Inside the world of Nigeria’s teenage drug revelers
From daring advertisements on social media handles such as Twitter, to mind-boggling sale on the streets, Lagos’ poor and neglected neighbourhoods teem with psychotropic drugs that are on offer for the asking. ADEBAYO FOLORUNSHO-FRANCIS reports
Obidi met Saliu, a random friend, smoking what looked like weed and demanded a whiff. Two puffs later, the substance kicked in, forcing the young man to clutch his chest screaming. His shriek attracted a horde of passersby who rushed to find out what went wrong. As Saliu tried pacifying the crowd that everything was under control, the victim broke free and plunged into a nearby gutter.
After he regained consciousness, Obidi told PUNCH HealthWise that what came over him was inexplicable. Immediately afterwards, he went into a coma.
“My heart felt like it was pierced by an object. I couldn’t breathe and kept hallucinating until I blacked out. I woke up to behold bruises and excruciating pain all over my body. Although I have been smoking weed in the past, I have never taken anything like this before,” Obidi explained when he regained consciousness.
Unknown to Obidi, the drab he took was ‘Colorado’, a new cocktail of psychotropic drug currently trending among Nigeria’s young revelers, especially teens and adolescents.
‘Colorado’ is one of the strains of banned substances that drug addicts and unsuspecting new entrants experiment with in Lagos, which the United Nations 2018 drug use statistics says has a high prevalent use of psychotropic substances.
The UN report says Lagos, Gombe and Oyo states have between 21 and 33 per cent drug abuse prevalence, compared to the rest of the country. Among other things, the UN survey also pegged the average daily expenditure on cannabis at $1.15, equivalent to N417.45 per user.
I started with weed…
Jules Ozoemena, a brand and advertising expert, is a reformed addict.
Explaining how he spent the better part of his formative years smoking cannabis, Ozoemena said he was initiated into the world of ‘ganja’ (marijuana) shortly after he gained admission into the University of Benin.
“Just like many other innocent and depressed youths, I was initiated into it by some of my course mates. I am the product of a dysfunctional family who always felt depressed every time I returned home from school. My parents were always picking quarrels over one domestic issue or the other.”
His miserable mood had caught the attention of some course mates who allegedly introduced him to recreational drugs to cheer him up.
“That was how I got hooked. My family and siblings knew something was wrong with me. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell them what I was passing through for fear of stigma. The truth is that some of these drug vendors tried convincing innocent teenagers into believing that smoking marijuana, taking the blue pills and drugs like skunk, skales and this recent one (‘Colorado’) would boost your brain and make you excel in your academic.
“It is a pseudo world where you are promised freedom from all your worries and problems. Those are lies from the pit of hell. I started out with weed, upgraded to codeine, and had also tried Tramadol.
“Our group was made up mostly of guys and a few young ladies who were also hooked on the dope. All these happened before I became born-again.”
Ozoemena’s statement corroborates United Nations’ statistics on Drugs and Crime that one out of four substance abusers is female.
Getting high by freebasing
A consultant psychiatrist in Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Olamijulo Fatiregun, explained that though ‘Colorado’ might be the latest trend in town, it has a similar pattern with other abusive substances such as ‘skushi’ and cannabis, among others.
While citing reasons drug abuse is more rampant in highly populated, resource-poor areas such as Mushin, Ajegunle and other slums in Lagos, for instance, the psychiatrist remarked that young school children are assaulted frequently with smokes from cannabis and other psychotropic drugs as they walk the menacing streets.
Drug vendors convince innocent teenagers into believing that smoking marijuana, taking the blue pill and drugs like skunk, skales and this recent one (‘Colorado’) would boost the brain and make one excel academically. It’s a lie!
He noted further that, with time, some of those kids become accustomed to the smell and unhealthy lifestyle and grow into it. “That is how some people get initiated early into the world of psychotropic substance abuse,” Fatiregun noted.
He recalled a recent incident where Police in Lagos apprehended Maliki Bello, suspected “supreme leader” of the Berry Boys cult, whose operational base was alleged to be at Itire area of Lagos State.
The 22-year-old suspect said he was initiated into the cult at age 12 when he gained admission into Junior Secondary School and had risen through the rank to become a leader.
The police had alleged that Bello had an official Facebook account with 1,928 friends and which served as a platform for recruiting new members. The Facebook account has been pulled down following his arrest and detention.
“Teens in primary and junior secondary school are always vulnerable to this kind of lifestyle. As young minds, they are easy to convince.
“Another factor that I think is fueling attraction to ‘Colorado’ and cannabis are lewd songs from local music acts. Some of the lyrics glorify drug use and make adolescents and teenagers to want to belong,” Fatiregun said.
“The benefit they (addicts) derive from such substance is dopamine, the same feel-good chemical released in the body when you have sex. They tend to behave like someone whose brain has been rewired,” he added.
A drug with many aliases
Recently, some viral videos trended on social media, drawing attention to the wave of ‘Colorado’ addiction among recreational drug users in Nigeria. A handful of the victims in the videos collapsed, a few barked like dogs, some walked around like zombies, and yet another was fortunate to have friends rush him to the nearest hospital.
‘Colorado’ is a street name for synthetic cannabinoid, AND is classified as psychoactive substance. IT’s Also known as ‘Black Mamba,’ ‘Amsterdam Gold,’ ‘Devil’s Weed,’ ‘X,’ ‘Mary Joy,’ ‘Annihilation,’ ‘Tai High’ and ‘Hawaiian Haze.’
It can cause some serious side effects such as mental health problems, psychosis and sometimes, zombie-like state which might take a long time to recover from. It has also been known to cause death.
According to the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health, ‘Colorado’ is often described as ‘synthetic marijuana’ or fake weed because some of its chemicals are like those in marijuana. In 2014, no fewer than 177 different synthetic cannabinoids were reportedly in circulation and the manufacturers are constantly changing the chemicals to dodge the laws.
‘Colorado’ in Lagos
PUNCH HealthWise discovered black spots in Lagos where ‘Colorado’ is sold. Such places include Ajegunle, Lagos Island, Ebute Metta, Mushin, Shitta, Oshodi and Maryland.
Aided by a guide, our Correspondent walked the dingy streets of Adebiyi, Akala, and Imoni, all in Mushin, a seedy area of Lagos, where the reporter procured assortments of recreational drugs such as ‘Arizona,’ ‘Loud,’ ‘Skales’ (SK), Rohypnol and weed.
‘Arizona’ and ‘Skales’ were each sold for N200 (55 cents), while Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol, aka, the blue pill) costs N400 ($1.10). ‘Colorado’ and ‘Loud’ were the drugs of choice for those who are already used to its consumption or possibly trying out something new. Their price ranges from N2,500 ($6.89) to N10,000 ($27.55) depending on location, customer and availability.
Catching them young
A psychiatrist at Apapa General Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Ajibola Keshinro, said it could sometimes be difficult to ascertain the age that an addict started taking drug.
“Some addicts start as early as primary school stage, while others were initiated in secondary school. More often not, they don’t get caught until they gain admission into university. Only a few percentages of the addicts I have spoken to so far admitted starting out in universities.
“Ironically, most substance abusers that turned up for rehabilitation in my facility are usually from rich homes. They put up a reserved mien at home but are loose cannon at school,” Keshinro said.
The psychiatrist said he was not surprised to hear that ‘Colorado’ is the new drug of choice in town because he understands that drugs come with phoney names.
‘Colorado’ and ‘Loud’ Are the drugS of choice for those who are already used to its consumption or possibly trying out something new.
“In our profession, we are not too particular about names of drugs because they tend to show similar pattern. Today’s teens are at risk. When you see them carrying a bottle of coke or soft drinks, there is the likelihood it must have been spiced with substance. What they do basically is that once they have become too familiar or outgrown a substance, they combine it with new ones to get stronger effect.
“For instance, the 50mg Tramadol was a controlled opioid introduced to combat serious paid. Today, some people have started manufacturing the 500mg to meet recreational demands on the street,” he added.
Twitter drug shops
Meanwhile, ‘Colorado’ is on offer on social media, especially on Twitter. PUNCH HealthWise engaged two dealers via their Twitter handles and they were eager to know the location to ship the supply to. After some formalities on one of the platforms @_the_plug, a seller agreed to sell one gram of ‘Colorado’ for N20,000 ($55.10). Another seller @audiomack who claimed to reside in Festac Town, promised to meet our Correspondent at Computer Village, saying he had another customer to service at the same location.
Twitter handles where banned substances are on offer are @Quizyomoogun and @weednation9ja, among others.
On why recreational drugs are named after countries and exotic places, Ozoemena, the former drug addict, said it was the making of the ‘brand ambassadors’ peddling them.
“Hard substances are not different from any other brand that has to be packaged and made presentable to consumers. You don’t just look at them as mere marijuana variants. It is much more than that. Why do you think people rechristen some cars as ‘Big Daddy’, ‘End of Discussion’, or ‘Bull Dog’?” he quipped.
“Affordability and easy access are key factors why the use of ‘Colorado’ and its likes thrive in areas like Lagos, Rivers, Kano, and Abuja,” Ozoemena explained.
National President, Young Pharmacists Group, Isa Muhammad said continual supply of substances is sustained as abusers don’t have specifics, thereby making elixirs and narcotics the new drugs of choice.
“It’s the reason governments and every stakeholder must find solutions to the problem,” Isa Muhammad said.
“One would that think every state government will take the initiative to look into the root cause and create an avenue for vulnerable individuals. Sadly, the state governments are not doing enough.
“Every stakeholder in the health sector, NDLEA, NAFDAC and the Federal Government need to do more than they are doing now. I believe it is priority. We need the government to focus on rehabilitation of these addicts as well as controlling movement of ethical drugs from manufacturers to the consumers,” he said.
Striving to keep up with the trend
Head of forensic and chemical management at the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Margaret Ogundipe, says, “‘Colorado’, Skushi, ‘Arizona’, ‘Edibles,’ ‘Legal High’, ‘Science Students’ or whatever names they come by these days are new psychoactive substances.
“They are new emerging drugs that we at NDLEA are striving to keep up with. We are gradually building up intelligence to identify these new substances as well as mounting a sustained campaign to discourage our youths from engaging in them.
“No country in the world as at today, even with stringent laws and best rehab facilities, can say they have won the war against hard drugs. No, we are all combating the menace with a view to reduce it to the barest minimum.”
Recently, NDLEA chairman, Col. Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah (rtd), during the public destruction of 100 tonnes of forfeited drug exhibits at Badagry, referred to Lagos as the biggest hub for transit and consumption of hard drugs.
The narcotics destroyed at the scene included cocaine, cannabis, heroin, methamphetamine, ephedrine, tramadol, khat and other psychotropic substances.
Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, noted, “The abuse of drugs in Nigeria is caused by many factors, including love for money, disobedience to law, proliferation of the market with individuals who sell medicines, lack of control of prescription in the healthcare facilities and lack of control of dispensing among dispensers.
“Other reasons for abuse of drugs include smuggling substances of abuse through porous seaports and land borders, corruption and compromises at the point of entries, diversion of legitimate exports to illicit use, weakness in inspections and weak penalties for sellers and traffickers.”
Fatiregun the psychiatrist lamented that a large percentage of drug users relapse after treatment and return, complaining about the same symptoms.
“What they require at that stage of their lives is usually love and strong family support,” he said.
On what it takes to rehabilitate an average addict, Fatiregun said a normal rehabilitation therapy often takes six to nine months. “Unfortunately, many addicts don’t turn out strong because they are vulnerable and relapse easily,” he lamented.
“Another problem we encounter is that most patients don’t follow-up on their treatment. Once they leave rehab, you don’t get to see them again. Usually, about 70 per cent don’t return at all for follow-up until the situation worsens.
“I can bet you that consumption of these substances is more prevalent among people of school age, usually teenagers and others in their formative years,” he added.
He called on the Federal Government to step up efforts in the area of advocacy and more funding for rehab facilities and neuropsychiatric homes.
In January 2019, the National Bureau of Statistics and Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse released a survey result in which it claims that nearly 15 per cent of Nigerian adult population (around 14.3 million people) have had a “considerable level” use of psychoactive drug substances.
The survey further indicated that the highest level of drug use was recorded among people aged 25 to 39, with cannabis being the most widely used drug.