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Martin Agwogie is the founder and Executive Director, Global Initiative on Substance Abuse (GISA). An expert in Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Policy, Virginia Commonwealth University, United States, Agwogie has worked with the Federal Government for 22 years in the area of drug control before he started this project. In this interview with ADEYEMI TOSIN, the author of three books on substance abuse prevention and management talks about his experiences.

TELL us about your experience working with the young ones?

It has not really been easy, based on the fact that there has been so much trial and errors in the past and even professionals are quick to say that substance issue intervention in particular are evolving. It was until recently that professionals started getting it right because substance addiction has a very high level of relapse which in most cases lead to burnout because where you provide intervention for somebody, he was discharged and few months later the person is back to the hospital because it is a brain disease. This can be so discouraging. Though the lapse rate is still high but I can say that now with better intervention, the lapse rate is gradually reducing. More so, we train people now in the area of prevention which is referred to as Universal Prevention Curriculum on Substance Use Disorders. The aim is to prevent people from using drugs before they go for treatment. Once that is dealt with, it becomes easier and we will have less people that will go for drug related treatment. Prevention they say is better and cheaper than cure.

Substance abuse has become a challenge for everyone to address but I am glad to say that many people (stakeholders) are now very much committed in the area of training, now they know that they have a role to play unlike in the past when people thought it was limited to a particular set of people. But before playing such roles they should be trained so that they don’t do more harm than good, and that is where we come in. This year we’ve trained the first set at the National training of trainers in january and so far we have trained the fourth batch. We are also looking at decentralizing it so that people will be trained in different parts of the country. We have trained and are still training medical doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, counselors, psychologists, lecturers, principals, teachers, religious groups and leaders. It cuts across because everyone has a role to play. The message is we all have a role to play but before you come out to play that role, you must receive the capacity, be trained so that  you will know exactly what to do. The training starts  from family based prevention to workplace prevention, the school based prevention, community based prevention, media based and environment based prevention. These are different areas of specialty.

How can drug abuse be tackled in schools?

One of the ways I think substance abuse can be tackled in Secondary schools is that government should initiate drug controlled officers (who are trained) in schools because he knows preventive measures and interventions. He will be able to influence policies that will help the school to identify vulnerable areas, groups as well as identify risk factors that could make students to use drugs. Apart for the fact that such officer is a teacher, he is on ground and he interacts with the students.

This to an extent is more cost effective because he will be in the best position to address the drug issue. So when all these are put together, the difference will be there because substance abuse will be contained. There is need for more efforts in the prevention of drug abuse in the country by inculcating it into schools’ curricula.

It is necessary because of the frightening report based on the just released National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health in Nigeria, in which one out of seven Nigerians between the ages of 15 and 64 engage in at least one substance abuse.

This is higher than the global average of one out of 20 according to United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) world drug abuse. Globally, it is one out of 20 but in Nigeria, it is one out of seven which means there is a problem that we need to collectively address as a nation, community, parents and individuals. The prevention can only be done through evidence base method which is not common in the country now. This is the reason we organize training to be able to equip people in different sectors in providing or acquiring prevention skills and to be able to prevent the use of substance. The curriculum is in different tracks and the practitioners are trained according to their specialization.

Prevention is being targeted at age bracket level, so that the trained personnel will be able to flow with them and through this the target audience will receive the message that will help tackle substance  abuse. That is why we have different tracks like school-based for school environment, family base for family, work place for offices and community base tracks among others in other to prevent substance use in the country as well as to reach out to all individuals in the country. Even as we do this, we should guide against passing of wrong messages to people through scare tactics, which has aggravated most cases of substance abuse. Hence, the society and government must not to be spontaneous in their reactions to cases of substance abuse because policies made at that point can do more harm than good.

On how the initiative can be introduced into the curriculum, GISA is open to collaborations because if the method used before is not working, there is need to shift to what is better. We are ready to collaborate with any organisation to address this and you will agree with me that the National Education Research and Development Council involves stakeholders in developing curriculum and we are willing to go into collaboration. On funding, we need support from well-meaning individuals and organisations to be able to train more practitioners

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