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Prescription opioids, consumption cultures and “informal governing images” among “young street guys” in Nigeria

Blessing Nonye Onyima (Department of Sociology/Anthropology, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria)

Drugs, Habits and Social Policy

ISSN: 2752-6739

Article publication date: 10 August 2023

Issue publication date: 28 November 2023




This paper aims to explore the misuse of prescription opioids, associated consumption cultures and the emergence of “informal governing images” among young men in Nigeria.


Using a qualitative research approach involving purposive sampling: six in-depth interviews, one focus group discussion and key informant interviews with two health-care professionals using the transgressive theory approach, this paper explores consumption cultures, motivations and the resultant “informal governing images” associated with the misuse of prescription opioids among young local street high-risk users in Nigeria.


Findings show complex expressions of diverse consumption practices, such as grinding, sniffing and concoction of tramadol (TM)with other opioids. The “puff-puff pass” practice serves as induction for new users of opioids commonly accessed through street drug dealers and pharmacists sold via backdoors. Codeine mixtures with different brands of soft drinks for dilution are used to achieve a “lower high” while a concoction of different opioids, with alcohol, and spirits obtains a “higher high”. Manufacturers’ indelible colouring and bottling discourage the non-medical use of opioids. Desiring to be awake for nocturnal activities, mostly “yahoo-yahoo” (internet fraud), sexual enhancement and dosage competitions, are motivations for the non-medical use of prescription opioids. These consumption cultures create “misuse circuits”, leading to the emergence of “informal governing images” triggered by threats from formal controls.

Practical implications

This paper, therefore, concludes that pharmaceutical industries should also add colourings to TM and codeine just like they did in rophinol to discourage the non-medical use of prescription opioids among young people in Nigeria.

Social implications

This paper concludes that rather than branding and packaging in such a way that concealability is difficult for high-risk users as the best way to discourage the non-medical consumption of prescription opioids in Nigeria, the focus should be on addressing youth poverty and unemployment and improving access to treatment for drug use disorders, instead of calling for more enforcement-based measures.


This is an original research.



The author has no conflict of interest.

Ethical clearance for this study was obtained from the Ministry of Health Anambra State, Nigeria with the approval number MH/AWK/M/321/402.


Onyima, B.N. (2023), "Prescription opioids, consumption cultures and “informal governing images” among “young street guys” in Nigeria", Drugs, Habits and Social Policy, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 270-284.



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