Opioids, once hailed as a miracle solution for pain management, have become a deadly curse for millions worldwide. What began as a legitimate prescription for pain relief has quickly spiraled into a devastating addiction, ruining lives and tearing families apart. The alarming rise of opioid abuse has sparked a national crisis, with Nigeria not immune from its destructive grasp.

The journey from prescription to addiction often starts innocently enough. A patient is prescribed opioids for chronic pain, surgery recovery or injury. Initially, the medication provides welcome relief, allowing them to function normally. However, the body quickly builds tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effect. Before long, the individual finds themselves dependent on the drug, experiencing withdrawal symptoms when it›s not present.

The slippery slope to addiction is slick: opioids activate the brain›s reward centres, releasing feel-good effects that create a sense of euphoria. This can lead to misuse as individuals begin taking more than their prescribed dose or using someone else›s medication.

The consequences are dire: overdose, respiratory failure or even death.

According to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), opioid-related overdoses have skyrocketed in Nigeria, with many cases involving young people. The agency has seized millions of opioid pills and arrested numerous traffickers, but the problem persists.

Just recently, in one of its press releases, NDLEA reported a seizure of 1,890 ampoules of fentanyl, a lethal synthetic opioid weighing 11.753 kg, from drug trafficking syndicates at the popular Idumota market in Lagos Island.

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Also,  in previous years, there had been a series of seizures, significantly involving N5 billion worth of opioids in a warehouse in Amuwo Odofin, Lagos, with millions of pills and bottles seized and two kingpins arrested. All these drugs, if allowed into circulation, will cause grave damages ranging from changes in pupil size to clammy skin, cyanosis, coma and respiratory failure, which leads to death.

So, what›s driving this crisis? Overprescription by healthcare providers, lack of education on safe usage and the illegal drug trade all play a role. The internet has also made it alarmingly easy for individuals to access opioids without a prescription.

Breaking the cycle of addiction requires a multi-faceted approach. Healthcare providers must adopt more cautious prescribing practices, while patients must be educated on the risks and warning signs of addiction. Law enforcement agencies must continue to disrupt the illegal drug supply chain and support services must be available for those struggling with addiction.

The opioid epidemic is a ticking time bomb, waiting to claim its next victim. By understanding the dangers of opioids and working together to address this crisis, we can prevent further devastation and help those already trapped in the grip of addiction find a path to recovery.

In conclusion, the fight against drug abuse, particularly the opioid epidemic, requires a collective and decisive response from the government, healthcare providers, law enforcement agencies and the general public. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu›s administration must prioritise this critical issue and provide unwavering support to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and other stakeholders in the fight against drug abuse, like providing adequate funding for the NDLEA to enhance their operational capacity and effectiveness and strengthening legislation and enforcement to tackle drug trafficking and dealers.

• Olufemi Fadahunsi writes from Ado

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