Following a BBC Africa Eye + Pidgin film showing the extent of syrup abuse, Nigeria has banned codeine cough syrup.
Investigative journalist Ruona Meyer presented a film entitled ‘Sweet Sweet Codeine’ which revealed the overuse of codeine, used in prescription cough medicines. Along with her team, she carried out an undercover investigation to find out how the drug went from factories to the black market.
WHAT IS THE SITUATION IN NIGERIA?
Codeine cough syrup became the most popular street drug in Nigeria due to its easy accessibility across the country and its cheap price. It only costs 50 cents per bottle.
The investigation revealed that Kano City was the center of the epidemic (a widespread outbreak of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time).
THE DANGERS OF CODEINE
Codeine is an addictive drug. Overtime codeine can produce a psychological desire to keep on using it.
Prolonged abuse can lead to organ failure, including but not limited to kidney and liver failure. It can also cause mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. The documentary revealed that codeine sales were very high across Nigeria. Sales of codeine would need to be halted to assure the health of the Nigerian people.
CODEINE IN THE BLACK MARKET
Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, Codeine is a class B drug. This means it is illegal to have for yourself, give away or sell. Despite this, licensed pharmacists from drug companies in Nigeria are supplying the illegal market. An unnamed executive from Emzor Pharmaceuticals claimed that if he had 1 million cartons of codeine, he could sell it in a week.
Students appear to be the main victims of sales. Dealers target them on campuses and on the streets. People who drink it are known as ‘science students’, following the popularity of musician Olamide’s song Science Student within which codeine references are made. Teens mix it with soda, or swig it straight from the bottle at “coda parties.” As well as the students, young Muslim women appeared to be the biggest abusers of codeine cough syrup. This is likely to be because alcohol is forbidden in most Muslim communities of north-east Nigeria, but prescription drugs are, although not supported, not exactly forbidden.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE IMPACT OF BANNING CODEINE IN NIGERIA?
The Nigerian senate, Bukola Saraki, estimates that up to 3 million bottles of codeine are drunk every day in just 2 Nigerian states, Kano and Jigawa. The banning of codeine will impact those dependent on it heavily. However with support from the country’s healthcare department, the withdrawal symptoms can be overcome rapidly.
The airing of ‘Sweet Sweet Codeine’ resulted in the Nigerian government finally banning the sale of codeine cough mixture after just 24 hours of its screening. The government also began arresting street dealers. The drug enforcement agency seized thousands of kilograms of cough syrup and destroyed them in burnings in a nationwide haul.
The documentary also resulted in an increased awareness of drug addiction. Dr Mairo Mandara, a public health expert, believes it has helped people turn away from drugs. The use of the drugs was also linked to crime. Therefore, banning codeine not only promises better national health, but it may also reduce the crime rate.