Health Advocate, Founder Food and Genes, One Young World Summit Delegate Samuel Ogunsola Talks About His Campaign on Substance Abuse.
Samuel Ogunsola has more than 2 years experience in building an initiative (Food and Genes Initiative) that is focused on improving the lifestyle and feeding habits of Africans through awareness, research and technology. He successfully planned a drug abuse campaign (365 DAYS) in Nigeria that has impacted more than 50,000 youths both online and offline. The organization is a member of NCDAlliance and he currently led the organization to win the OpenGov Social Impacts Challenge organized by CivicHive and ECOVE in December, 2019. Samuel is presently the President of the SDGs community development service group in Lagos state; where he coordinates more than 300 youths leaders. As a proven advocate, he was selected by Astrazeneca Young Health Program as part of the 26 young delegates all over the world to attend the One Young World Summit in London. A 2018 best graduating student in Biochemistry department from the Federal University of Technology Akure, Nigeria, He is passionate in providing solutions to issues affecting the health sector in Nigeria.In an exclusive interview with Almustaqim Balogun, Development Journalist and Founder The Lens for Social Change, He talked about his passion, the 365 days drug abuse campaign he championed, and also sharing his views on solutions needed to curtail the menace of substance abuse.
Interviewer: What inspired you to create the initiative Food and genes.
SO: Food and Genes Initiative was born out of my curiosity on how I can impact my society as a biochemist. I was privilege to be among the best students in my class, with knowledge on different reactions that leads to different challenges that affect mankind today; mainly in the aspect of health. In school, I learnt how diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases are ravaging our societies today. Interestingly, all these diseases have their foundation in the genetic makeup of every individuals that have them. It is either they are in the family tree or rose up as a result of wrong lifestyles taken up by the persons involved. So, my aim of starting Food and Genes Initiative is to inform people about the diseases and the kind of lifestyles they can live to prevent them. For instance, we make awareness on substance abuse which is highly responsible for most of the non-communicable disease (NCDs) cases in Nigeria. Also, we campaign on malnutrition in children; which is a major factor that leads to NCDs when the children reach adulthood. We also organize programs on the disease themselves. Through Food and Genes Initiative, I’ve been able to attach great meaning to the course I studied in school and I’m always glad anytime I see lives impacted through the initiative.
Interviewer: Your organization Food and Genes Initiative organized an online 365 days campaign against Drug abuse. Could you give us an understanding of the campaign.
SO: 365 DAYS (Drug Abuse Youth Sensitization) is a project carried out to reduce the prevalence of substance abuse in Nigeria. The aim is to provide awareness on the effect of substance use on health, family and the society at large. In 2018, the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics published that 14.3 million (14.4%) of people aged between 15 and 65 are involved in drug use. And it has led to consequences such as increase in criminality, terrorism, non-communicable diseases, deaths, economic problems and irresponsible attitudes amidst youths. We engage youths by carrying out brief interventions with the aid of social media platforms and offline events.
In January 2019, we partnered with National Institute on Drug Abuse, USA in organizing the “National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week” for teenagers across 6 states in Nigeria, reaching out to more than 20,000 teenagers. Also, in June 2019, we partnered with the Nigeria Police Force and NDLEA in organizing a street conference on drug abuse in Akure and Ibadan, reaching out to more than 800 youths. Leveraging on the power of social media and youth developments has been the major uniqueness that differentiate 365 DAYS from other anti-drugabuse campaigns in Nigeria. Presently, 365 DAYS has about 500 volunteers and 15 partners that post daily contents on major social networks.
Interviewer: Kindly share your experiences with drug addicts
SO: During the 365 Campaign we received massages from patient with substance use disorder that wants treatment. We refer some of them to rehabilitation centers close to them and for some we engage them and give them advice on what they can do to reduce substance use. A particular case I was involved with was with a patient that wants to stop using tramadol. He has tried to stop it before, but the withdrawal symptoms such as headache, insomnia and depression were too strong for him to overcome. I advise him then not to stop at once. We drew a plan together on reducing the dosage of the drugs, and also check up on him often to know if he is following the plans. The strategy worked out and today he has been able to overcome the symptoms. Addiction is not the end of life, there is a way out as long as the patient is determined to change.
Interviewer: According to a survey by the Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Center for Research and Information on Substance Abuse with technical support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Nearly 15% of the adult population in Nigeria (around 14.3 million people) reported a “considerable level” of use of psychoactive drug substances. What did you think is the root cause of this considerable high use?
SO: From our engagement with people involved in substance use we find out that most of the adults take it because of the nature of their works. For example, we met a Hausa man that said he takes tramadol because he needs strength to offload truck. Our research on teenagers and youths suggested that many of them take substances because of peer pressure and enjoyment purpose. They want to feel among and enjoy the euphoria that codeine and cocaine brings.
Interviewer: What is the attitude of the community towards drug abuse? What’s needed to be done.
SO: The communities are well informed and they know the consequences of substance abuse on individuals, families and community development. During a project we did at Owode Community, Ogun State, Nigeria we carried out a survey to check the knowledge of the community members on the causes and effects of substance abuse. We were shocked to find out they know a lot about what youths in the country are taking and what is needed to eradicate the menace. However, what the community needs is support from all stakeholders involved in the war against substance abuse in Nigeria which includes Government agencies, Religious leaders, Civil Societies, Politicians and community members. If we all can rise up and form a massive force together, we will surely bring an end to substance abuse in Nigeria.
Interviewer: Drug abuse most time is related to the use of popular psychoactive drugs like cocaine,marijuana etc. Can a person become addicted to medications prescribed by a Doctor?
SO: No, Doctors prescriptions are based on therapeutic purposes while substance abuse involve taking substances outside medication purpose. Also, most of these drugs are illicit which cannot be prescribe by doctors except there are exceptional cases.
Interviewer: How effective is drug addiction treatment?
SO: Drug addiction treatment is highly efficient. We have well equipped rehabilitation centers around today that provide care for people with substance use disorder. The major challenge is on the side of the patient to make the decision to stop. Samuel L. Jackson, the popular American actor was an addict, he made a decision to be rehabilitated and today he is fully okay. Drug addiction is not a life sentence, it can be cured with proper treatment.
Interviewer: How do we get more substance-abusing people into treatment?SO: The best solution is brief intervention; which involves counselling people on the negative effects of substances on their health, work, family and the society. The more we make awareness the more people change. Also, we need to change the narrative that there are no treatment and solution for people with substance use disorder, instead we need to support them and encourage them to change.
Interviewer: What are the important highlights and roles of government to curb this menace?
SO: The government is trying her best to curb the menace. NDLEA, NAFDAC and other forces are putting in all their strength to stop importation of illicit drugs and create policies that will help reduce accessibility to some of the substances. For example, NAFDAC have banned the importation of tramadol and production of cough syrups with codeine in the country (Guardian, July 28, 2018). In addition, President Muhammed Buhari approve the recruitment of 5000 workers into NDLEA in 2019 (Premium News; July 19, 2019). However, there is room for improvement by the government. We currently have 14.3 million people involved, the government needs to equip rehabilitation centers that will cater for the people. Also, issues such as unemployment and poverty are responsible for the large numbers of abusers; the government should create strategies on how to improve the economic situation of the country.
Interviewer: You stated that your organization Food and Gene have impacted over 50,000 youths. What’s the basis of this evaluation and does Food and Gene has another channel to follow up this campaign to ensure the impacts actually last and isn’t only momentary
SO: During our online campaign we made use of hashtags in our contents and we analyze them to check the number of expressions each content get weekly. For our offline campaign, we made use of metrics such as the number of students reached, the number of people engaged in communities and streets and the number of school visited. Also, we receive testimonials for attendees to know if they are impacted at the end of each engagement. Also, our campaign is more of awareness to prevent the next generation from taking drugs. We provide necessary information on the effect of drugs on the brain, body and future aspirations to pupils in secondary schools, prisons, churches and street that are not yet into taking substances. For those that are involved in substances, we counsel them and show them past experiences of people that are addicted to drugs and we make sure they make a determination to change.
Interviewer: You were selected as a delegate to attend the One Young World summit in London. It must have been a life changing events. Please share your experience of the events.
Indeed, One Young World was a life changing event. It’s the largest youth gathering in London after the Olympics with every countries in the world represented. I was selected by Astrazeneca young health program among the 26 youth leaders in the world working in the health space to attend the event. It was a great opportunity to learn from many youths with different cultures and languages all over the world. I took part in discussions related to global health, climate change and youth empowerment; attended many plenary sessions; network with other youths in my space, moved around the beautiful city of London; and took a lot of nice pictures. It is always great honor to be part of the 20,000 One Young World ambassadors in the world driving the change that will make the world a better place.
Interviewer: What’s your message to the government, Private sectors and also the youth out there?
SO: The change we all desire must be inward first and then outward. We need to work on ourselves, make a decision within to have a good life with great values and then make use of our opportunities and abilities to reach out to others. In addition, to create a better world for the coming generations, we all must be conscious of what we do to our body, other people and the environment. Issues such as substance abuse don’t affect individuals alone, it affects everybody around including our loved ones.
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