DRUG ABUSE AND THE YOUTHS
Drug abuse is characterized by taking more than the recommended dose of prescription drugs such as barbiturates without medical supervision, or using government-controlled substances such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or other illegal substances. Legal substances, such as alcohol and nicotine, are also abused by many people. Abuse of drugs and other substances can lead to physical and psychological dependence.
Drug abuse can cause a wide variety of adverse physical reactions. Long-term drug use may damage the heart, liver, and brain. Drug abusers may suffer from malnutrition if they habitually forget to eat, cannot afford to buy food, or eat foods lacking the proper vitamins and minerals. Individuals who abuse injectable drugs risk contracting infections such as hepatitis and HIV from dirty needles or needles shared with other infected abusers. One of the most dangerous effects of illegal drug use is the potential for overdosing—that is, taking too large or too strong a dose for the body’s systems to handle. A drug overdose may cause an individual to lose consciousness and to breathe inadequately. Without treatment, an individual may die from a drug overdose.
Drug addiction is marked by a compulsive craving for a substance regardless of the negative psychological, social and physical consequences. Most times drugs such as narcotic and cocaine are more physically addicting than alcohol and cigarette. An addiction cannot be measured by how many times a person uses drugs. Some drugs are so addictive and very effective that they might only be used once or twice before the user “loses control”, when he /she is no longer trying the drug to have fun but, have come to depend on it.
The illegal use of drugs was once considered a problem unique to residents of poor, urban neighborhoods. Today, however, people from all economic levels, in both cities and suburbs, abuse drugs. Drug use for nonmedical purposes occurs throughout society. Some people use drugs to relieve stress and to forget about their problems. Genetic factors may predispose other individuals to drug addiction. Environmental factors such as peer pressure, especially in young people, and the availability of drugs, also influence people to abuse drugs.
Heroin has been identified as the number one drug problem because heroin addiction may lead to criminal behavior to pay for the drug. Adding to the problem is the fact that chemically similar drugs can be synthesized and sold on the street because they are not yet classified as controlled substances.
In a 1999 household survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 14.8 million people in the United States classified themselves as current illicit drug users. Among youths aged 12 to 17, close to 8 percent of respondents were regular users of marijuana. The percentage of youths in the same age range who used cocaine at least once a month was 49.8 percent. The survey also reported an estimated 1.6 million U.S. residents used prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes in 1998.
Drug Dependence, psychological and sometimes physical state characterized by a compulsion to use a drug to experience psychological or physical effects takes several forms: tolerance, habituation, and addiction.
1. Tolerance, a form of physical dependence, occurs when the body becomes accustomed to a drug and requires ever-increasing amounts of it to achieve the same pharmacological effects. This condition is worsened when certain drugs are used at high doses for long periods (weeks or months), and may lead to more frequent use of the drug. However, when use of the drug is stopped, drug withdrawal may result, which is characterized by nausea, headaches, restlessness, sweating, and difficulty sleeping. The severity of drug withdrawal symptoms varies depending on the drug involved.
2. Habituation, a form of psychological dependence, is characterized by the continued desire for a drug, even after physical dependence is gone. A drug often produces an elated emotional state, and a person abusing drugs soon believes the drug is needed to function at work or home.
3. Addiction is a severe craving for the substance and interferes with a person’s ability to function normally. It may also involve physical dependence.
The drugs that are commonly abused, except alcohol and tobacco, can be grouped into six classes: the opioids, sedative-hypnotics, stimulants, hallucinogens, cannabis, and inhalants.
Scientists often measure a drug’s potential for abuse by conducting studies with laboratory animals. Drugs that an animal administers to itself repeatedly are said to have powerful reinforcing properties and a high potential for abuse. These drugs include some commonly abused substances like opium, alcohol, cocaine, and barbiturates. Other drugs, such as marijuana and the hallucinogens, appear to produce habituation in humans even though they are not powerful reinforcers for laboratory animals.
Successful treatment methods for drug addiction and dependency vary and include psychological counseling, or psychotherapy, and detoxification programs—medically supervised programs that gradually wean an individual from a drug over a period of days or weeks. Detoxification and psychotherapy are often used together.
Drug abuse among Nigerian youths has become a source of worry to all stakeholders (government, parents, religious and social organisations), because of the danger it poses to not just the youths who are the majority abusers, but also because of the menace it constitutes to society in general. Drug induced crimes are on the increase among Nigerian youths and youths all over the world (according to a recent survey by WHO). To fight crime, the war must start with fighting drug abuse among the youths.
Despite the various agencies charged with the responsibilities of dealing with illegal sale and use of drugs, the trafficking and abuse remain on the increase. As one writer has mentioned, illegal drug is a multimillion naira business; and those charged with dealing with the problem are also beneficiaries of the profits accruing from the illegal business. This situation probably explains why the problem has defied solution. The moral and political will to clamp down on the cartel responsible for the business, irrespective of whose horse is gorged, appear to be lacking. It is not uncommon to see law enforcement agents, who are supposed to be actively fighting drug abuse, get involved in drug deals. Some security personnel, after confiscating drugs from dealers and users turn around to sell the drugs to other dealers and users. Besides, many drug dealers have ties with the security operatives so that arresting and prosecuting them become difficult, or even impossible.
To fight substance abuse in Nigeria, state agencies must clamp down on the production, sale and distribution of addictive substances. Government and its agencies have not done enough in curtailing crimes in the country. The police need to do more than they are doing now. Other agencies like the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control NAFDAC, the Nigerian Prisons Service, the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps must all rise to the occasion. They must all do more than what they are doing now. The police must comply with the world best practice in executing their responsibilities; the NDLEA must rise to tackle the increasing rate of drug addiction among the youths.
NAFDAC must ensure water-tight control of drug importation in the country; the Nigeria Pharmaceutical Association must ensure the control of the sales of drugs in the country. The Nigerian Prisons Service must play its corrective role well and not destroy the lives of inmate by illegally supplying them with drugs. Government must create jobs to provide employment opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths in the country. Any nation that does not take seriously issues concerning her youths, that nation is toying with her future. Fighting unemployment is the first leg of fighting drug abuse; and fighting drug abuse is the next leg of fighting crime and terrorism.