Number of drug users in Nigeria rises to 14.3 million

By Darlington Omotoso

The number of drug users in Nigeria is estimated to have risen to 14.4 per cent or 14.3 million people aged between 15 and 64 years according to the results of the first ever National Drug Use Survey released recently at the Lagos-Osun Hall of Transcorp Hilton and Towers, Maitama, Abuja. The data indicates that the increase in the past year’s drug use in Nigeria is more than twice the global average of 5.6 per cent.

Findings from first ever large scale nation-wide survey that examined the extent and patterns of drug use in Nigeria were jointly unveiled by Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Minister of State for Health; Brigadier General Buba Marwa (retired), Chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Drug Abuse; Chairman, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Colonel Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah (retired); Dr. Yemi Kale, Statistician-General of the Federation; the Chairman, Senate Committee on Drugs and Narcotics, Senator Joshua Lidani; His Excellency Mr. Richard Young, Deputy Head of Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Nigeria and ECOWAS and Ms. Miwa Kato, Director, Division for Operations, UNODC.

In his remark, Dr. Osagie Ehanire  said, “  we clearly needed to  have a statistically sound and relevant data on the extent and pattern of drug use, including high risk drug use , to help inform policy formulation and implementation. The result of this comprehensive survey conducted nationwide provides us with the baseline information required for the design and implementation of the plan for evidence-based prevention, treatment and care services in order to reduce drug use demand and prevent morbidity and mortality attributed to it.”

The Minister thanked the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, UNODC and the European Union, EU, for supporting the Federal Government of Nigeria in conducting the first National Survey on Drug Use and health which was carried out by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS and the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse, CRISA.

He observed the disturbing level of non-medical use prescription opioids such as tramadol, and codeine or dextromethorphan containing cough syrup.

“These are serious public health issues that require that we strengthen our drug demand reduction strategies, with a focus on evidence-based drug use prevention, treatment and care packages. As the arm of government mandated to protect and promote the health of Nigerians, the Federal Ministry of Health, undertakes the following responsibilities; pays special attention to the question of drug use disorders and related health conditions as a major public health issue; established Drug Demand Reduction Unit in the Ministry, which was recently commissioned, as part of efforts to coordinate and implement strategies that will lead to drug prevention, treatment and care;

Upgraded 11 hospitals to Model Drug Treatment Centres across the 6 geo-political zones of the country  with the support of the EU and UNODC;  the 61st National Council on Health which held in Kano last year, resolved that each state of the Federation should establish at least one drug treatment centre  and some states have implemented this resolution already; trained over 1,200 healthcare practitioners across Nigeria, with the support of the UNODC, on provision of evidence-based drug treatment services between 2015-2018 out of which 25 are certified as national Master-Trainers on Treatment Modules and Universal Treatment Curriculum,” he added. 

Based on data collected from 38,850 respondents in the household survey and 9,344 high risk drug users across all states of the country, the report provides for the first time, robust data on the prevalence of drug use in Nigeria at the national level and also by geo-political zones and states.

The report shows that there is a gap in meeting the needs for treatment and care for people with drug use disorders. With close to 3 million Nigerians living with some level of drug dependence, the extremely limited availability of drug counselling and treatment services exacerbates this health crisis.

The report reveals the true extent of prescription opioids use– mainly tramadol and cough syrups for non-medical purposes; with 4.6 million people using these in the past year in Nigeria. This places Nigeria among the countries with high estimates of non-medical opioid use globally. While cannabis is the most widely used drug globally and in Nigeria, use of opioids are responsible for most of the negative health impacts of drug use.

In her remarks Ms. Miwa Kato said that any response on prescription opioids should be mindful of the “need to recognise that they have a legitimate medical use”. She added that there is a need to have a nuanced approach to the issue and that it is “important to ensure that such prescription opioids are made readily available to those who have a medical need”, while ensuring adequate controls to reduce their misuse are in place.

The UNODC Director also mentioned that UNODC looks forward to working with the Government of Nigeria as it continues in its efforts to “employ a balanced approach to drug control, a strategy that could not only increase access to drug treatment services, including for women, but also shift law enforcement responses away from the arrest of drug users to focus on targeting mid to high level drug traffickers.