Stigma denies drug use victims access to help — Tinubu

President Bola Tinubu on Monday warned against the social and structural stigmatization of drug use victims, which he said prevents them from accessing needed care and support.

This is as the Chairman of the MTN Foundation, Julius Adelusi- Adeluyi, has advised that the issue of drug abuse must be tackled as a situation of national emergency.

Speaking on the occasion of the celebration of the United Nations International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, President Tinubu expressed his endorsement of the theme of the celebration which is “People First: Stop Stigma and Discrimination, Strengthen Prevention.”

He said the theme stresses the imperative to prioritize the well-being and dignity of individuals affected by drug abuse, recognizing their inherent worth and the importance of providing them with effective prevention and treatment interventions.

According to him, Tinubu, “We could not agree less with the importance of this theme now that the most vulnerable population, especially women, young people, people living in marginalized environments, high-risk drug users, people displaced by armed conflicts or natural disasters and people in rural settings, are exposed to stigma, discrimination and exclusion from mainstream opportunities.

“These groups often face barriers in accessing the healthcare and social services within the society in addressing their drug use problems. Therefore, interventions to address drug use and its associated consequences need to be mindful of the fundamental rights of every individual.

“Stigma both social and structural, which continues to affect people who use drugs and is implicated as one of the most common barriers to access support and services must be removed.”

The president noted that educating the citizenry on the dangers of drug abuse and the need to stop stigma and discrimination is crucial, calling for support for those affected.

He added: “We must empower our youth with the knowledge and skills they need to make informed decisions about their lives and provide victims of drug abuse with the resources they need to avoid falling victim to drug abuse.

“We must also support those who are struggling with drug addiction, and
provide them with treatment and necessary support they need to overcome their addiction.

“In the face of these challenges, it is imperative that we adopt a people-centred approach that focuses on prevention and treatment as key pillars of our response.”

Tinubu reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to combating drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking, assuring: “We will tackle the drug menace and its associated consequences in all forms.”

He urged governments, international organizations, and civil stakeholders to take urgent actions to protect society, and all people by tackling the problem of illicit supply and abuse of drugs, to help raise consciousness of the threats that it poses to society.

Also speaking, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, stressed the need for empathy for drug use victims, saying that addiction is not a death sentence.

The Speaker, who was represented by his deputy, Benjamin Kalu, expressed the readiness of the National Assembly to support all Federal Government policies that engender gainful engagements of Nigerians, especially the youths who are prone to drug abuse.

He advised that the treatment of drug abusers and their families with empathy, respect and dignity should be ingrained in the strategic approach to the ongoing fight.

“Drug addiction on its own is not a death sentence. Therefore, members of society who are battling drug addiction deserve our support and encouragement to enable them to overcome the addiction,” the Speaker stated.

Chairman of MTN Foundation, Julius Adelusi- Adeluyi, described the scourge of substance abuse as “ a clear and present danger, more so as the statistics indicate that a staggering number of people are caught in its snare”, in his speech.

The MTN foundation Chairman, who was represented by a Director in the firm, Dennis Okoro, said “ We must tackle this as a situation of national emergency; deploying the use of policy and partnerships as a strategy to contain this scourge.

“Distinguished guests, as a matter of urgency, we must scale up this fight against illicit drug use so we can, in the shortest possible time, have a nation free from drug abuse. The event ends today, but the conversation must continue.”

Mr. Okoro further said, “And moreover, why we brought some of these organizations in is to reduce the stigmatization of youths caught with drugs. We should stop making them criminals ab initio. And for me, they are not.

“When you get them and then treat them like the youths and send them to a correctional centre or prison, they feel further rejected and then anybody within that environment can corrupt them the more, they become never cured.

“So the message is that these are youths, they are children. Treat them like your own children. Give them a human face. See them as children who have had tension and emotional disturbance from bad homes or neglect and rehabilitate them with love.”

Mr. Reginald Okeya, a director with MTN Foundation speaking on the interest in drug abuse said, “Our interest rose when we started seeing images and videos. When we started noticing the rate at which mental cases were beginning to come up in society and most of the cases are attributed to the use of drugs.

“We also looked at the various state government organizations, much attention is not being paid to address that issue. So that was how the MTN Foundation now came up with this idea of this program of anti-substance abuse to see how we can reduce or eradicate the abuse of drugs amongst our younger ones in the society

“Before now issues pertaining to drug abuse were a bit silent people don’t talk more about it. But since he started his advocacy, a lot of Nigerians have come to know and hear about drug abuse, being championed by MTN foundation.”

The organization which had earlier organized road walks and quiz competitions in support of the anti-drugs sensitization efforts, also splashed prizes on schools that emerged victorious in its schools quiz competition while

In the institution category, the PTA, NADP International College, Lafia, Nasarawa, came first, while the Anglican Girls Grammar School Benin City, Edo State, came second, followed by the Government Girls secondary school Yola, Adamawa state.

Speaking at the occasion, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education, Mr David Adejo said, “The incidence of drug abuse is not only a threat to individual lives but also negates human capacity to tackle other social challenges like unemployment and rapid population explosion etc.

“This also includes endangering the country in the areas of insecurity, poverty and corruption.”

Adejo said in tackling the challenges associated with the menace of drug production, use and trafficking in a comprehensive, balanced human rights-centred and gender-responsive manner, the Federal Ministry of Education introduced some school-based drug prevention programmes with the aim of increasing knowledge and keeping safe among school children and youths.

“Strategies adopted include infusing ‘Drug Education ‘in relevant school subject curriculum, approving ‘Drug-Free Club’s as a co-curricular activity,” he said.


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