Due to the gross abuse of codeine-based cough syrups in the northern part of the country, the Federal Government, last week, banned the importation of codeine as active pharmaceutical ingredient for preparation of cough syrups. The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, who gave the directive in Abuja, explained that the move became necessary as a result of abuse of codeine usage in the country.
However, the minister stated that codeine-containing cough syrups should be replaced with dextromethorphan, which is less addictive. The ban came on the heels of a recent documentary aired on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) entitled, ‘Sweet, Sweet Codeine.’ The documentary showed some Nigerian youths, who were addicted to codeine, displaying symptoms of mental illness and confined to an ill-equipped rehabilitation centre.
To ensure that the ban is effective, Adewole has directed the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria (PCN) and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to supervise the recall and audit the trailing of all codeine-based cough syrups in the country. NAFDAC has also notified the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group (PMGMAN) of the embargo on all new applications for registration of codeine-based cough syrups and renewal of permits. The PCN has been directed to continue to enforce activities on pharmacies, patent and proprietary medicine vendor shops and outlets throughout the country. NAFDAC has been urged to carry out its functions to regulate and control the manufacturing, distribution and sale of drugs as well as inspection at points of entry of drugs, drug products and food compliance with the new directive.
The ban of codeine-based cough syrups is welcome because the abuse has become so excessive, especially among the youths in the northern part of the country. Since the abuse has become a health as well as an economic problem, we call on NAFDAC and other regulatory agencies, such as the PCN, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria (NMCN) to ensure that the banned product does not come back into the country through unauthorized routes, which abound in the country. These agencies should work in concert to ensure effective implementation of extant laws, regulations, policies and guidelines on codeine control and usage. Their collaborative efforts will increase pharmaco-vigilance on codeine, tramadol and other substances. Codeine, as an addictive drug, can have adverse effect on the sobriety of the patient. And due to its sedative effect, it can lead to depression and, at times, insanity. Codeine abuse is deleterious to the health of the nation. Government should consider closing all open drug markets across the country and sanitise the nation’s chaotic drug distribution system.
Beyond these measures, government must hasten the process of providing jobs to the growing army of unemployed Nigerian youths, some of whom are the victims of codeine and other substance abuses. It is not in doubt that some Nigerian youths take to drugs as an escape route from boredom arising from mass unemployment. Efforts must, therefore, be geared towards the rehabilitation of Nigerian youths affected by drug abuse. There is the urgent need for government to embark on public enlightenment on the danger posed by drug abuse.
The youths should be educated against drug abuse and be made to embrace sports and other recreational activities that will engage their energies. The governors of the affected states in the north should invest in the education of these youths and wean them from substance abuse that is fast becoming rampant in the region. The ban on codeine-based cough syrups can only be effective and meaningful if the youths are rehabilitated and made to avoid other substances that can as well make them feel high. Government can also introduce new laws that can effectively check drug abuse.