Just recently the federal government through the Ministry of Health placed a ban on the production and sales of codeine-based syrups. In addition, it has directed the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to immediately place a ban on further issuance of permits for the importation of codeine as active pharmaceutical ingredient for cough preparations in the country. The Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole in his statement issued on May 1 said that as an alternative, Codeine containing cough syrups should be replaced with dextromethorphan which is less addictive.
The Minister promised that his ministry will make sure there is working collaboration among regulatory agencies such as NAFDAC, PCN, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria (NMCN), for effectual functioning of the existing laws, regulations and guidelines on codeine control and usage. Speaking further, he said, “… these agencies shall work together to increase pharmacovigilance around codeine, tramadol and other related substances of abuse.’
Codeine is a derivative of opium; it is used as an antitussive (to relieve coughing) as well as an analgesic – for the purpose of relieving pain. But over the years codeine has been in the news for the very wrong reasons in Nigeria due to its illegal distribution and its high rate of abuse especially among the youth.
This recent development is coming on the heels of an insightful video documentary carried by the BBC, titled “Sweet Sweet Codeine”. The report among other things featured a Sales Rep of Emzor Pharmaceuticals Industries Limited – who boasted to the undercover reporter on camera about how the drugs that he was supplying them were “straight from the oven.”
On their part, the foremost indigenous pharmaceutical giant has reacted swiftly to the BBC investigative report on the product. In a press release it made immediately after the report, Emzor stated that the Sales Rep in the said video documentary had been on suspension prior to this revelation. Subsequently, the company also report that the Rep has been finally sacked as a result of his untoward activities.
Defending its practice on the ethics regarding the production, storage as well as the distribution of products containing codeine, the official release stated in part: “Emzor does not sanction the supply of Emzolyn with Codeine in any way that breaches the Dangerous Drugs Act or NAFDAC guidelines. Emzor’s daily production is below 0.5% of the reported estimated daily amounts of codeine reportedly consumed in Kano and Jigawa States.”
Also, following the whole development, Emzor has immediately suspended the distribution of the product – Emzolyn with codeine “pending the results of a full and thorough internal investigation.”
Meanwhile the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, (PSN) has reacted to the latest development on codeine abuse. Speaking through its president, Pharm. Ahmed I. Yakasai, it praised the candidness and expertise displayed in the BBC Africa Eye documentary which carried out a secret investigation on the illegal trade and abuse of Codeine in Nigeria.
The PSN leadership hence urged the Federal Government not to go back on its promise to implement the National Drug Distribution Guidelines slated for January 2019. Yakasai stated that the implementation of the guideline will give rise to better regulation of medicines distribution, as well as advance the ability of regulators to track and trace drugs.