i was having lunch at the office cafteria when a documentary on the "insite" needle exchange program in canada and switzerland came on. the default channel at work is CNN of course. at first i thought it was just one of those programs that spew out stale statistics on drug use around the world and the effect on the human body and how the world is dying etc. you can thus imagine the shock when i heard, "a place where people can walk in off the streets and legally shoot up". as with programs of this nature, there was a dramatic pause after that phrase as they showed people with faces blurred out, opening a door to a building as sterile as a clinic.
the concept was a simple one. sometime in the past decade, vancouver canada had one of the world's highest rates of HIV. as with everything done by intelligent western countries, the government dug deeper into the statistics and realized that the highest contributing factor to new HIV infections was the shared needles used by the very high drug taking population. and then the question became: "considering that selling and taking banned substances was illegal in the country, how do we discourage those who clearly still take it and cannot stop themselves, from re-using needles?".
the dillema is that, (a) noone will confess to using banned substances as it is a criminal offence (b) government cannot legalize these banned substances so people can come out and receive fresh needles for each time they want to shoot up (c) this addiction in secret cannot be monitored for proper needle use. and so, someone came up with the idea of setting up a arrest-free place where these people can come in, inject heroine, get high, go through the motions and then get on with their lives. naturally, the flip side to this is that it would appear that there is an implied governmental consent towards breaking the law/ encouraging new addicts with the promise of safety and freedom from arrests. truth is, either way there is no win. banning these substances has only served to drive them underground at prohibitive prices and stigmatizing an already difficult situation that is 'addiction'.
my mind began to wander as i watched this documentary. and it came to rest on one conclusion: i do not fit into this nigerian society. i am attracted to the intelligent thinking of the western world and a society that has evolved beyond basic wranglings by way of public policy. while the rest of the world is formulating public policy around the future of immigration, environmentalism, food security, gun control, border security, abortion, population control and other important issues that define their quality of life not only for today but for 30 years to come, our newspapers are full of political wrangling, immodest partying, wanton killings and mundane matters. but i digress.
as the documentary interviewed some of the addicts who come in there, it became appparent that contrary to some perceptions, addiction is not enjoyable. as i watched the obvious twitchings of a man walking down the street towards the centre and the cold excrutiating pains of a woman on the floor trying to break the habit through sweat and shivering, it made me wonder what fate lay ahead for nigerian drug addicts. this is a country where every ailment is spiritual, and barbaric methods of treating addiction as a mental illness reign supreme, with no statistics on the number of addicts nor research into cause and modern treatment methods. where we still give the side eye to anyone who does anything other than go to church for every service whilst thanking God for not being like 'they who have chosen the path of iniquity'. how then do we begin to explain the concepts of heroine or cocaine? how do we talk about the symptoms for when a family member starts embracing the habit? who can we go to for help without "exposing our family's dirty laundry"?
speaking of family laundry, i remember once when i visited a friend and slept over because we did not get back in time. by morning, i opened my wallet that i had kept by the bedside stool to find that two thousand naira of my money was gone. at first i didnt want to say anything in case i had spent the money and conveniently forgotten. but the harder i thought about the past day the more convinced i was that my money had been taken. and so i asked my friend what i thought would be an innocent question: "please did anyone come in here while i was sleeping? i don't think my money is complete". suddenly my friends face turned pale and he began to whisper and tremble, quickly removing his wallet to return the money to me. i declined to receive it and told him i just wanted to be sure i wasnt imagining things not to insinuate he was a thief. and thats when he told me that his mother had a problem with "taking things". she wouldn't spend it, she wouldn't give it out...she would just take it and then go and hide underneathe her clothes or drop it somewhere or something weird. just because. i can never forget the look on his face when he told me he carries extra money around when they go out to shop or visit friends and as soon as anyone starts "looking for something" he finds a way to pay for it without saying anything even when he can't be sure his mum took it because 5 times out of 6 in the past, he has fought for her integrity only to find the item in their house months later.
but we keep these things as a "family secret" instead of reaching out for help. we suffer in private shame instead of withstanding the brief public glare to find a solution. for how long will we all pretend like life is rosy and noone has any flaws. how long will we hide behaviour that should receive treatment because we are afraid of social stigmatization? how long will we allow the church to replace science and common sense? i don't have the answer...but now more than ever i am proud of the parents with challenged kids who refuse to hide them from the world. i salute everyone who has battled a bad habit - win or lose, from bedwetting to drugs, for themselves or a loved one. it could not have been easy.
see y'all around peeps. sorry i had to vent a bit.