Nigeria has just banned codeine syrup because of abuse, but that isn't what the doctor would have recommended.
“We had an emergency meeting with NAFDAC (National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control) and the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group (PMGMAN) to inform them that there is an embargo on all new applications for registration of codeine-containing cough syrups as well as applications for renewal”, Health Minister Isaac Adewole announced.
NAFDAC has been directed to “fully regulate and control the manufacturing, distribution and sale of codeine, including inspection at points of entry of drugs, drug products and food for compliance with the new directive”, Adewole added.
The ban is coming on the heels of a BBC documentary on Nigeria’s codeine abuse which the broadcaster called: 'sweet, sweet codeine, Nigeria’s deadly cough syrup crisis'.
The codeine abuse has really been alarming, you have to say. One report says about 3 million bottles of codeine are swallowed daily in just Kano and Jigawa States.
But codeine guzzling isn't a new problem, especially in the north of Nigeria where young adults have been swallowing the substance in heavy doses for generations.
Young Nigerians who want to get high these days, are sauntering into pharmacies and ordering for the syrup without a doctor’s prescription. Once they get a hold of their “sweet codeine”, some mix the substance with alcohol for full 'highness'.
Others mix codeine with pain killers like Tramadol or Refnol. This leaves them temporarily dead to the rest of the world. Others sniff codeine with petrol fumes for greater levels of 'highness'.
Codeine abuse can lead to common side effects like nausea, vomiting, constipation and drowsiness. Other severe side effects include shallow breathing, low blood pressure, seizures, urination problems, confusion, agitation, and hallucinations.
Further abuse of codeine, such as mixing it with alcohol or other sedatives, can also lead to respiratory damage.
Addiction to the drug can lead to physical dependence which occurs when a person's brain and body becomes so used to the presence of the opiate that if they suddenly stop taking it, they will experience withdrawal symptoms like severe shaking of the body, shock, and even schizophrenia.
The codeine problem is a real and present danger and I have frowned at artistes glamorizing the substance and addiction in their expletive laden songs.
However, banning codeine like the federal government has just done is knee jerk stuff that smacks of short-termism; especially for a problem that has been there since forever.
Banning codeine will likely see to the booming of a black market around the product. Pharmaceutical companies who have been indicted in the BBC report for aiding and abetting the addiction, would now see the ban as a window to make more money through bootleg channels.
By banning codeine, Nigeria may just have empowered black marketers to get in touch with their suppliers across the nation’s shores. The price of codeine will skyrocket and addicted youths will see no scruples offering an arm and leg to procure more bottles for their dying bodies. Codeine may not be available across the counter following the official ban, but it will be everywhere. We know exactly how this worked in the past.
What the federal government should do is provide rehabilitation centers for those who are hooked on the substance, commence a nationwide enlightenment and awareness campaign on the dangers of codeine abuse, make sure no one gets the syrup without a doctor’s prescription and get illicit pharmacies and drug stores off the distribution chain by embarking on pre-dawn raids.
A knee-jerk ban won't work because short term solutions never solved any problems.
And if you are reading this while hooked on codeine, listen to me: it’s bad for you and killing you slowly. Lay off that codeine diet while you still can.