Drug advocates have called on the federal government to abolish policies that criminalise drug users but treat it as a public health issue.
Ruth Dreifuss, former Swiss president and Chair Global Commission on Drug Policy in a public lecture on Friday in Abuja, said the current drug policies implemented by most countries to fight drug use and trafficking had failed to achieve the intended purpose.
The lecture was organised by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, (GCDP) in collaboration with Youthrise Nigeria, Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse, (CRISA) and West Commission on Drugs, (WCD).
Ms. Dreifuss in her lecture titled ‘World drug perception problem- Countering Prejudices about people who use drugs’ said the government needs to decriminalise drug users in other to monitor substance use in the country.
According to her, many drug policies does not comply with human rights.
“There is a need to find more humane policies that will help stem the menace across the world. The failure of the drug policies have had same responses all over the world. It is also having negative impact on peoples’ health.
The former president said there is a need for a change in public perception on those who use drugs because “not every drug user is problematic, criminal or needs medical attention,” she said.
According to her, public perception of drug users is one of the deterrent factors affecting implementation of effective policies and creating enabling environment for problematic drug users to seek treatment.
Dreifuss said a new way to tackle challenges of drug use is for people to understand drug users.
She advised lawmakers to see drug use as a public health challenge and legislate policies to that effect.
“This will allow drug users express themselves and seek help if necessary without fear of prejudice, stigmatisation or unfair punishment,” she said.
“We need to learn to do it another way. It is important to change the perception of the way we see people who use drugs. It is only when the nation changes its perception on drug users that when they will be able to effect policies that will effectively tackle drug use and its related problems.”
She said GCDP discovered many people have become susceptible to infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis through needle sharing, deaths from overdose and the use of adulterated substances due to the implementation of harsh drug policies.
Dreifuss urged Nigerians to embrace policies that giveroom for voluntary treatment, non-stigmatisation, human treatment and drug substitution therapy instead of the current enforcement of abstinence.
Adeolu Ogunrounmbi, Director YouthRise, in his remark said Nigeria needs to look at the scientific evidence of what is happening in the country to make responsive laws and policies for drug users and not make policies based on perception.
Mr. Ogunrounmbi said the essence of the lecture is to make people understand how perception goes a long way in determining responses to drug users in terms of laws and policies.
He said Nigeria drug laws and policies have failed and there is a need to understand drug use in the concept of public health.
“We are beginning to see the drug use as a problem within the domain of health system and not the domain of criminal justice system. We need health professionals, who are able to design effective prevention programme to stop prevent drug use.
“A change of perception will help us shape public health policies and other development policies that we need to come up with in responding to the drug use challenge facing the country,” she said.
Nigeria is currently facing a major challenge of increasing substance use especially among the youth.
This ranges from the usage of narcotics to regulated medications such as Tramadol, Codeine, and other harmful mixtures.
The senate had also complained of increase in substance abuse in the country especially in the northern part of the country.
In a bid to tackling the menace, the senate after a round-table conference on drug abuse in Kano proposed an intervention which is expected to provide effective leadership and governance for cases of mental health and substance abuse in the country.
The intervention is expected to comprise a complex legislative framework for operations of law enforcement and other agencies towards reduction in the supply of illicit substances of abuse, and control of illicit psychoactive substances by passing a Mental Health and Substance Abuse Bill.