Untreated mental health issues fuel drug abuse, say experts

Sanwo-Olu tasks parents on social sanity
Medical experts have raised the alarm over increasing cases of drug misuse and addiction in the country, blaming it on mental health issues that were left undiagnosed and untreated.

Speaking at the symposium on practical solutions to combat substance abuse organised by Freedom Foundation in Lagos, wife of the governor, Dr. Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, noted the need for generous attention to the mental health of Nigerians, irrespective of age or gender.

The experts advocated a new multi-sectoral approach to tackling substance abuse from prevention to the re-integration of recovering users.

With the theme, ‘Drugs Don’t Discriminate’, the platform aimed at charting paths to evidence-based intervention to build stronger partnerships between religious organisations, other stakeholders and government against drug misuse.

According to Sanwo-Olu, who is also a medical doctor, the situation on the ground demands all hands on deck to stop the menace before the lives and careers of the country’s future leaders come to total jeopardy.

She urged parents and guardians to pay serious attention to the welfare and mental health of their wards, as such would evolve into a decent youth population and a sanitised society.

According to her, it is important for parents to give quality attention to issues around their children and sometimes go as far as intruding into their business to truly be abreast with them.

“As individual family units, we must focus on the home by paying attention to the welfare and mental health of our children. The type of adults that children grow to become has a lot to do with the level of decency of their upbringing.”

Chairman, Freedom Foundation, Dr. Tony Rapu, revealed that a recent national survey on drugs use and health estimated that 14.4 per cent of people aged between 15 and 64 years use drugs.

“These numbers are steadily increasing. So, it has become expedient to use a more concerted approach to address this endemic problem in our society. Over the years, we have seen the increasing trend of drug use; millions of our youths are dependent on various types of illicit drugs, prescription drugs and regular household chemicals.

“While we at Freedom Foundation are committed to increasing public awareness on the effect of drug abuse as we provide support and rehabilitation with continual advocacy measures for prevention, our effort isn’t even close to sufficient to address the prevalence of substance abuse in Nigeria.

“As such, we decided to organise this symposium to facilitate open discussion among multi-sectoral stakeholders on the problems of substance abuse in our society, to provide practical means of tackling the menace by looking at the root, prevention, treatment, family support and re-integration,” he said.

Rapu, who is a senior pastor at This Present House Church, noted the most common barriers to treatment as affordability, fear of stigma and lack of available treatment services.

“With this in mind, we need to urgently re-evaluate our approach to combating the problem. In my experience, I have seen first-hand that stigmatisation and ill-treatment of people with drug use disorder are not the solution. Our approach to drug abuse must be devoid of dishonour, reproach and shame on people with drug use disorder.

“Due to multi-faceted issues associated with drug use, treatment can be quite expensive and, as such, more efforts should be put on prevention. We must equip our youths with the tools to tackle peer pressure into a lifestyle of drug use for recreational purpose.”