IF you frequent the streets of social media, from the WhatsApp and YouTube Avenue to the Facebook Crescent, then from the Instagram Boulevard to the Telegram Close, you may have come across videos making rounds where the youths especially boys are tied to a pillar and are being flogged with horsewhips and cables, in some circumstances, they are roasted like burial goats in full public glare.
A passerby trudging along may think that it’s a punishment being meted out on a rapist or an armed robber without actually knowing that the person being flogged is a dealer or user of the dangerous drug Methamphetamine. The questions begging for answers are, what is Methamphetamine? and what are the consequences?
What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine Hydrochloride is popularly known as ‘Mkpuru Mmiri’ in the southeastern part of Nigeria, where it is being abused by the youths. It is a designer drug often made in illegal labs from inexpensive chemicals found in drugs, such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine; it is sold in the form of powder, tablets, crystals and rocks.
Unlike people under the influence of opioids or other depressants or sedatives, those who take methamphetamine may be lively and energetic at first, then feel increasingly lethargic, dysphoric, depressed and hopeless, with a severe craving, as the drug wears off. Hence the difficulty of treating methamphetamine users who, when they are in public spaces, sometimes attract the attention of the public or the authorities. In low doses, methamphetamine can produce a euphoric and stimulating effect similar to that of amphetamines. However, it is more powerful and is more addictive. In addition, in many cases, it can be toxic.
While under the influence of this drug, an individual could hallucinate, experience great anxiety, be irritable, have thoughts of grandeur and be euphoric. The excitement is at its peak and the fatigue disappears. The person who takes this drug may sweat, have palpitations, have insomnia, have nausea, tremors, chest pain, be confused, have paranoia, or be in a state of panic. Depending on the composition of the drug, the repercussions can vary widely.
Due to the intensity of the effects of this drug, people who take it can experience general exhaustion, fall into a depressive state which leads to suicidal thoughts and become aggressive. Methamphetamine, like other designer drugs, can permanently damage the brain. The risks of developing psychological dependence are greater than with amphetamines, because this drug is more powerful.
Addiction sets in even faster when the drug is taken in the form of crystal meth. In addition to the public health problems caused by addiction and other health consequences directly related to its use, methamphetamine is sold and purchased in an unregulated market. This means that it may contain adulterants and contaminants that may be harmful to health.
It is important to stress that methamphetamine use generates significant stigma not only from the general population, but also from service providers and drug users. This stigma further accentuates the marginalization of people who use methamphetamine and places additional barriers in front of those seeking help. People who use heavy methamphetamine and live on the streets may be reluctant to seek medical services because of stigma and the need to be sober.
The Way Forward
In Nigeria, unemployment is one of the causative spectrums that lead many youths to turn out to become notorious drug addicts in Nigeria. There is the problem of unbridled unemployment in Nigeria. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s unemployment rate as of the end of 2020 rose to 33.3 percent from 27.1 percent, indicating that about 23.2 million Nigerians continue to be unemployed; graduates and postgraduates combined made up about 2.9 million of the total Nigerians that are unemployed (NBS, 2021). Educational and social science researches have revealed with relative consistency the link between unemployment and drug abuse.
It is imperative to note that youths are the potential leaders of any given country in the world, the youths constitute a formidable force and if their energies are properly channelled, there will be tremendous growth and development in the country. Flowing from the foregoing, it is necessary to adopt an economic and social approach aimed at proposing plans to support economic activity and entrepreneurship for the southeastern youths. So, if the youths are empowered; if they have jobs, most of these addictions to drugs will be curtailed. Due to unemployment, the youths begin to nurse negative thoughts towards abusing drugs as the last resort.
Also, there is a need for an action from stakeholders, government at all levels, communities, organizations, churches and well-meaning individuals to help curb this fast-spreading menace. Having a round table discussion on the issue will be of great importance. They can also provide functional facilities for the rehabilitation of such persons and provide them with emotional support from psychologists and other medical personnel as well as economic empowerment to become well integrated into the society. Also, most prevention campaigns should focus on young people in school, because the longer drug initiation can be delayed, the less likely it is to occur. Globally, school activities, especially secondary schools, are the most common form of drug abuse prevention. It is also necessary to target young people who do not attend school. The efforts made to reach them in the street are often useful. These programs, based on social learning theory, teach children to recognize the pressures that make them smoke, drink and use drugs and how to resist these pressures. Our Non-Governmental Organisation, the Beyond School Walls Initiative have on many occasions organized events which have witnessed thousands of youths across the country in some secondary schools, and we have successfully sensitized students on the consequences of drug abuse and proffered ways to abate it.
We have also initiated some platforms centered around the youths, which equipped them with requisite knowledge and skills needed to navigate the murky waters of 21st century; we achieved this by initiating a virtual platform during COVID-19 lockdown where the youths were taught, motivated and equipped with the relevant technological skills. Programs like this have the effects of helping the youths to carve out a niche for themselves instead of engaging in drug abuse. Our organisation has proven time without number that the business of the youths are our business, and in regards to imparting core moral values on the youths, our onions are well known to us.
In addition, drug addiction is fundamentally a disease of the brain. The best treatment is the one that will encourage addicts to come forward and seek help. Ideally, drug treatment should include counselling, supportive care, medical treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Treatment programs should be individualized and tailored to the patient’s personal situation and issues. If applicable, family members should be invited to participate. Transition institutions where former drug addicts can be accustomed to leading an appropriate way of life should be opened. Youth movements, sports clubs and religious organizations can help them stay in drug-free environments. The longer the support an addict receives, the better his chances of recovery. A three-year survey in Hong Kong found that drug addicts who participate in self-help groups, abstained from drugs much longer after treatment was completed and recovered from their first relapse faster than drug addicts who had no outside support.
Conclusively, the success or failure of methamphetamine abuse prevention depends on many factors, individual or independent of the patient. For some, total abstinence is the most advisable solution. For others, a slow reduction in dosage accompanied by supportive psychotherapy is preferable. Our position in Beyond School Walls Initiative is that we are highly against the abuse of methamphetamine by the youths, and like the voice in the wilderness, we are calling on everyone to join in this fight to eliminate this threat facing our youths in the southeastern Nigeria, before it escalates very well to the other parts of the country. There is more to this fight than watching the youths being flogged and brutalised on social media platforms and feeling sorry for them afterwards. All hands must be on the deck, there must strong synergy among the stakeholders in the country to find a lasting solution to this menace.
By Dr. Ujunwa Odinkonigbo