Education Empowers Clergy in Providing New Responses to Drug Use in Plateau State

Abuja, 19 February 2021-In 2016, Reverend Davou became the pastor of a church in the local community of Zaramaganda Diye in Jos. Parents, burdened by anxiety, requested his prayers to address drug use among their children. The situation revealed to Reverend Davou an issue close to his experience. “I was spurred to act not just because I am a Pastor, but also as a father trying to deal with problematic drug use in my family. My son was lured into drug use” said Reverend Davou.

Reverend Davou observed that drug use in the community had caused broken homes, crimes, school dropouts, increased suicides, unemployment and low commitment to church. Common drugs used included tramadol, codeine, cannabis and locally brewed gin. The community had no interventions to respond to the drug use problem, no treatment facility, and there was widespread poor understanding of drug use issues. The community lived in despair. “I did not know how to handle the drug challenge” said Reverend Davou. This troubled him as the youth drug problem overwhelmed the church and dominated discussion and prayers. Community prayers seemed the only option. “Let’s pray for our youths to come back home, Let’s pray for our children to overcome peer pressure, Let’s pray for our youths to stop using drugs” said Reverend Davou. Offering empathy came easy to Reverend Davou, yet still he felt helpless. However, a training opportunity led him to adopt a scientific approach that later empowered him to lead a collective response towards renewed hope.

Charis Health Care and Community Support Initiative was established in 2015 in Jos, Plateau State. Charis provides mental health services to families, individuals and communities. Charis is a civil society organization (CSO) supported by United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) within the framework of the European Union Project: “Response to Drugs and Related Organized Crime in Nigeria”. With guidance by UNODC, Charis aimed to promote a balanced approach to drug control, with equal attention paid to drug interdiction and drug demand reduction, including drug prevention, treatment and care (DPTC). Ultimately this enabled a bridge between improved understanding of drug issues and that of stigma reduction towards drug users. For Charis the primary beneficiaries would be drug users, families and community members, with secondary beneficiaries being key influencers and general population including law enforcement agents, community gatekeepers, government officials, media professionals, parents, teachers’ association of schools and CSOs. Revered Davou was selected to attend a two-day sensitization training for 40 key community influencers that included religious, youth and women leaders. Reverend Davou found the solution he had been seeking. In fact, he received more than he ever expected.

The DPTC training was a game changer for the clergy. “I learnt how to respond to drug issues. I mobilized church leaders from various denominations to see what we can do” said Reverend Davou. Substance use and dependency was to now been seen as a health challenge and not as a criminal act. “Before training, we addressed the drug problem by inviting law enforcement to raid drug dens, arrest and imprison drug users. [Now] sensitizing church members, referring and supporting problematic drug users to get treatment and other services” said Reverend Davou. Stigma, ignorance and punitive approaches adopted by the church had long been a barrier for drug users. Church leaders understood they needed a new strategic approach, and Reverend Davou mobilized 24 religious-leaders within his community, from his personal resources, for a three-day DPTC sensitization training facilitated by Charis. The training impact resulted in the recruitment of more advocates. ‘Training changed me. I am now committed to supporting drug users to get help, and ensuring they are not stigmatized” said Reverend Silas YunguFollowing the sensitization of Reverend Yungo, five committees were then created towards sustaining each of the initiated strategies as a result of the training: prevention of drug use among children; outreach to drug users; sensitization of key influencers and community members; establishment of referral pathway and safe space and; advocacy. Reverend Yungo, created a safe space in his church, with technical assistance from Charis, to offer counselling for drug users.

The impact of the DPTC training lives on. A safe space, where counsellors can provide support and guidance to drug users remains operational. Furthermore, as Reverent Davou expressed with satisfaction “Church included a sensitization on drug use [as] part of the sermon to better understand the situation, and how they can help support their children. Parents understand that their drug-using children need their love and support, and of course treatment for drug dependency”. The positive changes are far-reaching. “We no longer stigmatize, we are compassionate...from the church, the entire Zarmaganda community can be helped,” said Reverend Davou.