With the 2023 general elections lurking in the corner, a psycho-mental health and help rendering organisation, Center for Research and Information on Substance Abuse (CRISA),has warned against intake of illicit substances and abuse of illicit substances, as these could trigger electoral violence in the state and country at large.
The NGO said, with research pointing at a possible increase in illicit drugs intake among youths and elderly persons – particularly politicians, there was need to slow down on such acts to forestall a possible outbreak of violent behaviour during the electioneering period.
At a media roundtable in Uyo, recently, the founder and executive director of CRISA, Professor Isidore Obot, said the NGO has in its 32 years of existence made appreciable strides in the areas of ripping the Nigerian society of substance use and other drugs-related abuses.
He said research conducted by the Center in 2017 to determine the extent of drug use in Nigeria showed a 10.6 percent increase in the intake of Cannabis, 4.6 percent in Opioids, 2.4 percent in cough syrup, 481 percent in tranquilizer and sedatives, 300 percent in solvents and inhalants, 238 percent in amphetamines and prescription stimulants while cocaine intake in the year under review stands at 92 percent.
Obot, however, decried that with the trend getting worse by the day, as shown by research, the society would be sitting on a cake of gunpowder if drastic measures were not taken by both the government and drug-related agencies to nib the situation in the bud.
Founded in Jos in 1990, primarily as a research center for information on substance abuse to address the growing need for Substance-free Nigeria, Obot said he developed interest in this area as a result of a World Health Organization-sponsored study that he undertook in Jos, which led him to discover the emerging pattern of problematic alcohol and drug use among the residents at the time.
The executive director explained that apart from research, information, documentation, and publications on substance abuse and its adverse effect on health of the users, the organisation has, in the last 32 years of existence, involved in organizing conferences, symposia and sensitization programmes across the country, with the sole aim of providing access and assisting drug users through counseling, rehabilitation and treatment.
The programme manager, Mr Nsidibe Francis, disclosed that CRISA has trained some government agencies and institutions such as the police, staff of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NSC), among others, with a view to strengthening collaboration among these institutions and agencies in helping substance users become useful to themselves.
According to him, “CRISA has been collaborating with government agencies. For this year, we will collaborate with the Akwa Ibom government to sensitize the youth, especially as elections draw near.
“Substance abuse poses more of humanitarian problems than criminals. CRISA was looking at helping drug users access treatment, rather than incarceration.”
He revealed that though CRISA has been operating in a Drop-in Centre as its temporary treatment accommodation since 2016, the organization has forged ahead with tremendous positive impacts on the youth population of the country that would have added to the myriads of problems of the nation.
“We have been operating a treatment center since 2016. This is where over 700 substance users were treated. It is our temporary place for counseling and treatment. We are working to build a one-stop facility which will house our research offices, library, treatment centre; which will accommodate personnel, visiting scholars, researchers and all who wish to make inquiries.
“CRISA is involved with policy and directing agencies for drug control, governments, multilateral organizations and regional groups and blocks, contributing needed delicate information on issues of mutual interest. We are now a global player in knowledge production, publication and dissemination, and have gained the confidence of counterpart agencies,” he said.
Francis maintained that as a strategic move to achieve more results, the organization has been partnering the World Health Organization (WHO), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), Open Society Foundation, European Union, among other global and regional blocs concerned with alcohol, drugs and tobacco regulation, control and policy formulation.
The programme manager noted that the 30 years of existence of CRISA in Africa has placed the organization in a vintage position to become more proactive in providing help to substance users.
He stated that as part of the proactiveness, CRISA would focus on prevention campaigns in secondary schools and other institutions as a strategy to address substance use from the very foundational level.
Also, he was hopeful that with better collaboration and support from government, individuals, agencies and relevant bodies, CRISA would achieve more in counseling, rehabilitation and treatment of substance users in Nigeria.