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Gbenga Adebambo

Codeine: A Syrup That Is Wiping Out A Generation Of Youths

stop the codeine before it stops you

By Gbenga Adebambo

“Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity”- Saint Augustine.

Samuel Johnson once said, “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken”. There is an epidemic that is sweeping across the world, with the victims being the youths. Codeine syrup is gradually turning the youths to endangered species. Cough syrup with codeine is a preferred substance of abuse for youths because of its wide availability. It is quite sympathetic to know that the culprits of this endemic drug is not just the youths but also the parent, government, law enforcement agencies, and pharmaceutical companies that are creating a conducive atmosphere for this juvenile drug to thrive through their act of negligence.

The abuse of cough syrup that contains codeine (also known as promethazine hydrochloride) is spreading among youths today. It is very common nowadays to see the youth partying with Styrofoam cups containing a mixed concoctions of strawberry-flavored cream soda, and promethazine codeine cough syrup mixed with ice cubes. This has become a major cocktail whenever youths are socializing just to get high. Another version of it is to consume a concoction of cough syrup with codeine and carbonated drinks or herbal alcoholic beverages.

Youths are very curious, energetic, adventurous and extremely inquisitive. These four youthful qualities can be so counterproductive and destructive when not well guarded by parents, guardians, teachers, counselors and mentors. An unguarded youth is a danger waiting to happen as they spend their time socializing and experimenting many things until they go off the tangent and boundary of sanity. A source at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, says there has been an increase in the demand for the facility’s services now more than before, particularly by youths.

Many youths all over the world have become addicted to cough syrup with codeine. A pandemic that is seriously ravaging northern Nigeria! Unless there is an urgent intervention, experts have warned that Nigeria may be building a nation of drug addicts. The Nigerian Senate recently raised the alarm that over three million bottles of codeine syrup were consumed daily in Kano and Jigawa States in northern Nigeria. It added that 19 northern states of the country were under serious threat due to drug abuse. Even the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration of Nigeria, NAFDAC, has expressed worry over uncontrolled use of codeine containing cough syrups across the country.

Codeine containing cough syrups are effective as prescription pain reliever and cough suppressant of certain coughs. However, it has a high potential for abuse and may present some serious adverse reactions to the user. For these reasons, access to codeine containing cough syrups has been restricted in several countries.

According to NAFDAC, Codeine is an opiate used for its analgesic (pain reliever) and more commonly antitussive effect (cough suppressant) in cough syrups. Codeine is one of the many pharmaceuticals classified as an opiate. Opiates are narcotics with a high potential for addiction. When used as prescribed, this pain reliever and cough suppressant is a relatively mild opiate. However, it is still a dangerous drug that is increasing in usage and popularity, both with celebrities and with teenagers and young adults.

The rampant abuse of codeine among pupils in the secondary schools is gradually hitting the ceiling as many of them put the mixture in their water bottles to give the impression that they are drinking water. When they put the mixture of codeine and soft drink in water bottles, no one will suspect that they are taking drugs and it has become an elusive tactics among secondary school students.

According to some of the youths that I have helped over the years in overcoming this addiction, they all believe that it puts them in perpetual state of ecstasy and euphoria, a feeling they became accustomed to and frequently yearned for. The most damaging part of codeine addiction just like any other addiction is that the victim will always need a higher dose of codeine in order to maintain and sustain its ‘euphoriant’ effects. Most victims normally start with a bottle of the cough syrup each day and gradually increased the amount ingested to three or four bottles daily. This progressive death trap of maintaining an addiction with a higher dose is the real tragedy of getting ‘high’!

Excessive amounts of codeine can have a negative impact on the user’s central nervous system as well as reduce the activity of the lungs and the heart.  Other undesirable effects are depression, high blood pressure, seizures, impaired judgment, panic attacks, respiratory depression, hallucination, chronic headache, constipation, dizziness, papillary constriction, drowsiness or even coma, slurred speech, impairment in attention or memory; inattention to the environment, even to the point of ignoring potentially harmful events.

We need to draw a battle line on this juvenile misdemeanor that has been ravaging the Nigerian youths and turning them to endangered species. We need a thorough and better understanding of drug use, prevalence, trends and patterns in Nigeria; understanding of the current government and civil society’s capacity and efforts towards addressing drug abuse and related issues; we need to gain insight into legislative, policy gaps, and develop an Action Plan for interventions by the National Assembly and other stakeholders. A particular search light should be beamed at the 19 Northern states of the Federation where women, young girls in tertiary institutions, working class ladies, married, unemployed women displaced by Boko Haram insurgency, among others, were involved in this drug abuse.

More awareness is needed to educate the public on the risk of the indiscriminate use of codeine containing cough syrups and other drugs. The proliferation of abusive drugs can also be linked to the social media hype that some celebrities project in their songs. Organizations must make the condition of great aversion to drug abuse as their core conditions to selecting brand ambassadors.  

I want to encourage a strong coalition between the Federal Ministry of Health, NAFDAC and NDLEA in featuring as a unified voice against drug abuse during orientation programmes in all the Universities, Polytechnics and colleges of Education throughout the nation. Most orientation programmes in tertiary institutions don’t really meet the needs of the youths as they refuse to address pertinent issues and challenges of the youths.

Parents, guardians and care givers should be vigilant in order to detect early signs of drug addiction in their children and seek help from appropriate quarters. Parent should watch out for the following in their wards as they most times indicates the onset of drug abuse: neglect of personal hygiene, irrational behaviours, restlessness, social withdrawal, poor sleeping pattern or eating habits, weight loss, aggressive behaviours, sudden change of friends/ social network and excessive spending, frequent mood swings, extreme fatigue, frequent vomiting, absenteesm/truancy in school, hallucinations and paranoia.

I want to sincerely appeal to the Nigerian youths to eschew drug abuse and addiction in all forms. No habit exists in isolation. An alcoholic will gamble and womanize, and also people that are addicted to drugs will eventually steal. Any habit that you refuse to deal with in the present, will deal with you in the future. Stop that habit/addiction or whatever it is that is holding back from living a fulfilling life. You have to ‘face’ your bad habits so that you can ‘phase’ them out. Experts say it takes about 21 days for a new activity to become a habit and six months for it to become part of your personality. So every day you keep going on in your resolve to stop a habit, and refusing to give up, brings you a day closer to freedom. Kill that habit before it kills you!

Nate Silver once said, “I have the same friends and the same bad habits”. I want to also encourage the youths to beware of toxic relationships. Dan Buettner once said, “The people you surround yourself with influence your behaviour, so choose friends who have healthy habits.”

F.M. Britto said, “Conquer your bad habits lest they eventually conquer you”. As a chemist, I know that there is a mark similarity in the effect and structure of cocaine and codeine, while Cocaine has a molecular formular of C17H21NO4 that of Codeine is C18H21NO3. It is very obvious that they have the same organic moiety. Youths must fight Codeine as they would fight Cocaine! I want to encourage the youths to join their voices together with mine on Facebook and Twitter against this ravaging evil among the youths. Please, tweet/post on twitter and Facebook with the hashtags #StopCodeineB4ItStopsYou, #FightCodeineAsYouWouldFightCocaine and #SayNoToCodeineAbuse.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The only way to eliminate bad habits is to replace them with good ones”- Jerome Hines



  1. Kehinde Martins

    May 5, 2018 at 11:25 AM

    I hope our youths learn on time. Some of them are still using this narcotic

  2. Natasha

    May 5, 2018 at 11:44 AM

    I just watched this documentary on BBC this monning, indeed is a very big epidemic , hopefully the government look into it our youth are be derange with is codeine syrup, north, south,east has the worst cases , Lord almighty have mercy on my dear country 9ja.

  3. Aproko Girl

    May 5, 2018 at 4:46 PM

    That’s a Great Article

  4. DB

    May 5, 2018 at 5:43 PM

    Nigerian pharmaceutical companies are just being hypocrites, so also are the lawmakers. The pharm companies have just busy making huge sales and profits turning a blind eye unti BBC exposed them. If not for the BBC documentary, nothing would have been done about it. I am sure their sales rep in the north will just be given a pat on the back for making fat sales while neglecting where these drugs go. If BBc had not reported it, no Nigerian reportage would have been taken seriously. Nigeria always waits for the colonial masters to stamp their matter before taking action. Rubbish!

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