Unless there is urgent intervention, experts have warned that Nigeria may be building a nation of drug addicts. This is not unconnected with latest reports which show that 3 million bottles of codeine are consumed daily in Kano and Jigawa States. Even the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration of Nigeria, NAFDAC, has expressed worry over uncontrolled use of codeine containing cough syrups across the country.
Also just last week, the Medical Director, Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, Dr. Oluyemisi Ogun, had confirmed a sharp increase in the number of patients with drug-related cases seen at the hospital in recent times. Ogun who spoke at a symposium put together by the Health Writers Association of Nigeria, HEWAN, with the theme: “Emergency Response to Disease Outbreaks: The Way Forward in Nigeria”, said although the threat of communicable disorders was evident, the nation ought to be more worried about non-communicable disorders like drug abuse. “We are talking about communicable diseases, but we have another 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. “There is no family now that is not affected. Our children are at risk as much as our husbands, wives and other relatives. It is actually more than an epidemic. In all the nooks and crannies around us there are people selling drugs and we needed to bring this threat to the realm of the public and the government for us to be able to do something about it.”
Noting that the issue of drug abuse should at the forefront of the public domain, Ogun noted that all the security agencies, particularly the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA that have a role to play should be able to do so much. In her submission, a Deputy Director of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration of Nigeria, NAFDAC, Mrs Abayomi Bolaji who spoke on behalf of the Director General, Prof Mojisola Adeyeye raised alarm over the spate of abuse of codeine containing cough syrups. Bolaji lamented that the Agency was worried about the incessant abuse of codeine in recent times. “We have codeine which is currently being abused. I want to let you know that in the course of our regulatory activities, if we find codeine in a Patent Medicine Store, the person will be heavily sanctioned. Codeine has medicinal use and what the Agency does is that we give permit for it to be imported and sold.” Bolaji said NAFDAC goes as far as collating the stock from the warehouses, manufacturing facilities, and takes stock of what the importer has used and imported to produce and follow up distribution. “But unfortunately, we know people cut corners. Codeine containing syrups are not supposed to be freely sold, they are not Over-the-Counter drugs but somehow they get into the hands of people through the pharmacies or Patent medicine dealers, but it is part of our regulatory functions to control the circulation and importation of these drugs. “If peradventure a manufacturer cannot give account of the quantity that he was given permit to import, he is heavily sanctioned and may not be given permission to import next time. Because of the education of the pharmacists they cooperate but the patent medicine dealers y are the ones selling at night, and we cannot get them when we go during the day time. But it has been discovered that they go as far as hiding these drugs with persons in the next shop, maybe with a tailor or barber. People need to be told the consequences of their action. It is not only just about money. The demand for codeine containing cough syrups is so high.” Findings by Vanguard showed that following the alarm raised three months ago of rising incidences and reports of drug abuse, particularly codeine-containing cough syrups in the 19 Northern states of the Federation, the Senate and other relevant stakeholders are converging in Kano today for a two- day roundtable on drug abuse. It was reported that in 2015 alone, over 2,205 people were arrested in North-West geo-political zone by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, over drug-related abuses. Vanguard gathered that the roundtable will enable the Senate effectively analyze Nigeria’s response to the menace and come up with appropriate strategies on the way forward. During the roundtable, the drivers of drug abuse in Nigeria are to be isolated, with the aim of identifying the psychosocial and medical impact of the phenomenon, assessing current responses, legislative gaps and opportunities for action. Among expected outcomes include: gaining a better understanding of drug use, prevalence, trends and patterns in Nigeria; understanding the current government and Civil Society capacity and efforts towards addressing drug abuse and related issues; gain insight into legislative, policy gaps and develop an Action Plan for interventions by the National Assembly and other stakeholders.
It would be recalled that Senate, had in October, this year, raised the alarm about the drug abuse threat in the 19 states, where women, young girls in tertiary institutions, working class ladies, married, unemployed women displaced by Boko Haram insurgency, among others, were involved in drug abuse. The Senate had mandated its Joint Committee on Drugs and Narcotics and Health to investigate the growing menace of cough and other prescriptive drugs abuse and report back to the Senate on the needed legislative interventions to combat the trend. The senators stressed that secondary school students consumed cough syrups regularly. The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said that the Senate will take necessary actions to reduce the growing menace.
According to NAFDAC, Codeine is an opiate used for its analgesic (pain reliever) and more commonly antitussive effect (cough suppressant) in cough syrups. “Codeine containing cough syrups are effective in the management of certain coughs. However, it has a high potential for abuse and may present some serious adverse reactions to the user. For these reasons, access to codeine containing cough syrups has been restricted in several countries. Some of the known adverse effects of codeine include: respiratory depression; hallucination and physical dependence as a result of continued use. NAFDAC is currently working with the Pharmacist Council of Nigeria (PCN), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) to arrest the increasing abuse of these cough syrups in Nigeria. NAFDAC is embarking on massive public enlightenment campaign on the dangers of abuse of codeine containing medicines in Nigeria. The Agency has put in place strategy to limit the supply and distribution of codeine containing cough syrups in Nigeria. Prescribers and dispensers are encouraged to prescribe and dispense these cough syrups rationally. Consumers are advised to take codeine containing cough syrups only on prescription by health care professionals.