, before they recover, they relapse again. We need the community and society to join hands to help us fight this menace.”

A professor of psychiatry at the Ladoke Akintola University, Oyo State, Adeoye Oyewole, said a successful rehabilitation was premised on self-motivation and the ability of patients to reflect on the damage “in terms of career prospect, broken down friendship, retardation and medical complications” addiction had caused them.

 “The capacity to reflect on this damage and be motivated towards detoxification is a huge factor,” he said, noting that only a few patients had a support system.

The psychiatrist stated, “Some people don’t have enough money to eat let alone get money for rehabilitation. Rehab is a long-time process; it could take three to six months; so it requires a long stay in the hospital. The economic problem is not encouraging so people who may want to seek rehab don’t have the funds.

“Another thing is cultural values. Our theory of mental illness, including drug abuse, is supernatural and does not make people believe in the orthodox care. Some people believe it is a spiritual attack from another man. They don’t believe in the scientific explanation of addiction.

“Also a number of rehabs are not staffed by professionals. There are a lot of charlatans marauding as professionals. A good rehab centre must have a psychiatrist/clinical psychologist, social workers and occupational therapist. At times, none of these is present.

“Somebody who just has passion will just house drug addicts somewhere and say they are doing a rehab. Some alternative practitioners have also organised rehabs where they pray for addicts using Bible or Quran. It is not professional.”

Oyewole equally condemned the crude rehabilitation process that inflicts assault on patients and engages them in hard labour.

“If the factor that pushes somebody to abuse drugs is socioeconomic, the person has to be rehabilitated but the factor perpetuating it must be managed. If it is not managed, you are plunging the person back into the social milieu that generated the same problem even if he has been rehabilitated,” he further noted.

On her part, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Veronica Okeke, urged parents to always keep track of their children, know the company they keep and ensure they don’t stay away from home for too long.

She advised, “The parents should find out why they are coming back home late. From time to time, find out what the children are doing; meet their teachers to find out whether they are actually in school and how they are performing.”

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