A mental health expert, Dr. Vincent Udenze, has raised the alarm on the increase in drugs and $exual abuse across the country despite the effort being made to curb the menace.
In this interview with WINIFRED OGBEBO, Udenze, who is the medical director of Synapse Services talks about the solution to the problem.
Not many Nigerians are aware of the extent of drug and $exual abuse in the country and the age bracket of people who engage in this. An expert, Dr. Vincent Udenze said the problem deserved to be tackled with all seriousness as it is widespread.
Hear him: I was privileged to have professional people with us in February this year, when we had Synapse family day. We tried to look at the role of the family in supporting people who suffer from mental illness and use of drugs. During that briefing, we talked about the fact that there are over 18 million Nigerians with mental disorder. We felt that people may view that as over 18 million Nigerians are psychotic and on the streets, and it was quite important to clarify that there are mental disorders from depression and anxiety to more severe mental illness.
One would even say that that statement of mine was even conservative because it could be a lot more than that. Today, we feel that it is important to talk about some pressing issues affecting our families that we are refusing to talk about, and it is in fact becoming a cancer. Specifically, I am talking about drug and sexual abuse among young people.
From my clinical experience in Nigeria, I have observed that this problem is very common irrespective of individual socio-economic class or religion or sect. It is not surprising that recently I had a 13-year old boy on admission in this facility for abusing illicit drugs. During his rehabilitation, he was attending secondary school from his rehab unit.
Common drugs people abuse include codeine, cocaine, cannabis, marijuana, rohypnol, alcohol. From urine samples, we can pick out what drugs people have taken, even when they deny it.
Families with samples of diluted coca cola or tea in syringes come for testing. They are getting craftier at hiding this behaviour.
Peer pressure is strong. And some people start using drugs because they are trying to cope with difficulties. If that becomes a trend-not just from one person-we have to start talking about this.
Whatâ€™s the prevalence rate like at the moment?
Over 2,000 people pass through our books on drug related problems
But NAFDAC insists that only a few pharmacies can give codeine
Whatâ€™s happened is that codeine has become black market. People readily get it behind the scene. Parents need to have open discussion with their children. If not someone will have that discussion for you. If you suspect a change in pattern of behaviour, ask questions. If a child starts keeping strange friends, bringing home things that look suspicious, there is a decline in their academic work for no obvious reason, let that be an alarm bell for you. But donâ€™t be judgmental. It never helps.
Parents need to recognise that times have changed. Your generation and your childâ€™s are two different generations under different influences. It is not a justification, but it is a reality. You have to appreciate where they are to be able to help.
We all have a role to play in this. We need to be more aware. For Synapse Services, we do rehab. For our NGO, Reconnect Health Development Initiative, we have a campaign-,Simply Say No to Drugs. There are programmes in schools with drug-free clubs and the slogan becomes Simply Say No, Iâ€™m Coolâ€”I donâ€™t do drugs. We are hoping to partner with ministries of youth and education.
What is the hope for parents whose children are already on drugs? Whatâ€™s the recovery rate?
If you suspect, seek help, see a clinician. One basic thing a clinician can do is a urine drug test. Once you have established there are drugs, you want to know how far this person has gone in the drug-taking habit and what help they need. Psychiatrists deal with this. If you can get beyond the stigma of thinking that seeing a psychiatrist means you are psychotic, you can actually seek help and they can have a discussion with you. There are several programmes fashioned to help the child and the families overcome some of the difficulties.
What about the issue of sexual abuse?
Because I practised primarily in the UK, I thought sexual abuse was a big problem in the western world. In my little experience in Nigeria, I have become quite disheartened with what I have seen. I have seen married women break down in tears when they talk about what happened to them as children. I have seen children of broken homes, who say their homes broke because of their childhood and what happened to them when they were young. I find young people abuse and tell me they could never believe it was real. When you leave home, be aware of whom you have left your child with. Your brother, your house help does not always mean they are safe. These are things we donâ€™t always think about.
When you suspect a problem, seek professional advice. There are people who can sensitively ask a child questions. You donâ€™t get anywhere asking a child, did a man touch you? It might traumatise the child. If you donâ€™t feel able to do it, seek professional help. This is not about the girl child, the boy child is affected also, and is sometimes the more vulnerable one, because parents are least suspecting of the boy child. You feel your boys are safe and can roam around. You are more aware of your girls but the number of men touching young boys is increasing.
The more aware we are, it will deter a lot of perpetrators. What are we doing about this? We are trying to put together a speak-out programme, â€˜Sexual Abuse Awareness and Empowerment Programmeâ€™ in schools to involve a lot of international organisations and interested parties and traditional rulers. We could also use tree planting events to signify a return to nature.
They will tell stories of young people who may have been abused. A colleague once said to me that I was trying to bring in western culture, that Nigerians didnâ€™t like to talk about these things. I said to him the western world is where we are now, because at a time, they didnâ€™t want to talk about it too, but people had to raise awareness because their children were suffering. Even up till date, a lot of the calamities that were committed are still being brought to the fore. So we are going through that phase. This cancer can no longer continue. Our children need to be kept safe. We have to talk about it. Drug abuse, sexual abuse is real. If it is not affecting someone directly related to you, it might be a distant family member, it might be a neighbour. So watch out.-Leadership
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