World Drug Day: Treat Addicts With Empathy -FG Admonishes

The Federal Government had urged all and sundry to treat drug and psychoactive dependents with empathy, for only then will they be able to effectively overcome the addiction.

Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry Of Health, Engr. Olufunso Adebiyi gave the charge on June 26, 2023, at The Ministerial Press Briefing Commemorating the 2023 International Day Against Drug Abuse And Illicit Trafficking held in Abuja.

Engr. Adebiyi, who was represented by The Director, Food and Drug Services in the ministry, Pharm. Mrs. Olubunmi Aribeana explained that World Drug Day marked on 26 June every year sought to strengthen action and cooperation in achieving a world free of drug abuse.

He said the theme for this year’s World Drug Day, ‘People first: stop stigma and discrimination, strengthen prevention’, aimed to “raise awareness about the importance of treating people who use drugs with respect and empathy; providing evidence-based, voluntary services for all; offering alternatives to punishment; prioritizing prevention; and leading with compassion”.

He further informed that the campaign also aims to combat stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs by promoting language and attitudes that are respectful and non-judgmental.

According to him, “the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated the prevalence of drug use in Nigeria at 14.4% corresponding to 14.3 million people between the ages of 15 –64 who used drugs like cannabis, amphetamines, tramadol, codeine, and cocaine.

“This is more than twice the global prevalence of 5.6% among the adult population. The report also estimated 376,000 people to be high-risk drug users with 1 in 5 of these persons injecting drugs. This translates to about 80,000 people estimated to be People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) in Nigeria”.

On the need to curb the drug abuse menace in the country, the Permanent Secretary said even though the current efforts by the government so far were commendable, they remained inadequate in tackling the current challenges the nation was facing on illicit drug trafficking and substance abuse.

“It has become imperative that for Nigeria to overcome and successfully curb the drug abuse menace, we need to collectively, honestly, critically review the socio-cultural, economic, and legal factors that have contributed to this problem.

“The contributions of organizations like the NDLEA, NAFDAC, PCN, UNODC, WHO, and a host of others including Civil Society Organisations are highly solicited particularly as it relates to combating stigma and discrimination through promoting language and attitudes that are non-frightening, empathic, respectful, and non-judgmental of people who use drugs”, he said.

Engr. Adebiyi further stated that stigma and discrimination only harm the physical and mental health of people who use drugs while preventing them from accessing the help they need.

Similarly, Deputy Director, Food and Drugs Services of the Ministry, Pharm. James Yakubu who spoke on behalf of the Director, Pharm. Mrs. Olubunmi Aribeana stated that nations were also cognizant of the immense benefits of implementing evidence-based strategies in the prevention and treatment of drug and substance abuse as well as rehabilitation of drug users.

Therefore, “concerted efforts are constantly being made to strengthen
global action and cooperation towards achieving drug-free societies.

“In line with the theme of this year’s world drug day: ‘People First: Stop Stigma and Discrimination, Strengthen Prevention’ the Federal Ministry of Health earlier this month organized a capacity-building workshop for officers from the Narcotics & Drug Abuse Division and the Drug Demand Reduction/Harm Reduction Unit of the Ministry on Drug Prevention, Treatment, and Care (DPTC) sensitization, as trainers with the needed skills to use evidence-based strategies for effective advocacy and awareness creation on drug prevention, treatment, and care for law enforcement and the general population.

“Consequently, the Ministry is better positioned to design interventions to help drug users who face stigma and discrimination while promoting language and attitudes that are respectful and non-judgmental and empowering young people and communities to prevent drug use and addiction”, she said.

Pharm. Aribeana in her closing remarks opined that effective collaboration between the Federal Ministry of Health and other organisations working on drug-related activities would surely propel further gains in reversing the alarming statistics reported in the 2018 National Drug Use Survey.

In her presentation, Substance Use Prevention Trainer at The Shelter, Ms. Maria Ilugbuhi said that drug use was a brain disease, people should therefore identify with drug addicts, “let them be free and find out the reason they are into drugs’.

She added that alternatives to incarceration and punishment should be explored and more energy be channeled towards prevention by empowering young people who are idle and encouraging parents to enrol their children in early childhood education as Early Childhood Education helps to delay the time of initiation of cannabis.

Also, reducing or eliminating access to Tobacco, Alcohol, or other drugs in school.

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