COVID-19: Smokers, Drug addicts, others more susceptible to infection

A Mental and Behavioural Medicine Specialist, Dr Kola Okunade, on Saturday revealed that drug addicts, smokers and substance users were more susceptible to COVID-19 and other deadly infections.

Okunade made the disclosure at an event organised by an NGO, Adicare Rehabilitation Home in Lagos; saying that use of drugs had been found to weaken the human immune system.

The theme of the event was: “COVID-19 Impact on Substance Abuse and Management.”

The specialist said there was every possibility for drug users to be easily infected than non-users of drugs; adding that such infection could make them die of COVID-19 infection.

“Since COVID-19 attacks the lungs, for drug users like smokers, their lungs are already affected due to frequent smoking. Drug use affects the immune system.

“So, individuals with weakened immune systems such as drug users might be at higher risk for infection and complications associated with COVID-19 infection. Also, for drug users, the issue of social distancing, wearing of face masks; regular handwashing or using of sanitisers are none of their concern.

“What matters to them is how to have access to the drugs; which is why all the resources are being channeled to getting the substances for consumption,” he said.

Okunade said that because most drug users already had underlying health conditions; which might be asthma, cardiac or cancer, they would easily be exposed to COVID-19 and other deadly infections. Further, he disclosed that about 40 per cent of drug users in Nigeria currently do not have access to treatment facility or medical care.

Also, the health expert cited the problems of infrastructure for mental healthcare, high cost of treatment; stigmatisation and diversion of the few available resources for managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also, Dr. Tayo Ajirotutu, Head of Clinical Psychology Department, Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba; also called for a holistic approach to addressing the issue of drug abuse in Nigeria.

Ajirotutu said that the increasing rate of crimes, suicide, rape cases; as well as other social vices were traceable to drug abuse and its effects. He said that it was pertinent for governments, families, organisations and relevant stakeholders to collectively look at the causative factors of drug abuse with a view to addressing them.

Ajirotutu identified the first step to tackling increasing crimes in the country. He stated that it was to identify and proffer solutions to the causes of drugs and substance abuse.

“The nation’s socioeconomic environment, joblessness, economic hardship and financial challenges are some of the factors that could lead to depression… Possibly drug abuse. Drug abuse, as a multi-sectoral issue, requires efforts of all stakeholders in the society.

“But, if the government can make policies that would address the economic challenges in the country; the rate of drug abuse might reduce to a great extent,” he said.


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