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8 Oct 2016
From Lecture rooms to mental hospitals: How drug is ‘killing’ Nigerian undergraduates
By the time his parents brought him to the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, he had pierced his body with blades and knives.
The 23-year-old university undergraduate looked cool, well-dressed and spoke English fluently, but it wasn’t long before the nurses who attended to him knew that he was mentally deranged.
“His speech was incoherent, irrelevant and illogical,” said one of the nurses who attended to him and who pleaded anonymity, adding, “Speech test is one of the ways we know that someone has gone berserk.” James was a 300 Level Biochemistry student in one of the private universities in the south-west until August 2014 when his parents got a call from the school’s management that their son was having some sort of problem and needed urgent attention. However, they didn’t disclose what the problem was right away.
On learning about their son’s “critical” condition, James’ parents, resident in Lagos, sped to the school, only to find their son behaving strangely. After some investigations, it was discovered that James had been taking codeine (a sleep-inducing and analgesic drug derived from morphine) for some time.
One of James’ friends, simply identified as Femi, and who also notified the school in the first place, told our correspondent how he found out that his friend was indulging in drugs.
He said, “It was while we were in 200 Level that I learned that James was into drugs. At first, I didn’t take him seriously. I thought he knew what he was getting into. He said the drug was to calm him down after reading, nothing else. But over time, his codeine consumption increased. I warned him several times, but he didn’t listen. He’d even ask me, ‘Or do you want to report me to the Vice Chancellor?’ I stopped warning him.
“I started to notice his strange behaviour around August 2014. I remember one night around 8pm when I asked him what his plans were after graduating from the school. His reply shocked me: ‘I want to be a commercial bus driver in Lagos.’ I laughed as I thought he was joking. But on a second thought, I said that didn’t sound normal.”
The following morning was when Femi decided not to keep his friend’s secret anymore.
“All through the night, I saw him talking to himself. I asked him what was going wrong and he said he was discussing his plans with some people. I couldn’t sleep. When the day broke, I had to report to the school management, who thereafter took him to the school clinic. They observed him there for a day before calling his parents,” he said. “I always feel bad it took me too long to report him, but I am happy I did the right thing eventually. Probably if I had reported him when I first saw him taking codeine, he would have been helped early.”
Femi, now working in a pharmaceutical company in Lagos, said he’s usually unhappy whenever he remembers that James is still in the psychiatric hospital.
“We were meant to graduate together and I believe he’ll be out of the facility soon,” he said.
James is one of the “hundreds” of undergraduates who are in the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, according to an official who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity.
The official said, “We have many undergraduates here. They are in the hundreds, both male and female and the pathetic thing is that most of them are teenagers while some are in their early 20s. What brought most of them here is because they were into drugs.
“Some took Indian hemp, while some took cocaine, but in most cases we’ve seen, they took the former. Some also took codeine and when you ask them why they took it, they would tell you it was to calm them down, especially when they had read and read.
“They often used it to enhance their sleep. Unfortunately, most parents were not aware that their children were into drugs until their first breakdown or episode. That’s when they bring them here.”
According to the official, most of the victims are from public institutions, where there is little or no monitoring of students’ activities.
The source added, “We have cases from both public and private institutions, but there are more cases from the former, where students are usually not monitored. There are a couple of cases from private universities too.
“You know authorities of public institutions don’t really care how students live their lives. But in private institutions, the students are careful in taking these drugs because of their strict policies. Don’t also forget that most private institutions in the country are faith-based and they are bent on instilling their doctrines or belief systems in the students. So, there’s a certain level of discipline in private schools. In public schools, there’s freedom. Students live wherever and anyhow they want to without anybody monitoring them.
“In the case of students from private institutions, when they break down, the management relays the information to their parents to come and take them, who then bring them here. In public schools, the friends of the victims alert the parents. So, in almost every case we’ve seen, the victims’ parents brought them here.”
How do the victims usually behave when they are first brought to the hospital for the medical personnel to know that they are suffering from mental derangement?
The official said, “Actually, most of them are calm when they bring them, only a few are violent. Some come well-dressed and even try to comport themselves, but there are ways through which we know the victim is mentally disturbed.
“For a while, they can stay calm, but it does not take long before they start displaying some weird behaviours. There are also some tests carried out on them. For instance, when a person’s speech is incoherent, irrelevant and illogical, or if they have a wrong orientation to time, person and place, you know something is wrong.
“You may ask, ‘What time of the day are we now?’ If it is morning and the victim says it is night, they have a wrong orientation to time. Or if you ask where they are and they reply they are in the market whereas they are in the hospital, they have a wrong perception about place. These are just some of the tests.
“Some would have pierced their bodies because by the time they had sniffed, inhaled and injected the drugs, they wouldn’t know what they’re doing again. We see a lot of marks or scars on many of them. Some have abrasions and in some cases, tattoos all over the body.
“As a psychologist, when you see tattoos and piercings all over a student’s body, or a lady with a very weird hairdo, it tells you something. You don’t do such things ordinarily. There’s a 90 per cent probability that such student is involved in drugs or alcohol. For those who have survived the illness, the major factor they would tell you that drive them into it is peer influence.”
Away from the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Lagos, a staff member of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Aro, Ogun State, simply identified as Mrs. Adigun, said in her 10 years of working at the hospital, she had seen hundreds of undergraduates being admitted into the facility due to drugs.
She said, “In both the male and female wards, they are many here. I usually pity them. They are beautiful ladies and handsome guys who should have no reason to be here, but because of drugs, they are here. They took cocaine and the rest and they became insane.
“Just a few weeks ago, they brought in another student from a private university in Osun State. She was studying Accounting. In fact, she ought to graduate from the institution next year, but that will no longer be possible even if she becomes normal today and is discharged.”
Findings by our correspondent showed that there are many undergraduates in several other psychiatric hospitals across the country — including the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospitals in Benin (Edo State), Kaduna (Kaduna State), Calabar (Cross River State) and Enugu (Enugu State) — who became patients in the facilities as a result of taking cocaine and Indian hemp.
An official at the Psychiatric Unit of the General Hospital, Ilorin, Kwara State, who pleaded anonymity, said “there are a couple of victims from the University of Ilorin and Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Oyo State.”
Mrs. Chioma Ugochukwu, an official at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Enugu, also said the hospital had “always” admitted student patients.
“They are here, many of them. We have always admitted students from tertiary institutions, both from the private and public schools, including from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. They are usually teenagers or in their 20s,” she noted.
Why we took drugs —Ex-patients
Some former student patients at some of the psychiatric hospitals in the country told our correspondent that they resorted to taking drugs as a result of academic pressure, among other reasons.
“I think I started taking Ritalin (one of the most commonly known central nervous system stimulants that is used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy, a condition characterised by an extreme tendency to fall asleep whenever in relaxing surroundings),” said John Abayomi, a former Law undergraduate at a private university in Ogun State.
Even though he was never diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder, Abayomi said, “I learned how to take it from a friend and it’s one of the bad decisions I ever made in my life. I had to drop out of school eventually. I thought the drug was going to help me fight pressure, but it ruined my life.
“When I started using the drugs, I could sit down to read all through the night for like five hours and it would be like twenty minutes. I thought I was doing myself good.”
Abayomi, who was a patient at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, said he started taking the drug because he thought he was suffering from an undiagnosed disorder and needed a stimulant to boost his attention.
“There were many students then like me taking the drug. We didn’t belong to any bad group, but it’s all because we wanted to read for long,” he said. “But I thank God I’m out of the facility. Even though I couldn’t pursue my Law degree, I’m happy to be a singer now and public speaker, telling young people not to take drugs for any purpose except it’s prescribed by the doctor.”
A former Economics undergraduate of the University of Lagos, simply identified as Yemi, 28, said he was lured into taking drugs while in 200 Level in 2008.
He said, “My own case was as a result of peer influence. I started doing cocaine in 2008, upon seeing friends doing it. It destroyed my life. It made me do things that I would never think of doing. I cut my body with blade and did some funny tattoos. I regret having them.
“My friends bundled me one day in 2009 when I wasn’t normal again and took me to my parents’ home. I think they took me to a private mental facility where I got recovered. I have since learned my lessons. I still intend to go back to school someday.”
A sociologist, Dr. Olakunle Alabi, told our correspondent via LinkedIn that undergraduates need to be careful of the kind of friends they move with, because “who you walk with is who you become.”
He added, “Drug abuse is a serious issue and it is sad that it has destroyed the lives of so many youths. If you look at the hundreds of the undergraduates in mental facilities, their future is being jeopardised, meaning that the future of the country is also jeopardised because whatever potential they have will be killed until they become normal again.”
In their research on the prevalence of drug abuse among undergraduates, researchers from the University of Benin, Edo State — Adeyemo Florence, Ohaeri Beatrice, Pat Okpala and Ogodo Oghale — said of the 800 students used in the study, it was discovered that 47 per cent of the sample respondents had taken drugs for non-medical purposes at least once.
“Coffee and alcohol were the most commonly abused drugs. Majority of the respondents said they took drugs as a result of poor teacher-student relationship, improper parental upbringing, as well as the influence of peer pressure,” the researchers said.
They added that there was an increasing trend in Nigeria and other developing countries among students using drugs.
“Appropriate interventions, health education efforts, support and referral systems should be established in tertiary institutions to help curb this habit and counselling programmes be incorporated into their health care systems,” they added.
Findings by Saturday PUNCH showed that some institutions had already put measures in place on their campuses in a bid to help student victims. They have facilities in place to help check and monitor the mental health status of students before even admitting them in the first place.
For instance, the Vice Chancellor of Babcock University, Prof. Ademola Tayo, said the university has a strong support system to rehabilitate students suffering from drug abuse.
He said, “Babcock is an institution within a larger society and what happens within a larger society will be felt. This is why we have a solid students support centre, where we have trained clinical and educational psychologists and social welfare officers.
“The moment we discover a case like that, they spring into action and if it is something that is beyond their powers, we refer them to a rehabilitation centre where the student will be. We do spot-check. We have equipment for psycho-social test because we know that this is a big problem in our country today, even in primary and secondary schools.
“It’s something that is pervasive in our society today and that is why we are investing so much in our students support system. We do seminars where we invite ex-drug addicts to talk about the dangers of drug use because if there is any problem we have been facing in the last two years, it is this issue of drug addiction. It can derail young people, hence our efforts at protecting our students from this hazard in our society.”
Preventing drug abuse among undergraduates
In his study, “The social and academic implications of drug abuse among undergraduates: A case study of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria,” Dr. Solomon Kobiowu, pointed out that apart from the fact that the intake of drugs hampers the academic performance of drug abusers in the long run, it also alters their time sense, decreases their auditory discrimination, results in difficulty in concentration and brings about the impairment of ability in some psychometric tests, especially those that are related to the manipulation of numbers.
He said, “Nature has tried very hard to protect the brain, and messing around with drugs can change the way the brain works naturally. When one takes drugs, parts of the brain start to disagree on what to do, and that creates a big problem. The brain can solve problems, be creative, be logical, make plans, make wise decisions, and do almost anything else one can think of. All parts of the brain work together, to keep us healthy, intelligent and happy.
“However, in order to really help the situation and curb drug abuse by undergraduates, the government should have a well-defined comprehensive and realistic policy on control of drugs. This policy should include establishing a federal drug control centre, under the auspices of the ministries of health and internal affairs, which will collate information on drug use, and liaise with similar smaller units, to be based in each state.
“Public education should be targeted at the vulnerable segment of the society, such as the older children, adolescent and young adults. Such educational measures should be carefully presented through methods that avoid threats and dramatisation.
“Also, parents and school authorities should carefully warn their children against the destructive effects of these drugs. Any realistic attempt aimed at dealing with the issue of drug abuse must enjoy adequate multidisciplinary deliberation. Any law, which is designed to control drug abuse behaviour, must embrace suggestions from the country’s relevant professional bodies such as psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, youth and welfare officers, counsellors, educationists, ministry of health officials and law enforcement agents.”