An underground investigation conducted by BBC Africa’s new investigations unit, Africa Eye, has revealed how leakages in the Nigerian pharmaceutical industry’s regulatory system is aiding the plague of addiction to cough syrup – codeine – across Nigeria.
The Federal Government may have seen the publication as it has directed the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to ban with immediate effect further issuance of permits for the importation of codeine as active pharmaceutical ingredient for cough preparations.
This is because the directive came less than 48 hours after the documentary titled, ‘Sweet, Sweet Codeine,’ was aired on BBC.
The exclusive undercover investigation, co-produced with BBC Pidgin, also reveals how highly placed officials of pharmaceutical companies illegally supply codeine syrup products from their factories to drug dealers who in turn sell the dangerously addictive, sweet-tasting mixtures to addicts.
With access to Nigeria’s crack anti-drug squads, BBC Pidgin journalist, Ruona Meyer, whose brother has struggled with cough syrup addiction, was part of the investigation to unravel the secrets of the syrup plague and to expose the criminals behind it.
Read details below as published by BBC:
When the younger brother of the BBC’s Ruona Meyer became addicted to cough syrup, she began to investigate the men who make and sell opioid-based medicine on the streets of Lagos.
Her investigation took her deep into Nigeria’s criminal underworld, uncovering an epidemic that is destroying young lives across West Africa.
“Where there are lots of school kids, as soon as they get a taste for it, they’ll keep pestering you for more,” says Junaid Hassan.
When I heard him say these words I felt sick to my stomach.
I had already witnessed what he described – young Nigerians hooked on cough syrup made with codeine, an opioid which can be addictive. A 14-year-old girl from my home city of Lagos, her parents distressed and unsure how to help her. A young man in Kano, chained to the floor of a rehab centre, swarming with flies, driven mad by months of drinking syrup with his friends.
My own brother has suffered from codeine cough syrup addiction. The strawberry tasting opioid hooked him after our father was killed.
Grief, depression, a desire to be cool are just some of the reasons Nigerians are falling for this drug. Musicians sing about the high it gives you. Dealers peddle it in nightclubs and on the streets. Teenagers mix it with soft drinks, or swig it straight from the bottle at “syrup parties”.
Mr Hussan, aka Baba Ibeji, works at Bioraj Pharmaceuticals, a licensed medical producer which manufactures a codeine cough syrup called Biolin. The company is a major supplier to northern Nigeria.
He is one of a number of pharmaceutical company employees who the BBC have secretly filmed doing illegal cough syrup deals over the past few months. It is not illegal to drink or manufacture the medicine – but it is against the law to sell it to people without a doctor’s prescription or those who don’t have a pharmaceutical licence.
“Even if someone wants to buy 1,000 cartons, we won’t give them a receipt,” Mr Hassan told us, explaining how he avoids detection from authorities. Corruption like this is against Bioraj company policy, but is helping to fuel the industrial quantities of syrup leaking on to the black market.
When we informed Bioraj that we had evidence Mr Hassan was engaging in this illicit activity, it responded with a statement saying the company only sells codeine cough syrup legitimately, that Mr Hassan denies wrongdoing, and that company chairman Bioku Rahamon personally guards Biolin sales.
Like all opioids, codeine is in the same chemical family as heroin. It’s an effective painkiller, but is also capable of giving you a euphoric high if consumed in large quantities. It is highly addictive and, taken in excess, can have a devastating impact on the mind and body.
In the Dorayi Rehabilitation Centre in Kano, I met a man said by staff to have been driven insane by the drug. He was shackled at the ankles and chained to the roots of a tree, screaming and thrashing his arms. Seventy-two hours earlier he had been out on the streets, breaking car windows in traffic.
“He’s still going through his withdrawal issues now,” said Sani Usaini, the officer in charge of the rehab centre.
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