The recent ban on codeine-containing cough syrup by the Federal Government, shutting down Emzor Pharmaceuticals Ind. Ltd., Peace Standard Pharmaceutical Limited and Bioraj Pharmaceutical Limited is a knee jerk response to the drug abuse problem experts have said.
The ban is echoing in the public space over the drastic measure. Experts want a more logical and comprehensive policy to tackle the incomprehensible and remote causes of this weird and worsening addiction in the country.
Cheta Nwanze , Partner at SBM intelligence said the ban is sending a very poor signal about the government and the regulatory agencies.
“Codeine is an opiod but not necessarily an essential ingredient but it very effective,” Nwanze said.
“Has there been a study for medical evidence, does the country know how many people who depend on medicine with codeine, the knee jerk banning is just an action which if carried out sends a very poor signal to businesses anytime that anything can be at risk.”
The Nigerian senate in October 2017 estimated that about 3 million bottles of codeine is consumed daily in Kano and Jigawa States alone. Millions of bottles are consumed all over the country which is rising to epidemic proportions with grave consequences for the youths.
Drug abuse is now a national tragedy, that a significant percentage of the populace is addicted to illicit substances including cannabis, cocaine, marijuana, codeine and the likes.
The fact that these addicts, particularly youths, also inhale toxic gas from gum, cow dung, sewage tanks, refuse dumps, and other noxious substances calls for an urgent national response.
However, many Nigerians say the directive by the Federal Government is reactive and not well thought out.
Sam Ohuabunwa, former Chairman/CEO of Neimeth, former President, Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) said “the ban by the Federal Government is too sudden; you do not ban a thing that way. Codeine is not poison, it is a medicine that has therapeutic effects that has been used for many years.
“Codeine is still sold in United Kingdom; they made the report but have not banned codeine, so I think it is a knee- jerk response with the way the government went about it. My belief is that the products could be withdrawn after the adequate medical evidence.
“So people may be abusing the drugs but that does not make it like poison. We need to have appropriate medical research and if we come to the conclusion that the product has to be withdrawn either because of successes, or adversity, or it’s being abused and the country cannot control the abuse, then it will be withdrawn in a gradual process because some pharmaceutical companies manufacturing these product have put a lot of orders and have invested in it,” Ohuabunwa said.
According to him, the Federal Government would end up creating a grey market and people will start smuggling and importing from other countries.
“Nigeria cannot even stop smuggling of AK 47 coming into the border, is it now codeine?
FG ought to withdraw it on a gradual basis, giving them time and companies can change their formulations, but sudden withdrawal will create a grey market, black market and that will worsen it, the end problem will be worse than what the country started with,” Ohuabunwa added.
Codeine syrup addiction is a problem across Africa, with reports of addiction in Kenya, Ghana, Niger, and Chad. In 2016, India banned multiple brands of codeine cough syrup following reports of addition.
Many Nigerians have raised concern over the rising menace of drug abuse among youths fuelling the future threat in the families and society at large.
However, the Senate is proposing a Mental Health and Substance Abuse Bill, as part of a legislative framework to combat use of dangerous psychoneurotic substances, across the country, especially in the Northern Nigeria.
The active ingredient in Codeine drug is to be replaced with dextromethorphan, a less addictive agent. The move came on the heels of the BBC documentary tagged ‘Sweet Sweet Codeine,’ reiterating the popular notion that ‘Cough syrup is killing a generation. ’
Lanre Yusuf, a medical practitioner based in Lagos said, “The federal government of Nigeria placing a ban on the production and importation is not enough, there should be a strict enforcement follow up on licenced companies so as to avoid open market and other illegal smuggling into the country,” Yusuf said.
Richard Adebayo, consultant Psychiatrist/clinical Psychologist at Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital Yaba, Lagos said codeine is a very serious concern in the country and abuse of it is prevalent in northern part of country threatening peer groups, married or unmarried women and men in the country.
“Banning codeine is not the solution; it will make people shift to illegal production and importation. Drug abuse isn’t peculiar to Nigeria alone, it is all over the world. When you abuse drugs, you will be harming yourself,” Adebayo said.
According to Adebayo, the abuse of these drugs has the effect of altering the brain function. “Gone are the day’s people look at cannabis and other substances alone, codeine is a big problem and it should be tackled effectively.”