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How fate conspires against teenagers, lands them in cannabis, drug-inspired gangs

TOPE OMOGBOLAGUN writes about some teenagers caught in the web of drug abuse

Lanky 13-year-old Ayo (coined name) was five when he was lured into the world of drugs by some of his neighbours. Like an apprentice who resourcefully perfects his trade before becoming a master, the dark-skinned smoker has turned a notorious lot greatly feared in his neighbourhood.

Efforts had also been made by some well-meaning individuals to regenerate him by taking him to rehabilitation centres; but no sooner that was done than he returned to his vomit like a dog.

Ayo, who is a product of a broken home, made friends with some friends on the street and was influenced negatively.

He appeared snoozing when our correspondent tried talking to him. He simply told us his name and refused to answer any other questions.

A relative, who spoke with SUNDAY PUNCH, said his case was becoming worrisome, adding that his father was tired of moving him from one rehabilitation centre to another.

The relative said, “He is now very violent and we usually interact with him with care. He once stabbed his cousin in the neck and also stabbed himself on the lap so that it would look like self-defence.

“He almost killed his friend while he was under the influence of tramadol mixed with codeine. He once injected the drink of an elderly man with cocktails of drugs. The man slept for 48 hours.

“Even where he lives, the fear of Ayo is the beginning of wisdom. He has been referred to another rehabilitation centre in Ilorin, Kwara State, where we hope he would get better.”

The relative, who refused to give his name, said not long after his parents divorced, he needed love and care but he got none. He stated that Ayo then moved into the street where he found people who offered him ‘fake’ love and introduced him to alcohol and other substances not meant for children of his age.

He added, “From that, he moved to another stage and he is now addicted to drugs. We pray his case is properly managed for it not to escalate.”

Mahmud’s case is akin to Ayo’s. The 10-year-old, who hails from the northern part of the country, is comfortable smoking any hard substance.

Speaking with our correspondent in Hausa and Kanuri through the help of an interpreter, Mahmud said he started sniffing adhesives at five when serving as an apprentice in a cobbler’s shop.

Mahmud, who kept tugging at his nostrils as he spoke, stated that he and some other apprentices later sourced other inflammable substances to take their acts to the next level.

He said, “We inhaled petrol, gum solution, thinner, nail polish and other flammable substances.”

Mahmud’s drug addiction is now deeper and he derives pleasure in sniffing anything that can make him ‘high.’  According to his guardian, his case is so bad that he even sniffs the latrine.

“We caught him sniffing pit latrine sometime ago. His case is bad because he now has a permanent runny nose. We were told that the substances have affected his nostrils; and we hope he will get out of this addiction and the runny nose cured,” the guardian added.

Like Ayo, Mahmud is from a broken home.

But while Ayo and Mahmud acquired skills of taking hard drinks and drugs from young addicts on the street, Samson George, who is from Jos, Plateau State, picked the act from his home.

He told SUNDAY PUNCH that he started taking concentrated drinks during his childhood days.

George said, “My mother died when I was nine. My father took another wife who made life unbearable for me. I could not stand the torture anymore; so, I took to the street. But before then, I had started to take alcohol from home. My father used to drink alcohol. After finishing, I would sip the remnants in the bottle.”

The father, who felt sorry looking at his son, said he never intended to make him become a drunk. He explained that he was just taking the alcohol because of the cold weather in their former location in Jos unknown to him that his son usually sipped the dregs from the bottles.

“The weather was usually too cold for me; so, I usually sent him to buy me alcoholic drinks unknown that my son would become an alcoholic through that.

“I pray that my son will get over it soonest. He is currently being treated for uncoordinated speech and movement, Mr George said with misty eyes.”

Wandering without help

While help appears forthcoming for the trio as their relatives consider the option of rehabilitation, there are many in their shoes who still wander without any help in sight.

Such is the story of 11-year-old Afeez introduced to tobacco and marijuana at six. Life started out fairly good for him as a normal village boy raised somewhere in Ondo State. But upon his father’s death when he was six, he became a dropout and joined his brother in his farming business.

SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that Afeez’s innocence crumbled like a building with a faulty base when he saw his brother smoke marijuana while they worked on the farm. He observed him for some days until he tried it one day and since then, the urge had refused to die.

He said, “I am 11 years and not under any parent. I live with my friend in Ondo.  I am not from a rich home but my father was doing well using his farm business to train us until he died when I was six years old and things turned around. I joined my brother in farming and that was where I learnt how to take marijuana.

“Whenever we were on the farm, my brother would buy marijuana and some other things and keep them inside his pocket. When we got to the farm, he would pick the marijuana, wrap it and smoke before we commenced the day’s job on the farm. He would sometimes tell me to hold the lighter for him, or sometimes keep the wrap for him. I observed how he rolled the stuff and smoked.

“Having learnt enough from him, I decided to try it out myself while I was alone one day and that was how I started to smoke marijuana and later tried cigarettes too. I take cigarettes once in a while but I enjoy marijuana more.”

Afeez, who staggered as our correspondent spoke with him, said he smoked about 10 wraps of marijuana in a day.

“That way, I can achieve all I need to do. There is a feeling I derive when I take it that I can’t explain. I know I need help but I don’t know how to go about it. It is really difficult to live without taking the drugs. If I get help, I don’t mind returning to school and I hope my brothers get help too,” he stated.

Also, another young addict, identified only as Deji, said he got into the league of the addicts through peer pressure. He said he always wanted adventures while he was in school and was sent out of school when the authorities could no longer bear his excesses.

He said, “I was born and bred in Akute, Ogun State. I went to school but I was sent out of school in JSS 3. I was also learning how to cut hair as a student before an incident occurred in our school. There was a cult war in our school then and some students were expelled. I was one of those expelled from the school.”

According to him, after the incident, his parents told him to continue learning how to cut hair but he wasn’t comfortable with it.

“I opted to follow my father to Ojota to help him in his diesel job and that was how I mixed with some guys and learnt how to smoke all sorts of things from them.  After a while, I got tired with that and went to Oshodi where I joined the awawa boys. There, I learnt to take marijuana, harizona, codeine, refnol, tramadol and other things,” he said.

He explained that he currently survived by helping some students to wash their used plates and their dresses, adding that in return, they give him money, gifts and clothes.

“Though I feel cool taking marijuana to get inspiration, but I know that life can be better than this for me. I sing and I wish to become somebody great in life.  I want to be responsible. I want to able to take care of my parents and siblings,” he stated.

For another of the boys, Bayo, he enjoyed life as a child and got all the attention needed until his mother died and he had to fend for himself on the street.

Saying life had not been easy for him, Bayo said he had been finding a way to manoeuvre through life’s vicissitudes which swept him into the tunnel of marijuana addiction.

He said, “My mother was a good woman. She gave up her life for me so that I can become somebody in life. She helped me through school, but I couldn’t complete my education. I was in primary school when my mother died; I have never had the feeling of what it means to be in secondary school.  I wouldn’t say I have a father because my father has never been there for me. I was five years when my mother died.

“I was introduced to marijuana by a student who lived beside our house then. He taught me how to wrap and smoke it. I remember the first time I took it. It was on a Monday morning when he gave me and I slept for hours to the extent that people thought I was dead.

“I have also tried tramadol. I can take four stick at a go. I know I need help, but it’s difficult for me to get the help I need. If I get people to take me off the street and rehabilitate me, I will be fine. I need to start a new life and I wouldn’t mind if I am established in a business.”

‘Parental neglect leads many to substance abuse’

Commenting on the situation, President, Centre for Youth Mental Health and Drug Abuse Prevention, Mr Bimbo Akintola, said the majority of the children, struggling with substance abuse on the street, were from broken homes.

He noted that they lacked parental care and guidance including love from family members.

Akintola said, “Most of these children are introduced into substance abuse because they lack parental care and monitoring. It is in the process of finding love and acceptance that they get into wrong hands.

“We have experienced many things in the course of attending to some of them.  There were cases when some of them put food seasoning into a drink (I don’t want to mention the name of the drink) after which they will leave if for two days before they start drinking it.  Some will sniff pit latrine, gutter and gum, kill and dry cockroaches to sniff.  They do all sorts of terrible things just to get high.”

He said it was bad especially in the northern part of the country, adding that despite the law against alcoholism, the rate of abuse was still high.

“Because it is done in hiding, it is usually done in excess. There are many things happening that it will be poignant to share,” he stated.

Akintola urged parents and guardians to be wary of the kids in their care, advising them to pay attention to their children.

He said, “There will be some symptoms that they need to watch out for. There will always be changes in their behaviours; parents only need to be more observant and find time to study their children. Money is not all that children need. If one gives them money without love and care, they will use the money to buy drugs and other substances.

“They need the love and care of their parents first before other things. If they don’t get it at home, they will go out to look for it and from there, get introduced to other things like drugs, cigarettes etc. They will learn to trust outsiders at the expense of their parents.”

Prolonged use of hard drugs can cause death –Doctor

A medical practitioner, Dr. Rotimi Akinsanya, said the belief of those involved in drugs and substance abuse was that they would cure them of whatever they were experiencing.

Akinsanya stated, “All these drugs and substances that they use have side effects. For example, when they stop taking those things, the side effects will find their way out, which is the ‘withdrawal symptom’ depending on which of the substance such a person is addicted to.

“There are effects for some of these things. For example, cannabis can cause conjunctivitis; constant red eye. Their adrenaline level will be high making them to be agitated and anxious.

“When they stop taking it, they still experience the side effects like tremor, a condition where their hands will be shaking. They may have slugged speech or lose stamina.  They begin to experience the opposite of the exact thing they were taking the drugs for.”

He added that continuous use of such could lead to a permanent damage of some parts in the body and eventually causing death.

He said, “Prolonged abuse of drugs can cause multi systemic effect on the body; that is, it affects every organ of the body. A person may have high blood pressure, palpitation and abnormal beating of the heart. It affects the liver and then, the kidney because the kidney may not be able to cope with the amount of chemical entering the system.”

Noting that the boys took many things to get high, Akinsanya added that medically, tramadol was used to treat pain but young boys always took it in excess to get high.

He stated, “Even if they stop taking it, they will begin to act abnormally. After taking it, some are usually rushed to the hospital because some are already suffering from hypoglycaemia, a situation when sugar is low and it will cause the brain and other system not to function and the person may slump. If help is not available for such people, they may die eventually.  Some may even suffer from lack of memory. Some, especially those trying it for the first time, may even slump and die.”

He further said drug abuse was a psycho-social problem needing biopsychosocial model of treatment – addressing the medical, the social and psychological (psychotherapy) mode of treatment.

Akinsanya explained that in treating the young addicts, psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors usually joined forces.

Also, a guidance counsellor at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Prof. Joe Oshiki , told SUNDAY PUNCH that drug addiction by underage could also be caused by factors resident in a family.

He stated that such kids were usually influenced by peers, community or their environment, noting that even in a sane family, if the environment influenced a child, the child would pick up bad habits.

He explained that if parents were friendly with their children, their influence would always override those other factors.

Oshiki added, “But if parents are unfriendly and uninterested in the feelings of the child, they can lose such a child to drug addiction. There are also some other conditions a child can also suffer. Things like academic failure and others can make a child want to seek succour in drugs.  Such a child may believe that they will aid him or her to spend long hours studying.  But we know that studying is beyond reading a book, the mindset also comes to play.”

The don added that the first step for those caught in the web of drug abuse was to first break bond with bad friends, adding that the first attraction was to find an ally in the one seeking friendship.

He said, “The first way to help them is to be friendly with them. Once you show signs that you are friendly with them, you will be able to assess their condition. After this, you make referral to a counselling or clinical psychologist.”

Oshiki stated that the psychologist would be able to help them out through psychotherapy.

We’re campaigning against the menace –NDLEA

On his part, the spokesperson for the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Mr Jonah Achema, said the agency had been trying to sensitise youths to the dangers of drug abuse via an initiative known as ‘Catch them young’.

He said the agency had taken the campaign to schools, worship centres and other places to counsel youths on the effects of drug abuse.

Achema added, “We also have another awareness programme for the populace where we split them into groups and sensitise them. Groups also invite us for interaction on the dangers of taking hard drugs.

“We also interact with corps members; there is a Drug Free Club which they promote to reach out to people and advise them on hard drugs.”

He stated further that drug education had been introduced into school curriculum to guard youths against getting addicted to hard drugs.

“There are subjects that drug education has been infused into, so that by the time a person finishes secondary school, he or she would have been fully aware of drug abuse,” he said.

The NDLEA spokesperson noted that there were rehabilitation programmes for those battling with drug addiction, adding that the agency was not financially buoyant to get addicted children off the street.

He said, “We also have rehabilitation programme where we organise counselling sessions for those addicted to drug and other substance abuse. But we can’t help those who are on the street because if we look at the cost implication, we are not properly funded enough to be able to harvest drug dependent persons from the street. We work with people who are on the street or people brought in by their relatives.”

Achema stated that the agency was doing all it could to discourage over-the-counter sales of drugs for illicit use.

He stated, “We restrict the distribution based on threshold.  Codeine used to be OTC but when there was an illicit use of the drug, the Federal Government banned it. There is currently a threshold of 50 to 100 milligram on Tramadol; anything above 100ml becomes illicit and what we do is to enforce whatever makes the use illicit. Recently, the agency seized almost a billion tablets of tramadol above 100 milligramme at the port.”

When SUNDAY PUNCH contacted the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development to know its plans to get the youth off the street, the minister’s media aide, Nneka Anibeze, did not return our correspondent’s calls.

She had also yet to reply to a text message sent to her mobile as of press time on Saturday.

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