Students call for stricter sanctions to curb growing drug use

Nigerian university campuses are slowly turning into large drug consumption centres as the use of exotic substances is becoming popular among students, especially those between the ages of 16 and 20, a study has revealed.

The study, titled ‘Use of psychoactive substances among students in a Nigerian University: An imperative for intervention programs’, published in Scientific African in 2022, was carried out among 236 students from the departments of science, management, art, education and social science at the University of Lagos.

The study revealed that 95.3% of the students reported that they had heard about substance use or abuse before the survey, while more than half (54.2%) knew at least one fellow student who used a substance. For instance, six out of 10 students (60.6%) knew about electronic vapour products and 27 (11.4%) of them claimed they had used these products.

Also, 20% of the respondents said they had consumed alcohol, while 16% had taken marijuana and-or opioids, including tramadol and codeine. Just over 13% have taken shisheh (methamphetamine), 12,7% tobacco, 5.5% have sniffed glue or aerosol products, 5.1% have used cocaine, 4.7% heroine, 3.4% ecstasy (also called MDMA or Molly), and 3% LSD (cubes, blue heaven, yellow sunshine).

Drugs are easily sourced

The main substances students currently use are alcohol, shisheh, tobacco, marijuana, and opioids, according to the study. Within the past 90 days, prior to data collection, 5.9% had used at least one of the substances, 15% reported using substances several times a week, 21% indicated they took substances once a week, and 15.4%, occasionally.

Four out of 10 respondents said drugs were readily available to students on campus. Substances can also be sourced easily from bars and clubs. Other sources are drug joints, roadside petty traders, friends, drug dealers, ghettos and pharmacies, the study revealed.

Substance abuse is not an isolated problem

“Since I gained admission into Delta State University (DELSU), hardly a day passes by without me seeing a student or even group of students smoking or drinking alcohol during school hours,” Ochuke Edafe (name changed), a 300-level student at DELSU, told University World News.

There are some strategic locations where they take these substances and nobody dares to challenge them, Edafe said, adding that, sometimes, students bring the substances to class.

Efforts to tackle drug or substance abuse at the university, Edafe said, have little effect.

Ama Mitchelle Chisom, a mass communication student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), said that the impact of drug abuse on Nigerian campuses is devastating and is rising at an alarming rate. She said that, while recreational drug use is illegal in Nigeria, some of the substances are easily accessible and there is a high demand on her campus.

Why the high demand?

Chisom said: “For some students, it’s the thrill, the rush while others aim at finding solace to escape a deeper emotional pain by numbing themselves with tranquillisers and narcotics, among others. Some of the most abused drugs include cannabis, codeine, crack, and [the opioid analgesic] tramadol.”

Chisom said UNN has implemented many measures to tackle the menace of drug abuse, and there is some evidence of change. However, the problem has yet to be eliminated and never will be, she said.

For Mmesoma Eneh, a 200-level English and literary studies student at UNN, drugs and substance abuse is increasing because students are easily influenced by their friends. “These hard drugs aren’t hard to find and drug users are usually willing to share with friends. Sadly, they end up becoming addicted to these drugs and inattentive to what really counts in life, and even end up dead,” Eneh said.

Widespread measures to curb abuse

Alao Aliyah, a 100-level law student at Crescent University in Abeokuta, Ogun state, said one of the measures taken by her school is random drug testing. Aliyah said that, while there is little the government can do to restore confidence in the youth, they can at least curb the influx of drugs into the country and carry out regular checks in neighbourhoods, pharmacies and places where such drugs might be seen.

“Realistically, there is nothing the school or the government can do to stop it entirely as there will always be a way to get these drugs. But I believe that, if stricter sanctions are imposed on the prescription and sales of drugs, then we might just be able to reduce their use among the students and the youth population in general,” she said.

Seyi Nehemiah, social director at Bells University in Ota, Ogun state, said there is no doubt that drug abuse is common on university campuses, and added that, “this entire teenage generation is so engrossed in being ‘cool’ ”

“In today’s society, drugs are easily accessed in the universities, whenever and whatever drug you want. The imitation of musicians and actors also leads many students to drugs, as they are trying to look like them,” Nehemiah added, suggesting that sensitisation campaigns might help curb the problem.

Okeke Obinna Clinton, a student in the department of mass communication at UNN, said most students have a ‘plug’ (someone who supplies the drug at the university). Undergraduate students who always claim to be broke somehow find money to keep up with this detrimental lifestyle, he said.

Clinton said that the management of UNN cares, not just because of the health of its students, but also because, if the situation of drug abuse gets out of hand, it could give the school a bad reputation and corrupt more students. He suggested that universities should be more proactive.

“I haven’t seen any serious measure taken to curtail drug abuse. I, therefore, urge the management of UNN to sanction or probably suspend any students who are found with such substances. That will serve as a deterrent to others who are contemplating taking these drugs or substances. Institutions should be on their toes to not just fish out but eliminate practices of drug abuse.”

Frequent strikes, COVID-19 worsen situation

Dr Veronica Nyamali, consultant psychiatrist at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Yaba, Lagos, told University Worlds News that the recent increase in drug abuse among Nigerian youths can also be attributed to the frequent strikes and COVID-19.

Nyamali explained that, as youths, it is expected that they use their energy for something meaningful, but when they are always idle due to frequent strikes in the education sector and the COVID-19 pandemic which led to lockdown, restricted movement and unemployment, they turn to doing things that make them forget their pain and sorrow, and one way to achieve that is by taking hard drugs.

“They want to forget their worries, so they take drugs like methamphetamine and codeine. Methamphetamine makes them very high, to the extent that they can’t remember anything, they feel happy and excited, and after that happiness wanes off, the psychiatric effects take over and that is why you see most of them have mental health problems. Another reason they take the drug is to improve their sexual prowess,” she said.

Nyamali, who is also the vice president of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, said: “When they are on methamphetamine, they can do anything that they could not do in their right senses. Because most of these youths are idle and frustrated with the educational system and unemployment in the country, they resort to committing violence and crime.

“If you listen to some Nigerians who were kidnapped and later released, they revealed the fact that their kidnappers are youths who are taking hard drugs and, once they are high, they can do anything, because they can’t think straight.”

Hospital wards filled with students who use meth

She disclosed that, in a hospital in Port-Harcourt, two wards are 90% filled with university students who are being treated for the effect of methamphetamine abuse. The challenge in treating these people is that they find it difficult to do without the drug because it is highly addictive. She said that, after treatment, most just fall back into the habit.

To tackle the menace of drug abuse among the Nigerian youths, especially students at higher education institutions, everybody is involved, starting with the family, society and government, Nyamali said.

She advised that parents need to pay full attention to their children. “Parents need to know who their children’s friends are and who they mingle with. They need to know where their children go, and what they are viewing on television. They need to always communicate with their children.”

Nyamali said that the government should find out how these hard drugs are coming into the country and stop them. She also called on the government to sign the mental health bill into law to tackle the menace of drug abuse in the country. “The bill also helps to decriminalise suicide in Nigeria. In Nigeria, suicide is a crime, which ought not to be so,” she said.

She called on the media and everyone to turn to social media to talk about the dangers of taking hard drugs so that the youth will be aware.

Anti-drug policies necessary for universities

Professor Martins Emeje, a lecturer at Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Anambra state, said that the Nigerian government should look for a lasting solution to the frequent Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strikes. According to him, once the youths are idle, they become depressed, and some resort to taking drugs.

Emeje also called on religious leaders to preach against drug abuse on their religious platforms.

Brigadier-General Buba Marwa, head of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), said part of the measures to reduce drug use in universities is the proposed introduction of the Drug Integrity Test for both new and returning students. The Drug Integrity Test is anticipated to morph into an anti-drug policy for all higher institutions of learning in Nigeria, he said.

“The Drug Integrity Test is not a punitive measure, rather it is an early detection tool to ascertain an individual’s drug use status for appropriate intervention, and timely treatment and care,” he explained.

Marwa urged all universities in Nigeria to develop a drug policy and make it available to each student, adding that there is the need to create an NDLEA outpost on the campuses. The agency will deploy its men to assist the university authorities to deter drug dealers and users within the university.

“There is a need to give the necessary support and care to those who are already hooked on drugs to get out of the habit. I would recommend the establishment of counselling (and career services) centres in all universities which are yet to establish these. To the students, I charge you in the spirit of true patriotism to desire and work towards a country devoid of drugs and its attendant consequences,” he said.