By Gift Olivia Samuel
The 2021 World Drug Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has revealed that around 275 million people used drugs worldwide in the last year, while over 36 million people suffered from drug use disorders.
This is just as the 2018 National Drug Use Survey revealed that in Nigeria at that time, there were around 14.3 million drug users of which close to 3 million suffered from a drug use disorder.
The Report which was also launched in Nigeria on Thursday, June 24, 2021, also showed that in the last 24 years cannabis potency had increased by as much as four times in parts of the world, even as the percentage of adolescents who perceived the drug as harmful fell by as much as 40 per cent, despite evidence that cannabis use is associated with a variety of health and other harms, especially among regular long-term users.
Presenting the Key findings on the World Drug Report at a press briefing in Abuja, the UNODC Country Representative, Nigeria, Dr. Oliver Stolpe, said the perception of cannabis by young people is a worrisome trend, considering that there are 11 million cannabis users in Nigeria, a third of whom seemed to be regular users with a need for drug counselling.
He added that between 2010-2019 the number of people using drugs increased by 22 per cent, owing in part to global population growth.
Dr. Stolpes explained that based on demographic changes alone, current projections suggest an 11 per cent rise in the number of people who use drugs globally by 2030—and a marked increase of 40 per cent in Africa, due to its rapidly growing and young population.
He pointed out that in Nigeria, this would signify that the country will have to grapple with approximately 20 million drug users by 2030, further deepening the public health and public security challenge.
Furthermore, he stated that according to the latest global estimates, about 5.5 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 64 years have used drugs at least once in the past year, while 36.3 million people, or 13 per cent of the total number of persons who use drugs, suffer from drug use disorders.
In Nigeria, he explained that with 14.4% the drug use prevalence is significantly higher than the global average, adding that globally, over 11 million people are estimated to inject drugs, half of whom are living with Hepatitis C. Opioids continue to account for the largest burden of disease attributed to drug use.
Meanwhile, in a press release obtained by The Sight News, the UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said, “Lower perception of drug use risks has been linked to higher rates of drug use, and the findings of UNODC’s 2021 World Drug Report highlight the need to close the gap between perception and reality to educate young people and safeguard public health.
“The theme of this year’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is “Share facts on drugs. Save lives”, emphasizing the importance of strengthening the evidence base and raising public awareness, so that the international community, governments, civil society, families and youth can make informed decisions, better target efforts to prevent and treat drug use, and tackle world drug challenges.”
In furtherance of this theme, in Nigeria UNODC in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and with the support of the European Union used the opportunity of several knowledge products to enhance access to quality drug counselling and treatment, including the National Guidelines for the Treatment of Substance Use Disorder and the Standard Policy and Practice Guidelines for NDLEA Counsellors.
On the drug risks and new developments spurred by the pandemic, the report revealed that COVID-19 has triggered innovation and adaptation in drug prevention and treatment services through more flexible models of service delivery, stating that many countries have introduced or expanded telemedicine services due to the pandemic, which for drug users means that healthcare workers can now offer counselling or initial assessments over the telephone and use electronic systems to prescribe controlled substances.
In Nigeria, 130 health care professionals trained by UNODC under the EU-Nigeria Partnership Project “Response to Drugs and Related Organized Crime” formed DrugHelpNet providing over-the-phone counselling and assistance to more than 1800 drug users during the height of the COVID-19 related lockdown. This innovative approach to providing much needed help to drug users often in desperate situations also constituted an important step toward reducing the stigma associated with accessing drug counselling and treatment services, in particular for women and girls.
While the impact of COVID-19 on drug challenges is not yet fully known, the analysis suggests that the pandemic has brought increasing economic hardship that is likely to make illicit drug cultivation more appealing to fragile rural communities. The social impact of the pandemic—driving a rise in inequality, poverty, and mental health conditions particularly among already vulnerable populations—represent factors that could push more people into drug use.
Commenting on the World Drug Report, Prof. Isidore Obot of the Centre for Research and Information and Substance Abuse (CRISA), said Nigeria is featured in the report but in a negative light, noting that cannabis has been a reoccurring problem, and Nigeria is not doing enough of the right thing, but is on the part in doing better than has been done over the years, as the Government is gradually getting more involved.
“If we have to follow up on the theme of this year’s World Drug Day, we need to get the facts right. We need to do something about drug use among young people in and outside schools”, he said. “We are also lacking in providing services for people with drug use disorder, which is affecting millions of people in the country, but we don’t have places for them to go for help”.
He emphasized on the need for resolve and commitment from Government officials to solve the drug use issues affecting Nigeria.
Also commenting on the Report, Dr. Musa Umar, Director Narcotics and Controlled Substances, NAFDAC, stated that there is always issue of public health and security wherever drug misuse is prevalent, emphasizing on the need for Nigeria to increase continuous surveillance and effective monitoring of drug situation in the country by making it intelligence-based.
He called for adequate awareness so that people have an understanding of the social drivers of drug use so as to make informed decisions.