Nigeria: Time Bomb! Fatal Attraction of Codeine Addiction

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Like moths to the flame, they flock in droves to satiate their uncontrollable self-destructive habit of codeine cough syrup consumption. Attracted by the overpowering lure of the sweet tasting elixir, hordes of Nigerians--school children, young adults, fully grown men and women and other habitual consumers--go all out to live out this death wish.

They are subsisting on an unsavory diet of codeine cough syrup. Commonly mixed with soft drinks and alcohol and consumed, codeine, alhough less potent than its drug relative --morphine--is a prescription pain medication that has similar powerfully addictive properties. Once you are hooked on codeine you are hooked. And God help you if you are hooked.

Codeine containing syrups are controlled by regulation and should not be freely sold, yet they get into the hands of people through leakages in the system.

Codeine overdose can cause schizophrenia (mental instability) and organ failure. Other known adverse effects of codeine abuse include: respiratory depression; hallucination and physical dependence as a result of continued use.

In swift response to the report, the Federal Government ordered the NAFDAC to ban the production of codeine cough syrups in the country. However, observers have warned that the ban would only offer temporary reprieve. Addicts have penchant to look for alternatives even as smugglers would potentially have a field day no thanks to the nation's porous borders.

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, also swung into immediate action, raiding the indicted pharmaceutical companies. It is part of NAFDAC's regulatory functions to control the circulation and importation of codeine-containing drugs.

But Director General of the General of the Agency, Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, lamented that the Agency is incapacitated in several ways to fulfill its regulatory mandate.

She told Saturday Vanguard that even though they put a temporary ban or embargo on issuance of permits for codeine, the continued absence of NAFDAC at the Ports was a major hindrance.

"If NAFDAC is not at the Ports, the problem would continue. NAFDAC is not perfect, but let them be given full support and responsibility of carrying out their mandate. We have not done optimally, we are supposed to be inspecting these companies at least once a year, but we are so limited in our capacity.

"We do not have vehicles to go on inspection fully. We have to generate funds internally to fund our activities. People need to understand the complexity of regulation. There are about 6,000 food and water companies and we have over 250 pharmaceutical companies, etc, the pool of stakeholders we service is large."

For many Nigerians, the revelations by BBC Africa's documentary on illegal sale and distribution of codeine cough syrup by officials of pharmaceutical companies, though shocking, did not really come as a surprise. The investigation by BBC Pidgin graphically highlighted how criminals took advantage of leakages in the pharmaceutical regulatory system to fuel the addiction.

Even before the BBC investigation, it was no secret that Nigeria had a gigantic problem on its hands with the generation of addicts created through addiction to codeine cough syrup.

Codeine cough syrup has always been available on the black market for young and old Nigerians alike to get high. A conservative estimate says about three million bottles of codeine cough syrup are consumed daily in Kano and Jigawa states.

For years, the codeine addiction has been a widespread, far reaching, intractable problem spanning, across ages and communities. The situation got to a point that that hardly is there any family across the country that does not have someone or know someone who is addicted.

A deceptive silent killer, the demand for codeine syrup is huge. Saturday Vanguard findings show that codeine cough syrup is clearly a product in demand on and off the street. Addicts pay up to 300-500 percent above the normal self price to quench their craving. Shortly after announcement of the ban, the cost of bottles of codeine syrup went up astronomically with a bottle of the stuff selling for as much as N5,000 on the black market.

Lately, health experts had expressed worry over spikes in patients suffering after effects of codeine syrup abuse, warning of dire consequences if the trend is not unchecked.

The Medical Director, Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, Dr. Oluyemisi Ogun, once described the problem of drug abuse in the country as a time bomb. "We have an epidemic on hand, which is the issue of drug abuse. We are seeing more and more of this and it is a menace. I would urge that attention be drawn to it urgently."


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Publish date : 2018-05-05 07:02:21
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