If you ask most the description of a drug addict, you probably will be painted a most compelling graphic picture. ‘Anxious, unkempt, half naked, foul smelling, eating from a huge waste dump’
It’s so worrisome because this is something very common and seen in medical practice
The NDLEA has organised a lot of drug and substance abuse programmes for the youth
In many cases however, the signs are subtle and not as gross as is generally assumed.
I was sitting in my clinic when a female adult patient hugging a baby to her bosom walked in. She was brought by a male relative of hers. She was dressed in traditional blouse and wrapper, with a shawl draping her head, shoulders and hands. The baby was about 4months old and the patient was a breastfeeding mother.
The patient, baby and male relative all looked healthy to me.
I enquired ‘how can I help you’?
‘My sister is sick’, he said
Hmmn, I thought as I studied the patient who consented to her brother being present during the consultation
‘She is on hard drugs’, he said
‘Is that true?’ I asked. Refusing to catch my gaze, she did not reply
Empathetic, wanting to reassure her I tapped her on her hand which was covered by her shawl only to feel a hard and hollow surface. On pushing up her shawl, i saw a large, deep, ugly, painless chronic sore extending from the skin of her wrist to that of her elbow with traces of her bones shining through. Alarmed, I asked if she was bitten by an animal.
‘No, there is another one on the other hand’ the male relative answered
There was I gazing at chronic contaminated wounds on both her forearms
The story began to unfold:
She lived in a distant village and 4months ago, she began to experience severe stomach ache after she delivered the baby she was carrying. A brother of hers took her to a patent medicine store dealer (called ‘chemist’ by laymen). The chemist administered an injection to her which gave her instant relief. She never had the ‘stomach pain’ after the shot but she went back to the chemist to ask for more. She never went to any primary healthcare centre
The drug happened to be very cheap and subsequently, she started buying syringes and the injection and began to self administer the medication on demand via her hands
The medication is popularly called ‘penta’ here in Nigeria. It is medically known as pentazocine. Pentazocine is an opoid analgesic for treating moderate to severe pain. It causes euphoria, which was probably what got the patient going back for more and causes dependence with prolonged use. When administered just under the skin repeatedly, it causes tissue breakdown which was the result of the sores she came in with.
All these led to her many problems as she started stealing to buy more ‘drugs’. She stopped caring for her baby. However, she was still breastfeeding and this was also dangerous to the baby.
In Kano state Nigeria, the Governor Musa Rabiu Kwankwaso has banned the sale of codeine containing cough syrup
Drug and substance abuse presents in many forms, but we should be keen to observe when our loved ones are deviating from their norm and render to them the help they need.