Government’s clamping of a ban last week on the production and importation of cough syrups containing codeine as active ingredient is welcome, even though it was long in coming and millions of Nigerian lives have been wasted already by codeine addiction. Minister of Health Professor Isaac Adewole said on Wednesday that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control [NAFDAC] was directed to stop the production as well as importation of codeine containing syrups in this country. Adewole directed NAFDAC to “ban with immediate effect further issuance of permits for the importation of codeine as active pharmaceutical ingredient for cough preparations.”
The minister said the directive became necessary following the gross abuse of codeine use in the country. Indeed, copious newspaper, radio and social media reports over the years have told stories of the widespread abuse of codeine syrups and other substances in this country. In recent years it reached alarming proportions especially in the Northern states. While substance abuse has been prevalent among youths for many decades, it has now spread in the North to married women, and millions of bottles of codeine containing syrups are guzzled every day in some Northern states. This killer business is perpetrated by unscrupulous businessmen who have made millions by destroying the lives of others.
According to Adewole, codeine containing cough syrups should be replaced with dextromethorphan, which he said is less addictive but which some experts warned could also be abused. Codeine containing cough syrups cannot be sold in Nigeria without prescription, Adewole ordered. Among other measures, he also directed the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) and NAFDAC to supervise the recall for labelling and audit trailing of all codeine containing cough syrups in the country.
We welcome the measures announced last week by the Health Minister. It shows that government was listening to the hues and cries by citizens regarding abuse of substances in this country. It is one thing to announce a ban; it is another thing to enforce it. Most government agencies lack the capacity to implement bans like this. Indian hemp, though banned in Nigeria, is cultivated in farms across the country. Many things that have been banned in this country are still being produced or imported through porous borders, and we can only hope that NAFDAC will rise to this challenge.
Codeine is not the only substance that is abused in Nigeria. Addicts go as far as sniffing fuel fumes and “solution,” which is used in patching bicycle tyres. Many other drugs and chemicals can also be abused if consumed to certain levels. It is therefore important to tackle head on substance abuse in this country, lest codeine addicts migrate to other, often cheaper substances.
It is one thing for adventurous youths to engage in substance abuse but where hundreds of thousands, if not millions of housewives also dabble into it, then our society is in deep trouble. It suggests that there is a lot of pent up stress, tension and frustration in our homes. Our next task is to find out what is the cause, and then find the solution.