INTERVIEW: My experience as a drug abuse victim inspired me to start VGADA — Dr. Hope Omeiza

 INTERVIEW: My experience as a drug abuse victim inspired me to start VGADA — Dr. Hope Omeiza

The National Bureau of Statistics revealed, as of 2018, that 14.3 million Nigerians between the ages of 15 and 64 years are into drug use. However, individuals and organisations are working tirelessly to fight this menace, and Dr. Hope Omeiza is one.

As a teenager, Dr Hope Omeiza, who was a victim of drug abuse, was privileged to receive help which saved his life and since 2018 has been reaching out to victims of drug abuse through his non-profit, Vanguard Against Drug Abuse (VGADA).

In this interview with CrispNG, Dr Hope speaks of his life-changing experience and the vision, impact and challenges of VGADA.

Tell us about Vanguard Against Drug Abuse (VGADA)

Vanguard Against Drug Abuse (VGADA) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization established in August 2018. Since our inception, our mission has been to combat drug abuse and its detrimental effects on Nigerians. We are a national NGO with presence in the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria and have our office headquarters in FCT, Abuja. Through various avenues such as outreaches, seminars, and media appearances on radio and television talk shows, we have consistently worked towards delivering individuals from the grip of substance abuse.

What inspired the establishment of your NGO, and what specific aspects of the drug abuse menace are you addressing?

In my teen years, I was a victim of drug abuse before I received help which was vital to helping me overcome drug use. Also, while I served as a medical house officer, I unfortunately came in contact with some teenagers who were rushed into the emergency unit of the hospital as a result of a tramadol overdose, they eventually did not make it. All these events contributed to me making the move to establish VGADA.

VGADA was birthed out of a resolve to see to it that teenagers and youths do not venture into drug abuse, and also provide a way of escape to those who are already entangled in this dangerous habit. Our organization initially focused on prevention of drug use, however over the years, we have evolved to also include treatment and rehabilitation of drug users in our programs.

Advocacy visit to the center by students on campaign Against Drug Abuse

Can you describe some of the key programs and initiatives your NGO has implemented to combat drug abuse within the community?

Since our inception, we have engaged in countless programs to combat the scourge of drug abuse in Nigeria. We have organised and been invited to several Secondary school outreaches to give talks to students and offer counselling to them. We also had a mega rally that featured about 500 participants including 150 corps members who marched against Drug Abuse and Election Violence in 2018.

In recognition of the role the family plays when it relates to fighting drug use, we organized a Women and Family Drug Eradication Program (WOFADEP) in partnership with the Ministry of Women Affairs in 2019, to educate and sensitize women and mothers. We have also hosted several conferences to talk on contemporary issues relating to drug abuse in 2018 and 2019 tagged “Drug Abuse and Our Future” and “Marijuana Legalization: The Nigerian Situation” respectively which saw in attendance prominent stakeholders. Also among the initiatives was the weekly Drug Use radio talk show on Vision FM, Abuja. We, however, realized we needed to go beyond sensitization and awareness, so in 2022, we established a rehabilitation centre, and now we oversee two centres in Abuja.

In December of 2023, we flagged off a free community outpatient programme for Wumba and Gbagalape communities of Abuja, and residents are getting treated and psychotherapy for their drug use behaviour at no cost. So, we are doing all we can to ensure drug abuse is reduced to a minimum level in Nigeria.

DPTC training for NGOs in Kogi state

How does your organisation collaborate with local authorities, schools, and other stakeholders to raise awareness and prevent drug abuse among youth and vulnerable populations?

We are very keen on collaboration because we understand that “all hands must be on deck” when it comes to fighting drug abuse. So we usually take this into account when we are planning our programs. For instance, when we needed to commence our Youth Alive DASSAT programs we mentioned earlier, we had to see the community heads who gave us a go-ahead and also the halls we use for the outreach programs. We are also registered with the NDLEA, so we include them as partners when we are organizing our programs. For schools, we oftentimes get requests to come and give talks on drug abuse to the students, and students also come to our rehabilitation center for educative sessions. Not too long ago, we were hosted by a NYSC CDS group that invited us for a drug talk seminar, and I am sure the attendees gained a lot and would spread the information they were able to glean. So we consider collaboration to be a vital factor contributing to the success of our programs.

What support services does your NGO offer to individuals struggling with drug addiction and their families?

At our rehabilitation facilities, VGADA Detox Centers, we offer counseling services, outpatient therapy, family therapy, inpatient therapy and online therapy. These services are also personalized and adapted to cater to the peculiarities of each individual.

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In your experience, what are some of the root causes and contributing factors to drug abuse, and how does your organisation address these underlying issues?

The MD, Dr. Hope Omeiza speaking at the flag off event of VGADA specialist community outreach drug therapy program in Wumba village, Apo area of Abuja

I think a major contributing factor is peer pressure. A lot of our patients started abusing drugs because a friend, relative or colleague introduced or coerced them into it. Their inability to say “No” put them in the mess they eventually found themselves in.

Another factor is family problems. People in problematic families oftentimes use drugs to escape from the chaos they experience in their families, and likewise stressful situations.

What we do majorly for our patients and other people we have the opportunity to reach out to is teach them how to develop life coping skills, these skills are very vital when it relates to preventing and fighting addiction.

Can you share any success stories or examples of the impact your NGO has had in reducing drug abuse and supporting individuals in recovery?

Definitely, we have had wonderful stories of individuals who were impacted by our programs and have been able to overcome their drug abuse habit. At our VGADA Detox Centre, we have been able to successfully treat and rehabilitate over 300 victims of drug abuse and they are doing well. Very recently at our pro-bono Youth Alive DASSAT community outpatient outreach program to Wumba and Gbagalape communities in Abuja, we were happy to wonderful success stories from individuals who were able to utilize the coping skills they got from our three-month long outreach program to overcome their toxic alcohol habits. Subsequently, they have been able to secure new jobs now that they are stable and well. These are just to mention a few of our success stories.

VGADA specialist community outreach drug therapy program

What challenges have you encountered in your efforts to combat drug abuse, and how do you overcome these obstacles?

Funding has been a major challenge deterring our efforts to combat drug abuse, and most times when we want to carry out programs on a larger scale so that more people can benefit, we often are unable to and eventually we have to then carry them out on a smaller scale.

Overcoming the challenge of funding has been particularly herculean, however, due to the fact that over the years, we have built trust and a track record from our successfully executed programs, we are now able to form formidable partnerships with several private and government institutions who sometimes fund our programs. At other times, funds come from out-of-pocket. We are also currently exploring the avenue of sourcing for grants from national and international organizations.

How does your NGO prioritise inclusivity and accessibility in providing support and resources to diverse communities affected by drug abuse?

The MD, Dr. Hope Omeiza with the Former FCCPC Boss, Mr Tunde Irukera

VGADA is keen on ensuring that everyone and communities regardless of their background and situation can get help for their drug-related issues. This was why we went ahead to institute a community outreach when we got information about Wumba and Gbagalape communities being ridden with individuals suffering from drug abuse. These communities are not popular, but because of our determination to see that everyone can access care for their drug use habit, we took the bull by its horns, and we are seeing the results. We hope to in time spread to other affected communities as well.

What role do you believe education and advocacy play in preventing drug abuse, and how does your organisation engage with the public to promote awareness and understanding?

Education and advocacy has a pertinent role in preventing drug abuse, because they are avenues of exposing the dangers and consequences of this harmful habit to the public. When more people are aware of how dangerous this habit is, they will be less likely to venture into it.

As part of our sensitization and advocacy efforts on drug abuse, VGADA engages in frequent drug talk shows on television and radio. We also regularly draw up expository online articles which are published on online news outlets. Another avenue we use for advocacy is our social media handles, for instance, on X, we host a drug talk space fortnightly which also helps to spread awareness to the public.

Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations for the future of your NGO in the ongoing fight against the drug abuse menace in society?

The team at VGADA

I hope to one day have VGADA become a foremost international NGO against drug abuse with outlets in other countries with associated worldwide recognition of the work we are doing. It is also my aspiration to have a VGADA rehabilitation facility stationed in every state in Nigeria, this would further strengthen our efforts to proffer quality services to drug abuse victims nationally.

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