Akuskura: The new ‘highness’ ruling Nigerian streets

STEMMING the flow of opioid imports into Nigeria has proven particularly difficult for the authorities, as in the past year alone, nearly 15 percent of the adult population in the country (about 14.3 million people) reportedly use psychoactive drug substances — a rate much higher than the 2016 global average of 5.6 percent among adults.

The above data was made known through a survey led by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Center for Research and Information on Substance Abuse (CRISA) with technical support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and funding from the European Union.

 From “gutter water,” a widely consumed cocktail of drugs (a mix of codeine, tramadol, Rohypnol, cannabis and water or juice) to Mkpurumiri, smoking lizard parts and dung as well as sniffing glue, petrol, sewage and urine as inhalants, some young adults are daily exploring crude concoctions as alternatives. 

A new dangerous pastime 

Recently, a new psychoactive substance known as Akuskura/Kuskura, which is made of herbs laced with tobacco and cannabis was discovered, and it is rapidly replacing controlled psychoactive substances.

According to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the new psychoactive substance is dominant in the northern and southwest parts of the country. When taken, the substance sometimes causes sudden violent, irregular movement of the body and contraction of muscles.

Speaking about the substance, Mahmud Isa Yola, a Special Assistant to the Chairman/Chief Executive of NDLEA, Brig-Gen Mohammed Buba Marwa (retd), stated that the name Akuskura, sometimes known as Kuskura or Akurkura, is derived from the Hausa word “kuskura”, which can be used interchangeably to mean gargling and rinsing.

 He noted that the substance, which is of different varieties, is used in both liquid and powdered form by people who mostly seek to raise their levels of psychological or nervous activity in the body, or put it in simple terms, get high.

 Yola said, “Akuskura came into the frontline on social and conventional media when the NDLEA, intercepted over seven thousand bottles of the illicit substance along the Abuja-Kaduna express road, slated for distribution across seven northern states of Borno, Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara, Gombe and Nasarawa. Although the seizure is the biggest made so far, there were several arrests and seizures made by the agency in different parts of the country.”

Following the record-breaking seizure, the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Christianah Adeyeye at a press briefing at the agency’s headquarters in Abuja on August 19, made the announcement of the official ban on psychoactive substances.          

 She said, “NAFDAC received a number of reports of the use of an herbal preparation known as “Kurkura”, particularly in the country’s Southwest and Northern axis. The agency swung into action and carried out intelligence and enforcement actions.”

Yola stated that the UNODC, by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or the 1971 Convention on Psychoactive Substances, described new psychoactive substances as “substances of abuse, either in a pure form or a preparation, which may pose a public health threat.”. 

 “The term “new” does not necessarily refer to new inventions – several new psychoactive substances (NPS) were first synthesised decades ago – but to substances that have recently become available on the market.

“As a new psychoactive substance, Kuskura represents a serious threat to public health and poses a challenge to drug policy. The negative health impacts and social harms of NPS are frequently largely unexplored, which makes prevention and counseling extremely difficult. It is difficult to analyze and identify the many different chemicals that are simultaneously present in the drug,” adding that the above facts place people who take new psychoactive substances such as Akuskura at high risk.” 

He added, “According to the UNODC, the use of NPS is often linked to health problems. In general, side effects of NPS range from seizures to agitation, aggression, and acute psychosis, as well as the potential development of dependence. 

“NPS users have frequently been hospitalised with severe intoxications. Many NPS have no or very limited safety data on their toxicity and carcinogenic potential, and information on long-term adverse effects or risks is still largely unknown. 

“The purity and composition of products containing NPS are often unknown, which places users at high risk, as evidenced by hospital emergency admissions and deaths associated with NPS, often including cases of poly-substance use.”

He continued, “Akuskura is largely distributed under the guise of herbs. They are mostly retailed by local herbalists and Islamic chemists, to mention but a few.”

A wholesaler of the substance in Zaria city claimed that it is originally meant for the treatment of headaches and catarrh and serves as a poster remedy against jinx and evil spirits, adding that it is also used as a sex enhancer among men.      

Maikudi Shaga, a 31-year-old Zaria-based mechanic and user of the liquid substance, in a newspaper interview, confessed that he is addicted to the substance, adding that he uses it at least seven times a day and said it gives him the energy to work without being subjected to physical fatigue.

Another user, Adamu Mohammed, in a media interview, said that he does not see Akuskura as an illicit substance and that is the notion held by many other users. He added that he has been using it for more than a year now and it cures malaria, typhoid, pile headaches, and increases his performance in bed.

Yola, however, said there is no scientific explanation for whether the substance is safe or can cure any form of sickness. “This, therefore, drives home the fact that the substance has no established medicinal value. Notwithstanding its unsafe nature, it is patronised by thousands of people in Nigeria,” he stated.

He added that the spread of Akuskura is undoubtedly aided by the fact that the substance is largely and ignorantly misconstrued as a medicine. “A whole-seller in Zaria was quoted to have said he sells more than 300 bottles of Akuskura in a day.”

“Another factor that aids the prevalence of Kuskura is its affordable price. The substance is readily available in Islamic chemists and other local herbal centers at a very cheap price. With a bottle sold at the cost of N100 and sometimes a drip for N50. Akuskura is affordable even to a low-income earner.”

The NDLEA aide further said, “The substance gives both hallucinogenic and stimulant effects to its users. Hence, it is filling the void of controlled substances, which are now very scarce due to the surge of arrests and seizures by the NDLEA.

“With a bottle of codeine sold between N7,000 and N25,000 and beyond, Akuskura offers substance abusers an easy alternative with just N100 or even less. The adverse effect of Akuskura remains disturbing. 

“Like all other illicit substances, Akuskura gives a euphoric effect of being “high” for a certain period of time. However, there are health-threatening short and long time effects such as dissociation, violent episodes, psychotic episodes, compulsive desire to commit crime, aggression, perceptual distortion, hallucination, and many others,” Yola stated. 

NDLEA Chairman/Chief Executive, Brig-Gen Mohammed Buba Marwa (retd), during an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa, said that the agency will continue to dismantle the clandestine factories behind the production of the illicit substance. 

He added that the recent seizure of over 7,000 bottles by the agency sends a warning to the peddlers of the illicit drug that the NDLEA will continue to deal with them within the ambit of the law. 

“This should serve as a desist warning to the users and traffickers,” Marwa said.

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