The spectre of cough syrup abuse among the youth in some parts of Nigeria as widely reported in the media calls for urgent attention from government and authorities in the health sector to halt the development before it destroys the future leaders of this nation.
The high demand for cough syrups containing opiate substances may not necessarily imply that cough epidemic is prevalent in the country. These medications are moving fast because drug addicts have discovered them as ‘’legitimate’’ alternative to hard drugs like cannabis, cocaine, heroin among others.
According to reports, school children at both secondary and tertiary levels including girls have taken to abuse of cough syrup for euphoric purposes. In fact, we gathered that these school children usually mix opiate-containing cough syrups with soft drinks just to disguise their actions. We consider this development a serious public health issue with grave health implications and therefore must be stopped.
Globally an estimated 200 million people are said to consume some form of illicit drug or the other – ranging from Cannabis, Opium, to synthetic ‘’designer drugs’’ like Codeine among others. Sadly, a 2014 United Nations World Drug Report places Nigeria 4th on the global ranking of countries with the most widespread use of illegal substances; in addition to this, a cough syrup abuse in the country may also rise to epidemic proportions if nothing is done to stem it.
According to experts, cough syrups are produced for the treatment and management of cough and cold conditions, and excessive intake of amounts higher than the prescribed doses can produce a whole lot of side effects. The fallouts include nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, confusion, dizziness, double or blurred vision, slurred speech, impaired physical coordination; others are – numbness of fingers and toes, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness, disorientation and even liver damage.
Beyond health, we believe that abuse of drugs also has security implications. More often than not when criminals are busted in their hide-outs by law enforcement agents, they are usually arrested in possession of hard drugs. Therefore, we suggest that efforts must be made urgently to discourage the latest penchant for cough syrups by the youth before it escalates to full blown love for hard drugs.
We suggest a collaborative action between parents, government and religious leaders to nip this malaise in the bud. While the parents are expected to inculcate the right values in their children, government and religious leaders must begin to mount enlightenment campaigns from the pulpits to the classroom and other social centres.
An attempt was made in 2010 by a group of legislators led by Hon. Yusuf Maitama Tuggar, to move a motion on drug abuse on the floor of the House of Representatives specifically to check the incessant abuse of cough syrups among the youth. The motion sought placement of stiffer restrictions on the importation of syrups containing opiate substances.
We totally agree on the need to enact a legislation designed to decrease the abuse rate of these medicines by our youth, however, we are opposed to a ban on the importation of the medicines or even local manufacture of such syrups because it will affect legitimate consumers. Instead we welcome a legislation that will prohibit sales of syrups containing codeine and other opiate substances as OTCs.
After all, a number of states in America have signed on to such a piece of legislation: The state of California signed first in 2012; today, other states such as New York, Arizona, Louisiana, Virginia, Kentucky, Washington and the latest entrants -Tennessee and New Jersey have the law in operation.
Also, there is the need for the narcotics department in NAFDAC to increase its surveillance in the issuance of permits to local manufacturers seeking importation of opiate substances as raw material for production of syrups. We suggest regular unscheduled visits to such companies for on-the-spot confirmations to avoid diversions of such money spinning items.
The Pharmacy Council of Nigeria on its part must rise up to its responsibility of regulating pharmacy practice in the country and stop at nothing wielding the big stick when it is necessary no matter who is involved.