Codeine ban not enough measure to check drug abuse, say experts, medics

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Reactions have continued to trail the recent ban placed by the Federal Government on the importation of codeine as active pharmaceutical ingredient for the preparation of cough syrups, with many of them declaring the measure as inadequate.
The ban, which was announced by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, came less than 48 hours after a documentary entitled, “Sweet, Sweet Codeine,” was aired on the British Broadcasting Corporation to show the extent of drug abuse among Nigerian youths.
A Certified Microbiologist and education consultant, Mr. Omotayo Obi, said that banning only codeine was not enough to check the problem of drug abuse among Nigerian youths.
Obi argued that attacking the roots of the endemic problem of drug abuse among the youths should be an inclusive and comprehensive crusade, adding that other psychotropic drugs and substances such as tramadol, ten-day-old urine, soak away, hypo in Lacasera or tomtom soaked in Lacasera, burnt bitumen, burnt tire, diesel, Rohyphnol, shisha, skushi, gutter water and methylated spirit should have been included on the list.
He said there were many unanswered questions about the issue of drug abuse in Nigeria, wondering what the nation’s agencies in the health sector were doing until the BBC broke the news.
Obi said, “Is banning codeine based syrups a solution? Banning it creates scarcity and scarcity drives up the price and an increased price makes it a lucrative venture and those who have it in stock will hoard it, knowing it has become more valuable. Manufacture of crude substitutes will commence and these will be more deadly. At the end of the day, we would have ended up creating a new “coke.”
“Why don’t we address the root cause? Why are we simply reactive? Are we saying if BBC comes up with a documentary tomorrow showing some people now smoke gaari, the government will ban it? The action of the government is simply like a doctor treating a patient for itching caused by rashes without treating the rashes first. We need more holistic approach to this epidemic, rather than the fire brigade approach they have used. Are they saying that they are not deaf to only the BBC? Are they telling us that we have no voice and cannot decide on issues without international push?”
Recounting his experience with some affected youths, Obi said, “I was invited to a secondary school in Ikorodu last week to attend to a boy. His seat mate had refused to sit with him, even under threat of punishments, without giving any reason. Another boy, who was asked to move to that space, also refused; this got the school curious.
“I told the teachers and the directors to leave us alone. I started talking to the boy on random issues and nothing related to why I was invited. After several minutes, I asked him how he would feel if anyone touched his bag before he got back to the class, he didn’t respond, but the change in him was obvious. That tipped
me off.
“I asked if he would allow me to check his books and bag, he told me “no”. I asked why, but he refused to say anything. I promised him it was going to be strictly between us and he acquiesced. I sent for his bag. The stench from the bag was unmistakable. At this point, I told him I only wished to help him. It was then he opened up to me that he sniffs dried faeces and occasionally smokes it. One of the many pockets in his bag was where he kept it handy.”
Speaking in the same vein, a medical doctor and Chief Executive Officer of VeeGee Packaging, Mrs. Joycelyn Omo Osagie Ohiovbeunu, noted that the government had not done anything to curb the worsening problem of drug abuse.
She expressed the fear that the long inaction of the government had created a situation in which the country could be said to be raising a generation of drug addicts.
Ohiovbeunu added that the menace of drug abuse had led to an increase in violence, unusual behaviours, mental illnesses, suicide, impotence and sterility, among others.
Ohiovbenu blamed the government for the unfortunate development, saying it had shirked in its responsibility to build a drug-free society.
She said, “The truth is the government does not realise how much trouble we are in. it is not banning only that will solve this decadence. These are the leaders of tomorrow, the fathers and people who would be at the helm of affairs, and I don’t think anyone is doing anything about it.
A pharmacist and a teen behavioural coach, Ms. Oluwaseun Fatungase, warned that there were other alternatives to codeine that the youths subscribe to.
She said aside from codeine-based syrups, there were other cough expectorants such as Emzolyn, Novalyn and Benylin that youths now take as psychotropic by gulping a whole bottle at a time.
“I am not in support of the ban because there are other alternatives that can be abused and there are no plans by the government to raise awareness about the negative consequences of drug abuse, especially among the teens and youths in Nigeria,” she said.
A counsellor, Mrs. Nnena Williams, who is a former director at Teens Boot Camp, Mombassa, kenya, noted that the country did not need to put in place complex solutions to serious problems such as
drug abuse.
Williams even accused the Nigerian government and the health system of unwittingly promoting drug abuse by its failure to insist on prescription control.
Williams, therefore, advised the FG to, as a matter of national emergency, compel all pharmacies and chemists to stop dispensing certain classes of drugs without a doctor’s
prescription.
She urged the government to also cooperate with the medical associations to have a register of all doctors so that they could be easily contacted to ascertain their
prescriptions.
“Inevitably, many will try and breach this for money. Let a law recommend severe punishment for those who sell such drugs against a prescription order and also let quantity be limited at points of purchase. Government across the land, especially the Ministry of Information, should run a long sensitisation campaign on this and make sure enforcement is credible,” Williams said.