Before the federal government’s ban on the importation and production of codeine in the country a forth night ago, the consumption of the substance had assumed addictive levels, particularly among the youth. The alarm bells became strident following the documentary by British Broadcasting Corporation on illegal distribution and harmful use of codeine cough syrup in Nigeria. The documentary had set the social media alight and got Nigerians talking generally about the situation of drug abuse epidemic in Nigeria.
Codeine is a prescription drug recommended as a pain killer and used to treat mild to moderate pains. It comes in tablet form and as the main ingredient in prescription-grade cough suppressants. Tylenol 3, another popular pain reliever, is codeine combined with acetaminophen. Experts say that though codeine is less potent than its drug relative, morphine, it still holds powerful and addictive properties for the many people who abuse it worldwide.
Its use often starts out innocently with a prescription for a codeine-based cough syrup. Because it is less regulated than some opiates considered to be more dangerous (such as morphine and Oxycontin), getting and abusing it is relatively easy. When abused, the substance creates feelings of euphoria, apathy, drowsiness and Relaxation. As an opiate, it holds the risk of its users developing a tolerance and, eventually, dependence on it. Although many people begin using codeine to relieve a legitimate condition, it is frequently abused as tolerance develops.
Many users begin to turn to the drug to cope with physical pain and eventually emotional pain as well. Although some people think the drug seems harmless, its contraindication ranges from drowsiness, constipation to blindness and respiratory failure. In large enough doses, codeine consumption can be fatal.
An addiction may develop from continued abuse of the drug in its cough medicine or pill form. Last year, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) raised the alarm over high rates of domestic usage of illicit substances in Nigeria, a country once seen, primarily, as a drug transit point. A visit to the major cities of the country show that illicit substances are easily available.
Established in early 1990, critics say that the NDLEA has failed to live up to its mission statement, which is “the total eradication of illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances; suppression of demand for illicit drugs and other substances of abuse” as well as recovering drug money. But the agency insists that it was working to bring about a balance between supply and demand reductions.
In 2015 alone, narcotics worth N3.7 billion (11.5 million US dollars) were seized at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos.
This included 172kg of cannabis, 160kg of ephedrine, 114kg of methamphetamine, 96kg of cocaine, 45kg of tramadol and 5kg of heroin. According to the UN’s 2016 World Drug Report, the third largest quantity of cocaine seized around the world was from Nigeria, with 50 to 70 per cent of the drug trafficked by air. The country is becoming notorious as a key transit point for both heroin and cocaine en route Europe, East Asia and North America.
It is the belief of medical and social workers that it is a challenging task to attempt to get rid of substance abuse altogether. However, the pervasive opinion among stakeholders is that the government is not giving the problem the urgent attention it deserves.
In the Northern part of the country, for instance, the issue began to receive a mention only after the Northern Governors Wives Forum organised, two years ago, an awareness and advocacy training on drug abuse menace which, unfortunately, is higher in those areas with mostly youths and women as culprits. The northern governors’ wives are also planning to give Nigerians its first 24hr- language sensitive drug abuse and psychological support helpline.
However, in the opinion of this newspaper, unless the socio-psychological reasons are identified and dealt with and the drug users made to take responsibility for their actions, the measures being taken may well be an exercise in futility. The major issue is government’s lack of implementation and monitoring of the sale of drugs containing opioids over the counter. We remember vividly when narcotics was the drug of choice, a relatively successful campaign of ‘Say No To Drug’ was implemented in schools which placed the responsibility of staying away from drugs in the hands of the targeted user group.
It is our considered view that public enlightenment on the inherent danger must be intensified even as rehabilitation centres, where they exist, must be standardized and new ones established. The ban on Codeine is welcome but not sufficient a measure to control this raging fire. The time to act is now.