A recent report says that the abuse of codeine-containing cough syrup has become rampant, particularly among women in northern Nigeria. What this portends is that substance abuse is silently but steadily developing into a serious problem, especially among northern women. Some have attributed the rampant use of the substance to its availability over the counter.
But it is also likely that what makes it more attractive and deceptively convincing users that they are not drug addicts is that it has not been labelled as a narcotic.
Codeine is a pain reliever; it is sometimes called a narcotic because it alters mood and behaviour and could be addictive. In the same group as cocaine, and derived from opium poppy, it is used in the field of medicine to control pain and in syrups to suppress cough. However, it can also be used illicitly to induce sleep or stupor, with users experiencing a euphoric feeling.
Prolonged use of the drug can, however, result in liver and kidney damage, leading to death in some instances. Apart from codeine, there are other improvised narcotics such as petrol, glue, paint thinner and even sewage out there.
Drug addiction of whatever type must not be allowed to fester in any society. Ours, with its present level of unemployment and poverty, is on the precipice. This underscores the need for both the federal and northern state governments to act fast.
NAFDAC has stated that it is collaborating with the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria, NDLEA and the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development to address the problem. According to the agency, it has put in place strategies that would limit the supply and distribution of certain medicines, and has embarked on massive enlightenment campaigns on the dangers of their abuse.
Early this year the minister of health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, stated that the medicines in question would now be treated like any other narcotic drugs and would therefore be sold in hospitals only. This is a welcome policy whose implementation should be enforced. The involvement of married and older women in this problem might also be an indication of deeper sociological problems that need to be looked into.
The problem should be tackled from all fronts: parents, other family members, NGOs and CSOs especially in the north must contribute in the counselling and rehabilitation of those already addicted. Government, which seems to have hitherto had a lackadaisical attitude towards addressing it, must take the matter seriously before it gets completely out of control. This is why we encourage the Kano State government in its effort at sanitising the pharmacy and drugs market of Sabon Gari in Kano metropolis.