…Stakeholders seek rethink of strategy
Four weeks after recent ban on codeine-containing cough syrup by the Federal Government, experts have raised the alarm over the uncontrollable youths’ access to the drug and other drugs abuse in the country like Tramadol, Alabukun, among others.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) documentary, showing the abuse of codeine in the country, attracted the attention of the Federal Government to the menace.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, had on May 1, directed the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), to ban with immediate effect further issuance of permits for the importation of codeine as active pharmaceutical ingredient for cough preparations.
The documentary, which went viral, showed some Nigerian youths who were addicted to codeine displaying symptoms of mental illness and confined to an ill – equipped rehabilitation centre.
Many Nigerians have raised concern over the rising menace of drug abuse among youths fuelling the future threat in families and society at large.
Experts say codeine syrup is used in treatment of cough, but when abused could lead to full-fledged addiction that is potentially deadly.
But some concerned stakeholders have maintained that the ban on codeine will not do much except the open drug markets in the country are closed and the National Drug Distribution Guidelines implemented.
Four weeks after its ban, a non-governmental and human rights body- Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), said it has found out that the outright ban on the production of codeine cough syrup in Nigeria has not stopped the phenomenal abuse of the drug by the youths.
In a statement made available for The Daily Times on Monday, the group faulted what it described as “unwise and harsh decision” by the Federal Government which it said, has led to great financial misfortunes for the over 30 legitimate pharmaceutical companies licenced by NAFDAC to produce codeine containing cough syrups as well as widespread unemployment of about 10,000 staff who were hitherto employed in these firms.
HURIWA said: “Based on field research and eye witness accounts our team generated during a well-coordinated three week’s data collections, we have found out that contrary to the not so well thought out reasons for the hasty ban of production of codein containing cough syrup, the abuse is still ongoing.
“We found out that these youths who are hooked up in the habit of abusing these and many other drugs are still getting supplies of other drugs of abuse. Indeed this policy of halting the production within Nigeria was not a good decision to have embarked on.
The Federal Government was wrong to have adopted this regimented decision to stop pharmaceutical companies in the country hitherto producing codeine cough syrups without looking at other much more sophisticated methods of halting the abuses of these useful anti-cough syrup which is very popular amongst genuine patients”.
HURIWA further noted: “After about three weeks of generating and gathering first-hand information and observations, it has come to the conclusion that the decision to hastily ban the production of codeine cough syrups was irrational, panicky, unscientific, unreliable and has not in any way deterred or reduced the rates of drug abuse since the addicts have resulted to procuring other drugs and substances of abuse which will eventually be on the high side and uncontrollable like codeine.”
Still unhappy with the decision of the Federal Goverment, the NGO querried: “Why should government stop the production of codeine cough syrups only because some deviant youths in some parts of the country were abusing it?
Would the government close breweries because many people are consuming high quantity of beer and perhaps committing atrocities in the society as a result of its consumption? Would the Government have closed tobacco companies as many people are abusing it as well?
Some of the common generic drugs currently abused on the streets are Tramadol, a pain killer now used as an ecstasy drug; Rohypnol (a.k.a Roko, Roofies, Roche or Renfol), a tranquiliser about 10 times more potent than Valium, notoriously used for date-rape;
Alabukun, a cheap pain killer peddled on street corners by hawkers and street vendors; and Aspirin, an OTC pain killer whose chemical composition gives it the ability to numb the muscles and create soothing effect on the user.
Besides HURIWA, some pharmacists in the country have frowned at the ban, describing it as a knee jerk response by the Federal Government.
For Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, former Chairman/CEO of Neimeth and former President, Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), “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”.
He explained: “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.”
Another pharmacist, Lawrence Ikhide, said banning codeine and introducing dextromethorphan is not a solution to the abuse of drugs and substances amongst the populace.
He said if you ban codeine, addicts look for the next available options.
“If you bring dextromethorphan that is abused in countries where they have strong regulation, how can that be a solution here?
“It is estimated that in Kano and its environs alone, 4 million bottles of codeine are sold almost daily.
If someone makes N500 from a bottle, multiply that by four million bottles, it runs into billions of naira, and many of these products come through the porous borders. So if you ban products from bodies you can regulate, what of places where they come from where you cannot regulate?” he asked.
Also, a Lagos based pharmacist, who spoke to The Daily Times on anonymity, said the government’s decision to ban the product was hasty, adding that the product has it merits and demerits.
“Banning codeine is not the answer to the drug abuse trend. We are talking about people who are trying everything, (from sniffing petrol to pit toilet) just to get high. How long will it take them to find another drug to abuse? “he said.
On his part, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Senator Lanre Tejuoso (APC, Ogun Central), stressed the need to address the issue of open drug markets which he said was responsible for unwholesome drug distribution.
However, all efforts to contact the Director-General of NAFDAC, Prof. Moji Adeyeye, to ascertain the level of enforcement towards the ban of the product, proved abortive as she did not respond to several calls put across to her line at press time.