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Glue sniffing: the chemical bonds of juvenile addiction

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Not quite three years ago, the Nigerian arm of the British broadcasting television, BBC, brought
us news of the massive abuse of codeine by youths across Nigeria. It was news that shattered the false sense of security of the decision-making abilities of the younger generations. And served to reinforce the need to address what appears to be a burning issue in youth culture. In the same year, American rapper Jermaine Cole had a similar epiphany with his album “KOD” which was dedicated to “the world’s addiction.”

Obviously, this is a growing problem in many places across the world, but in Africa at least, we can safely add at least one more problem: juvenile substance abuse and addiction.

A few days ago, a video surfaced of two young boys who had been apprehended and were being questioned by security operatives somewhere in the southwest. 

Akorede Malik from Sango-Ota, the boys-neither of whom appears to be over 7 years old-were hauled in for the juvenile crime of glue sniffing. 

They both confessed to having been introduced to the practice by their equally young friends, and to purchasing their supplies from a shadowy adult plug called “Alfa” using code-phrases, before pouring the glue into water sachets and sniffing. 

Watching the interrogation makes for an eye-opening experience, all the more sobering for the sheer youth of the delinquents. 

But, maybe these are only the natural consequences of our open normalization of substance-use in modern society.

Present in various forms across the continent since the early 90’s, glue has increasingly become the intoxicant of choice, for homeless children and other impressionable, impoverished juveniles everywhere in Africa. 

In fact, the activity is so rampant that the Moroccan government in 2004, had to enact a series of regulatory policies on local glue consumption. 

Up north in Kano, this is an activity common among the poor and homeless Almajiri youth who find a means of escape in the substance and are referred to as “Dan sholi” (“glue boys”).

More recently however, Lagos and Ogun have both overtaken Kano as the biggest drug consumers in the country, including use of inhalants, where it is also common among the lower classes.

These inhalants come in different forms such as glue, petrol, and laughing gas and give off breathable chemical vapours that cause mind-altering effects on their user.

The liquid or soaked cloth is often put in a paper or plastic bag, which helps to concentrate whatever substance is being inhaled.

Many of these inhalants produce a feeling of temporary contentment, pleasure and detachment in their users which can help in dealing with the often harsh realities of their everyday lives.

The high begins a few seconds after inhalation and can include dizziness, slurred speech, lack of coordination, hallucinations and delusions;  but only lasts for a few minutes and users have to inhale repeatedly to stay high.

Aside from the obvious health complications that arise from prolonged use of industrial grade hydrocarbon sniffing like arrhythmia, nose-bleeds or even ASDS; the moral question of how and why kids have resorted to this means of escapism is equally important. 

Is substance-abuse a part of the legacy we wish to leave the younger ones?

Can we afford to police and regulate these substances? 

We’ll address these and more in our continuation piece.

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