Young Pharmacists’ Fight Against the Growing Drug Abuse Epidemic

In recent years, illicit drug use and substance abuse have become a serious threat to public health and law enforcement globally, with opioids being the most abused. However, despite drug abuse being a universal problem, the burden of the threat varies from country to country.

The 2019 World Drug Report revealed that new surveys in India and Nigeria now depict a picture of global drug use as being much higher than previously thought. For example, the survey data from Nigeria led to a revision of the number of past-year users of opioids to 6.1 million, compared with the previous estimate of 2.2 million. While the global drug use prevalence of ages 18–64 was 5.5% in 2017, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2018 report showed that Nigeria had a 2.5 times higher prevalence at 14.4% (1 in 8persons) with the 25–39 age group being the most common drug users. Cannabis was the most commonly used drug in Nigeria with 10.6 million users, followed by opioids with 4.6 million users.

In response to this rapidly-growing epidemic, the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria-Young Pharmacists Group (PSN-YPG) has begun playing a vital role in the fight against drug abuse in Nigeria through various activities and initiatives. Most notable has been the partnership with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for the Youth Against Drug Abuse (YADA) project, a school-based program aimed at informing children on the dangers of drug abuse; and parents on the signs to look out for; as well as rendering help to those already on drugs. With the prevalence of cannabis use amongst pupils being as high as 21.2% in some parts of the country, it is imperative that these children be given the necessary information that equips them to be able to say no to drug use. For the pilot phase, over 114 trained young pharmacists have been deployed to 57 government schools in 8 states across the 6 geopolitical zones with a reach of over 57,000 students.

Given the most active drug abusers in Nigeria are the youths, there has been an alarming increase in mental health disorders and even suicide deaths. This has prompted PSN-YPG to carry out sensitization campaigns at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camp, the largest gathering of graduates in various states; on broadcast media and through various social media platforms; and even during sports events to raise awareness on the dangers of drug abuse. These campaigns have involved partnerships with various organizations and agencies including the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), etc. and even State Governments. A number of these campaigns were carried out to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 2019.

As community pharmacists are the first point of contact for patients and the most accessible healthcare professionals, pharmacists need to be trained to be first respondents to this growing drug abuse epidemic. As a result, numerous trainings are being organized by PSN-YPG in partnership with agencies and organizations like NAFDAC, Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative (SURPIN), etc. and possible collaborations with UNODC are underway to equip young pharmacists with the necessary knowledge and skills to identify warning signs and provide pharmaceutical care to drug users and people suffering from substance abuse-induced mental health disorders.

By: Funmbi Okoya
Lagos Coordinator, PSN-YPG
Publications Subcommittee, FIP-YPG

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