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Gutter Juice… The dangerous teen addiction

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  • Adolescents hooked on juiced cocaine,  cannabis, tramadol, rohypnol, codeine
  • Nigeria’s deadliest: Inside an omi gota cookhouse
  • The looming opioid crisis will consume us – Clinical psychiatrists

The good times are made, not sniffed, drunk or smoked‘ – Dr. Oluwayemisi Ogun FNPH, Yaba

By Olatunji OLOLADE,  Associate Editor

Abiodun Toye “lost his wits” drinking an uncommon brew in common hours. He dipped his head in omi gota (Gutter Juice) and got drowned. The 16-year-old unravelled to the brew’s potent tang, head first.

Few minutes after he binged on the crude blend of cocaine, codeine, tramadol, rohypnol, Indian hemp (cannabis) and blackcurrant juice, Toye began to dance to a beat no one could hear.

Then he turned on his feet and reached for his dealer’s ample bosom, fondling it, feeling impatiently for her tits – his eyes glazed over.

“Initially, I fended him off. I knew he was high. He wouldn’t dare grope me while he was sober. Igi imu jina sori (I am way out of his league). But he crossed the line when he jammed his groin in my butts. My fiance and his boys pounced on him. They beat him silly. They didn’t care that he was high. They felt he actualised what he had secretly nursed in his heart,” said Sade, who brewed and sold Gutter Juice to Toye.

Afterwards, the teenager was hauled home by his friends, drugged out and blind drunk. They knocked on his apartment door and dumped him on the floor of the two- bedroom flat that he shared with his mother, Moyin, in Dopemu, Agege.

Moyin, 38, said she was surprised to find him sprawled on the floor, outside their door around 12.04 am. “A neighbour’s wife knocked on my window to wake me up. I never knew he had snuck out. His shirt was torn and stained with blood. He bled from the lips and his nose. And his eyes were swollen. I was very scared yet thankful to have him back,” she said.

But the 38-year-old’s gratitude was short-lived. While she dragged Toye into his room, he made a move on her. “At first, I excused his initial groping thinking he was drunk and unaware of his actions. But he became more aggressive and tried to force himself on me. I resisted and fled his room. Nothing happened till around 4am. I was fast asleep when he climbed atop me. He looked wild and very agitated. He flashed a knife at me and ordered me to strip naked. He said he would kill me and kill himself if I didn’t let him sleep with me.

“Somehow, I managed to escape. I ran out of our apartment half naked. I was rescued by a neighbour, a commercial transporter who was just coming in. He and his conductor wrested the knife from Toye and restrained him. They told me that he was not only drunk but also high on drugs. They tied him up with a disused vehicle fan-belt. My son seemed a total tranger to me. I couldn’t recognise him anymore. I had never seen him like that,” revealed Moyin.

Although he sobered up the next morning, Toye seemed withdrawn. He couldn’t recall his actions, the previous night and he couldn’t explain how he came by his scars. “But his friends explained it all to me. He wasn’t even contrite when our neighbours narrated to him how he attacked me the previous night. I didn’t want him to know to prevent awkwardness between us but the commercial transporter who rescued me insisted on telling him stressing that it would make him desist from using hard drugs. But rather than show contrition, Toye flew into a rage, and ordered him out of our apartment.

“He made me a laughing stock in the compound. Worse, he didn’t budge when I threatened to ship him off to live with his father, my estranged husband. Normally, he would plead with me and promise to change. He simply brushed past me and went to his room,” said Moyin.

omi gota
omi gota

To forestall a repeat of Toye’s previous rape attempt, Moyin invited her unmarried male cousin to stay a couple of days with her. And things seemed to return to normal. Toye would go out at noon and return late in the night. He lost weight and stopped eating at home. He always said he had eaten out. “

He grew very lean and he smelled funny whenever he returned home. Then he started having these episodes when he talked to himself and imaginary people. I became very scared when it intensified. One night, he left his room to sleep in the public bath of the house next door. He said there was too much heat in his room and he needed some very cool place to sleep. At that point, I knew I had to get him help, fast,” said Moyin.

She took him to a local church where exorcism rites were performed on him. When his case didn’t improve, she took him to a traditional mental clinic in Agbara, Ogun State.

Teen addicts invisible in plain sight

Toye is simply one of several youths trapped in the rapture of hallucinogenic substances but ignored in plain sight by regulatory authorities. Between 2018 and 2019, nearly 15% of Nigeria’s adult population (around 14.3 million people) reported a “considerable level” of use of psychotropic drug substances, a rate much higher than the 2016 global average of 5.6% among adults.

The survey was led by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse with technical support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and funding from the European Union.

It showed the highest levels of drug use was recorded among people aged between 25 to 39, with cannabis being the most widely used drug. Sedatives, heroin, cocaine and the non-medical use of prescription opioids were also noted. The survey excluded the use of tobacoo and alcohol. It also excluded teenagers like Toye drowning in the stark fluid of Gutter Juice perhaps because it falls outside the radar of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and other regulatory authorities.

“The government isn’t aware of Gutter Juice. The NDLEA doesn’t consider it a narcotic worthy of being outlawed. They need to do their investigations. Gutter Juice has attained prominence particularly among teenagers and the consequences of taking it is often devastating on the user and their families.

“Recently, after getting high on the brew, my niece got stabbed in the eye, in a knife fight with another girl, over a boy. She claimed to be fighting to protect what’s hers. She is just 15,” said Olumide Obanla, a Gbagada-based social health worker.

Enter ‘Science Students’

Gutter Juice gained prominence in the wake of hip hop artiste, Olamide’s track, Science Students. While the song got banned by regulatory authorities for glorifying drug use, and was widely condemned in conservative social circuits, it enjoyed airplay among the youth, teenagers in particular, who embraced it for its creative depiction and veneration of their addiction.

Fears of an imminent Gutter Juice epidemic are rampant in several parts of Lagos. It’s hard not to panic over the prevalence of a drug that leaves devastating marks on its victims.

Especially when it is so easy to make: an addict can cook up Gutter Juice using ingredients bought from the local pharmacy and underworld drug den. Public sale of some of its active ingredients, codeine, tramadol, rohypnol have been banned yet they are available over the counter and the backroom of local pharmacies, at outrageous prices.

Dealers mix blackcurrant juice with a brew including tramadol, codeine, rohypnol, Indian Hemp and cocaine. The result—a purple liquid with pungent smell—mimics the effect of injecting high-end cocaine at a fraction of the cost.

On average, users spend N9,000 per day on cocaine. This amount is half of the national minimum wage per month. Methamphetamine users spend an average of N 4,000. Heroin is obtainable at a street price of N4, 000 but adulterated ‘rocks’ often flavoured with thinner, is available at a range between N3, 500 and N4, 000.

However, one litre of standard Gutter Juice costs N3,000 while a 50cl bottle costs N1, 500. Adolescent users often pool resources and contribute to purchase a bottle, which they share using disposable cups at the several liquor stores across Agege, Agbado, Yaba, Ijora-badia, Ajegunle, Fadeyi, Akala, Ajah, Lekki and other parts of Lagos Island.

Those who can afford it simply purchase a litre of the brew at sales point, and depart for home or a more private location to consume it.

Inside an omi gota cookhouse

Many dealers mix different drugs to produce a premium blend of Gutter Juice. At The Nation’s visit to Solape Ojo’s cookhouse at Powerline, Agege, for instance, she explained, step-by-step, how she prepares her brew. Ojo mixes blackcurrant juice with cocaine, tramadol, rohypnol, cannabis and codeine.

“Sometimes, the condiments vary, likewise the preparation. Some users specifically request that I add vodka and boil their cannabis in hot water before distilling it into the brew. That often gives it greater kick. By the time I add tramadol, codeine,  rohypnol, blackcurrant juice and cocaine, the brew attains premium tang,” she said.

After preparation, there is no way to distinguish the brew on a shelf of alcoholic beverages. Its craftily disguised as blackcurrant juice – a sweet, harmless soft drink made from berries. But users know better as they troop to Ojo’s lab or shop to binge on the psychoactive potion.

“I deliver it to offices too. Some alakowe (white collar workers) book in advance and collect it on their way home from work. But a greater fraction of my customers are teenagers and Yahoo Boys (internet fraudsters). They pay good money. Many who seek the good stuff demand that I mix their brew with ‘level’ (cocaine). I charge up to N5, 000 for one litre depending on the quantity of ‘level’ (cocaine) you want in the brew. If you want it to be very sharp, you pay between N5, 000 and N6, 000 but if you want normal high, one litre is N3,000 and 50cl goes for N1,500,” said Ojo.

Business is so good that Ojo has moved from her Powerline base to Maplewood Gardens.

Chasing the dragon at severe cost

Addicts pay dearly for Gutter Juice’s cheap high (known as chasing the dragon) – some dealers too. Ask Biola Iyanda, 19, who got raped in her sister’s shop soon after consuming the hard drug.

“My sister had gone home and left her bar in my care. She had these customers who often visited at night. Last Tuesday, they invited me to drink with them. The last thing I remembered was that they tried to grope me and I fell in the gutter in front of the shop. They raped me, right there in the gutter. I was rescued by members of a vigilance group, and they helped me get compensation from their parents. Each boy paid me N25, 000. I got N50, 000 as compensation and my sister banned them from her shop,” she said.

No doubt, many users totally lose their wits after consuming the hard drug. At another drug den in Amoo, The Nation observed several teenagers struck in different states of inebriation far into the night. Many were hyperactive, continually raising a ruckus over minor incidents. They laughed hard, fought hard and partied hard.

Their intoxication varied according to their brew. A user who was identified as Esin (stallion), due to his acclaimed soccer skills, started soliloquising and laughing by himself after downing 25cl of the brew.

“That is what Pamilerin does to you,” explained Michael Babatunde, 18, a retailer of the brew. Pamilerin contains a combination of boiled cannabis, alcohol, tramadol, rohypnol and codeine. It loosens your tongue and makes you very giddy. You tend to laugh even at the driest jokes,” he said.

A visit to Oju Irin…Ganja paradise

Indian Hemp, Eja, Pot, Ganja, Hashish, Spiff, Marijuana, Obi, Cannabis or Igbo is a major ingredient of Gutter Juice and widely available across Lagos metropolis. One major sales point of the narcotic is the Oju Irin drug den, along the rail tracks behind the Agege abattoir.

omi gota
•Teenagers smoking cannabis in a drug den at the Adeniji-Adele Housing Estate.

Strolling along Oju Irin, the modern-day Mecca for Lagos addicts, a suspicious mix of darting eyes and dank smell gives you the impression that the sea of shops and stalls offer something slightly more sinister than your standard cannabis, SK and heroin replicas.

At my entry into the enclave, a dealer sidled up to me. “Forget my name. Just call me Sure Guy,” he said. Swaggering through the shanty settlement, Sure Guy sought to establish his repute as a cocky prince of the purlieu. Fingering a pile of cannabis loosely in his palm, he laid it out in wrap of rizla and deftly rolled it out into a blunt.

“Wetin you want? Talk to me, I go sort you. But e be like say you know sure sef. I no know you. I never see you before. I no know if you be drugs (NDLEA agent)” – What do you want. Tell me and I will sort you. But you seem suspicious. I don’t know you. I have never seen you. You could be an NDLEA operative,” he said.

His demeanour belied his prodigious street smarts. Sure Guy is happy to tell you that he rakes in at least N10, 000 a week selling cannabis and crack, known as gbana among dealers and in the seedy parts of the drug den.

He proudly advertised his fledgling dominance in the seedy and ultra-violent settlement, and he brags that he uses his drug money to maintain two families.

Few minutes later, he led me down the rough tract along the rail tracks, and explained to me how to locate a dealer’s drug den.

Strolling along the dingy tracks to one of the stalls, I was confronted with a stunning stash of drugs — authentic cannabis, cannabis clones, crack and potent potions with names like omi gota (Gutter Juice), colorado, pamilerin.

The hard drugs are designed to mimic the effects of Schedule I and II substances like cocaine and amphetamines — and every single one of them is illegal. Indian Hemp and SK are obtainable at N100 each.

Death by tramadol

The typical life span of a teenage addict is just two or three years, baring urgent intervention, argued Sarat Ilyasu, an addiction psychiatrist. For instance, Theophilus Adeoye died of excessive consumption of vodka and tramadol one year into his addiction. He died at 17, few months after he graduated from high school. Adeoye’s death was a tragedy that Ronke, his widowed mother could make no sense of.

“I never saw it coming,” she said. On the day her son would die, he downed several cups of vodka laced with tramadol and a fizzy energy drink to celebrate his university admission. “When we finished the bottle of vodka, we prepared another bottle and another one with cognac,” revealed Augustine, the deceased’s childhood friend.

Adeoye died 1 hour and 48 minutes after he was rushed to the clinic for respiratory problems. The doctor who confirmed his death stated that he abused tramadol by taking it in extreme dosages with alcohol.

“When they brought him in, he presented with acute respiratory distress syndrome. He had a blood concentration of 21.5 mg/L tramadol, with toxic levels of nicotine possibly from excessive smoking and other drugs. Subsequently, he developed multiple organ dysfunction and suffered severe seizures every 20 minutes. He suffered sudden cardiac arrest. He could not be resuscitated,” he said.

Mixing hard drugs exposes addicts to great risks, argued Tayo Emmanuel, an addiction counsellor and social health worker. According to her, “Combining vodka and cocaine in one brew is every shade of dangerous. Alcohol is a depressant and cocaine is a stimulant. Mixing the two in large quantities can overstimulate the heart and nervous system, leading to, in extreme circumstances, heart attacks,” she said, adding that such potions impair users’ ability to make sound, rational judgment on risks thus leading them into dangerous situations.

Rohypnol: a tool for date-rape

Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam) is a tranquilizer about ten times more potent than Valium. Asides mixing it with Gutter Juice, users crush the pills and snort the powder. They sprinkle it on cannabis and smoke it. Sometimes, they inject it. Users often describe its effects as “paralyzing.”

Rohypnol has been used to commit sexual assaults because it renders the victim incapable of resisting, giving it the reputation of a “date-rape” drug. The murder of Cynthia Osokogwu by a Facebook acquaintance revealed how Flunitrazepam, a sleep enhancer, is abused. The pill otherwise known as Rohypnol was used to sedate Osokogu before she was raped and strangled. It was acquired without prescription from a registered pharmacy in Festac, Lagos.

Cocaine got in the mix – Drug dealers

C17H21NO4. A derivative of Erythroxylon coca. Otherwise known as cocaine, coke, C, Charly, World Cup, snow, nose candy, Peruvian, White toto. A vegetable alkaloid derived from leaves of the coca plant. Cocaine is fast becoming a teen addiction and a fancy addition to the now ubiquitous Gutter Juice.

A blizzard of the white powder has blown through the country’s rich neighbourhoods into the suburbs, enticing teenagers thus posing a disturbing problem. While a high from snorted cocaine will hit you in about 1-5 minutes, attain a peak within 20-30 minutes, and last 1-2 hours. A high from inhaled or injected cocaine will hit you in less than a minute, be at its peak within 3-5 minutes, and last 30 minutes to an hour, explained.

The onset and peak occur much faster with inhaled [if smoked] and injected cocaine, and the user experiences the effects of the drug ‘all at once.’

Cocaine prevents dopamine from recycling, causing excessive amounts to build up between nerve cells. This flood of dopamine ultimately disrupts normal brain communication and causes cocaine’s high. Users get hooked on for its short-term effects of extreme happiness and energy, mental alertness, hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch. Some of the long-term effects of cocaine include constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, nausea raised body temperature and blood pressure, faster heartbeat, tremors and muscle twitches.

Law enforcers as ‘part of the problem’

The NDLEA is tasked with disrupting the supply of illicit drugs, arresting dealers and supervising programmes intended to reduce the demand for drugs. It is a difficult, multifaceted job that is made even more challenging by resource shortages, notes an International Alert report.

NDLEA field officers described funding gaps and logistical challenges, stressing that they were often forced to pay for fuel out of their own pockets and complaining that they received less logistical support than other enforcement agencies.

The NDLEA is presently short of staff. There is a massive movement of staff from departments that are supposed to play a supportive role to other departments. Officers who were recruited primarily for drug use reduction and officers who were recruited primarily for legal and administrative purposes all want to move to operational departments that are seen to be more lucrative than the other departments. There is a lack of ethics among such members in carrying out their duties since they want to amass wealth, lamented an NDLEA officer.

But the police and the NDLEA are also part of the problem, argued Iyabo Sunmonu, a retired teacher and resident of Idi Oparun, Agege. She blamed them for collecting bribes and releasing suspects even after they have been identified with evidence.

A Gutter Juice dealer with branches and Powerline in Agege, stated that some NDLEA officers come around to collect ‘settlement’ (bribe) from her and other dealers. “They come around every Monday morning,” she said.

Taming the dragon

Recently, the Medical Director (MD) of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital (FNPH), Yaba, Dr. Oluwayemi Ogun raised the alarm over increasing prevalence of drug abused induced mental disorders among children, adolescent and adult Nigerians saying over 150 new cases are admitted at the hospital and its Child and Adolescent Centre, Oshodi Annexe every week.

Reacting to teen addiction to Gutter Juice and other psychotropic substances, she said, in an exclusive interview with The Nation, that: “Only disturbed people drink Gutter Juice. Each of the substances mixed in the juice is highly dangerous. Codeine, cocaine, Indian Hemp, Tramadol and Rohypnol are seriously dangerous to health the way they are abused.”

Dr. Ogun disclosed that just last week, a teenager was rushed to the emergency ward of FNPH by his mother after binging on a variant of the Gutter Juice called Colorado. She said, “He admitted that he had been smoking Indian Hemp (cannabis) and subsequently, he went out to consume Colorado. Whatever the mixture of Colorado, I don’t know but it made the poor boy run amok. They had to sedate him at the private hospital where he was taken, initially, in order to calm him for onward transfer to our facility. When he became sober, he started pleading with his mom for forgiveness.

“There is need for a lot of counselling and education of the youths. They must be made to understand that taking psychotropic substances would have adverse effects on them and possibly wreck their lives. Since the lockdown, the number of people taking drugs has sky-rocketed. Many of them ended up as our patients at the psychiatric hospital. Troubled teenagers especially must understand that the good times are made, not sniffed, drunk or smoked.”

drug
drug

The senior psychiatrist recommended that to combat the trend, serious counselling must be initiated by parents at the homefront. “Parents must rise up to the challenge and educate their wards about the dangers of experimenting with hard drugs and drug addiction. Parents who drink and smoke should stop doing so in their kids’ presence. Schools and religious groups must also intervene positively to assist parents and government efforts at stemming the tide.

“We must act fast before this thing engulfs us. Many like Boko Haram and so on, are spurred to violence after taking hard drugs like Gutter Juice, Colorado and so on. Many resort to drugs to escape their daily problems, to forget their battles with unemployment, poverty and so on. But hard drugs do not take away problems, they add to the problems and compound them for users,” she said.

“Priscilla Benjamin-Olaoye, a mental health expert, stated that Gutter Juice as known offers only a temporary sensation. Once the drug wears off, individuals put themselves at risk of developing a dependence as they try to reach the same high and avoid withdrawals.

“The behavioural impact of the abuse of Gutter Juice is not only living a reckless life like having unprotected sex, driving recklessly, or engaging in life-threatening activities, there is zero desire to keep safe, and zero inhibition for self-preservation from harm or danger. They drop out of school, having the inability to process situations with a sense of sound judgment. A first-time consumer can die instantly, go into drug-induced coma, or experience brain injury.”

Should parents resort to spiritual homes or visit orthodox psychiatric hospitals?

Benjamin-Olaoye argued that although the first assumption to make is that drug addiction is a spiritual problem, substance abuse is actually a chronic relapsing disorder, leading to mental and behavioural challenges.

A spiritual problem, she stressed, is one in which the individual has no control over, but “in this case, substance abuse is one which the individual behaves themselves into.”

You cannot pray yourself out of what you behaved yourself into, she argued, urging parents to implement a healthy balance of both. She said, “Don’t focus on the spiritual aspect, while the emotional needs of the child are left unmet.”

Benjamin-Olaoye could save her homily for desperate parents like Moyin. Moyin dismissed The Nation’s findings pointing to Toye’s need of psychiatric help, stressing that her son’s problem is spiritual – even as his friends revealed that he eventually graduated to a stronger brew of Gutter Juice spiced with stronger doses of cocaine, boiled cannabis, codeine, tramadol, and rohypnol.

“Occasionally he smoked thinner and crack. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t mix gbana (heroin) with cocaine,” said his friend, Bolu. The latter revealed that after chain-smoking and binge-drinking Gutter Juice two weeks ago, Toye went off the deep end.

When exorcism failed with Toye, his mother shipped him off to a traditional asylum in Agbara, Ogun State. When The Nation visited the home, the 16-year-old was found tied to a steel bar interred in the concrete floor. He looked gaunt with flecks of eko tutu and agunmu (cornmeal and herb) spattered over his parched lips.

His eyes bulged out of their sockets and his skin bore red welts from sustained beating. He looked spent and lost in an alternate universe but his caregiver, Fashina Alani, paused from using the whip on him, to assure that his case had remarkably improved.

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