COVID-19: UNODC launches help desk for drug addicts

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The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has established a help desk across the six-geopolitical zones in Nigeria to assist people  living with some form of drug addiction.

UNODC in a statement issued in Abuja on Wednesday said that the help desk tagged DrugHelpNet would be assisting  an estimated three million Nigerians

It said that the help desk became necessary in view of the COVID-19 lockdown which is in place in many states in Nigeria,

The UN office noted that with the lockdown, most of those with drug use disorder will be faced with myriad of challenges occasioned by the self-imposed isolation.

It said that the DrugHelpNet provides a network of Nigerian Doctors, Psychologists, Nurses and Counsellors to provide over-the-phone assistance to such drug users who are in need.

“Based on the 2019 Drug Use Survey in Nigeria, UNODC estimates that there are more than three million Nigerians living with some form of drug use disorder.

“Government imposed lockdowns being implemented across most Nigerian States weigh particularly heavy on them.

“While access to drugs has become more difficult, accessing treatment and counselling services has become even more difficult too.

“In addition, the self-imposed isolation can be experienced as particularly burdensome by those suffering from drug use disorders as well as their families.

“In order to provide immediate and practical relief, UNODC partnered with 80 frontline health workers, including medical doctors, drug counsellors and allied professionals across Nigeria to provide over-the-phone assistance for drug users or families who need such services during the COVID-19.

“The health professionals who enthusiastically responded to UNODC’s request to establish this network have been trained and certified under the project in drug treatment using the Treatment methodology and/or Universal Treatment Curriculum (UTC),” the UN office said.

According to the UNODC, its 2019 survey on drug use in Nigeria also revealed that there was a clear gap in meeting the needs for treatment and care for people with drug use disorders.

According to the UN body, around 40 per cent of those with such disorders reported that they had wanted to receive drug treatment but were unable to access such services.

It noted that the vulnerability of the drug use population is of grave concern, especially as the global community grappled to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and flatten the curve of infections.

Due to their poorer health profile, drug users are more vulnerable to experiencing COVID-19 more severely. In case they have pre-existing conditions, they will be at greater risk.

“Given the stigma experienced by drug users, they might be unable to access health care services at this time.

“In addition, during this period of lockdown, drug users can face drug-related health issues like withdrawals for which they might feel the need to talk to a health care provider.

“It is imperative therefore that the national responses to this public health emergency, takes drug users into consideration.”

It said that drug users or their families as well as those withdrawing from alcohol and require advice will be able to contact any of the doctors or counsellors listed in the geopolitical zones where they reside for advice.

The UN office said that the distress could be related to drug or alcohol withdrawal, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, or more seriously, a psychotic episode that the user or their family is unable to manage during the lockdown.

According to the UNODC, ensuring access to treatment services for drug users was key to achieving SDG3 which harps on ‘Good Health and Wellbeing’, urging that no one should be left behind, including drug and alcohol users.

Suzan O