Today marks the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, a day so designated by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1987 to curb drug abuse, worldwide. A recent report on drug use in Nigeria shows that more than 14 million people use drugs annually. These drugs include cannabis, opioids and cocaine. This estimate include persons that also abuse pharmaceutical drugs such as cough syrups, codeine and tramadol. Pharmaceutical drugs are the most commonly abused drugs in Nigeria according to the Director General, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), as they are easily accessible to the public being over-the-counter drugs. The absence of a controlled use of these drugs quickly results in addiction among the drug users.
Drug use has been closely linked with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, aggression and other health problems. The harmful effect of drug use is not restricted to the drug user alone. The use of drugs also affects the relatives and friends of drug users significantly, as drug users have the tendency to become hostile to the extent of inflicting serious injuries on their neighbours. Nearly 1 in 8 persons within the age of 15-64 years have reported experiencing some consequences as a result of a person in their family, neighbourhood or community using drugs.
Curbing the use of drugs and the effect of drug use strongly depends on the availability and accessibility of treatment services. The absence of these are the barriers to effectively curbing drug abuse in Nigeria. The high cost of treatment in the few equipped facilities available, most privately owned, appears to be a major hurdle. This was noted during one of the support programmes for persons suffering from mental illness organized by CHELD recently.
The inclusion of drug treatment in the broader healthcare delivery system has been suggested as a way of promoting accessibility to treatment services in Nigeria. While this suggestion is a welcome step, its success in effectively curbing drug abuse in Nigeria is largely dependent on the availability of necessary resources in the treatment facilities. There is currently an obvious gap between the resources available in treatment facilities owned by private individuals and those owned by the government. There needs to be definite provision for treatment of drug use disorders in Nigeria. A step towards this is the express provision of funding for such treatment in an established legislation. It appears policy makers can only be encouraged to take this step when mental illness is placed on the same level of importance as physical ill health in Nigeria.
CHELD frequently creates awareness on issues surrounding mental illness. One of the ways CHELD does this is through the advocacy for the decriminalization of attempted suicide in Nigeria. We are currently working with some State governments to reform the mental health and criminal laws of their States to decriminalize attempted suicide. We believe those that attempt suicide as a result of mental health disorders need to be treated, not imprisoned.
Atinuke Akinsuroju, CHELD
 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vienna, “Drug Use in Nigeria” 2018; https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/statistics/Drugs/Drug_Use_Survey_Nigeria_2019_BOOK.pdf
 NAFDAC, “The Problem of Drugs/Substance Abuse in Nigeria: A Symposium” https://www.nafdac.gov.ng/the-problem-of-drugs-substance-abuse-in-nigeria-a-symposium-by-professor-mojisola-christianah-adeyeye-director-general-nafdac-at-the-university-of-benin-benin-city/
 Suleiman DE. Mental health disorders in Nigeria: A highly neglected disease. Ann Nigerian Med [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 Jun 26];10:47-8. Available from: http://www.anmjournal.com/text.asp?2016/10/2/47/206214