Stories of Hope: Responding to the Drug Use Epidemic in Nigeria: Series 7

Abuja, 17 August 2021-I used to regard drug users as useless. The way some of them dress, I saw them as armed robbers. After training [Drug Prevention, Treatment and Care Sensitization Training] my perception changed. I [now] provide help to them” said Mrs. Odoh Fidelia, Officer in Charge of the Health Center located in Obollo Afor in Enugu State. Working as a nurse for a decade, Mrs. Fidelia closely observed the negative effects of drug use in the community. Her earlier attitude towards drug users was routinely dismissive, and this led to prejudicial treatment when they arrived for health services. Today, a more inclusive health care service operates, with the full support of Mrs. Fidelia.

Obollo-Afor is a major transport hub bustling with commercial activities with many brothels, markets and eateries which are mainly patronized by drivers, artisans and travelers. “Drug use in the community is at an alarming rate since this community is a transit area for travelers. A huge percentage of the young people in the community consume drugs,” said Mrs. Fidelia.

The drugs commonly used in Obollo-Afor are cannabis, tramadol, codeine, tobacco, alcohol, and injection of mostly pentazocine. A negative attitude by Mrs. Fidelia towards drug users had influenced other co-health workers and affected the quality of services drug users received at the health center. Appropriate interventions and referrals were rarely considered undermining essential access to drug treatment and counselling.   

With support from UNODC and funding from the European Union, the Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP) carried out a sensitization program for their local community aimed at increasing knowledge and awareness on drug use prevention, treatment and care with a view to reducing stigma for people who use drugs. Some of the targeted stakeholders include traditional and religious leaders, neighbourhood and youth leaders as well as health care workers.

 “My perception about them [drug users] changed. I stopped stigmatizing and started seeing them as one of us. I realized that overwhelming circumstances might have led them to take drugs. Maybe their parents died, poor parental upbringing, unemployment…” said Mrs. Fidelia.

She returned to the health centre transformed, motivated, and started to introduce important changes: “I first stepped down this training to all my staff within my jurisdiction and taught them how to use World Health Organization, Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Screening Test, ASSIST. Any time we have a case [drug user] we now administer it [appropriately]. From the drug test results we can know what type of drugs he or she is dependent on, … provide counselling, treat any ailment as result of drug use. If the case is above us, we refer to the psychiatric hospital with a proper follow-up” said Mrs. Fidelia.

Mrs. Fidelia went on to mainstream substance use prevention, treatment and care into community outreach, immunization and ante-natal services. Drug users and their families, health staff and the community have now all become beneficiaries to the new approach.

“I am grateful for sensitization program, because I gained new knowledge and also in my facility people are free now to walk-in with any problem, and they will be attended to without discrimination. My staff are better equipped with the current trends of drug prevention. It has greatly improved the service uptake  in our facility” said Mrs. Fidelia.