Following widespread reactions to a BBC documentary on the abuse of codeine syrup and subsequent ban of the drug by the Nigerian government, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, says it is investigating pharmaceutical firms exposed in the media report.
According to the agency, the companies are located in Lagos, Kano and Ilorin.
In Sweet Sweet Codeine, an investigative documentary by the BBC, staff of three major pharmaceutical companies in Nigeria were secretly filmed as they offered to sell thousands of codeine-based cough syrup bottles in illicit deals.
The documentary, the first by BBC’s Africa Eye, a new TV investigations strand, was aired on Sunday.
A day after, the Nigerian government announced a ban on importation and production of codeine-based cough syrups in Nigeria, though it later said the ban on the drug was not influenced by the BBC report.
It said it was based on a long time review of the gross abuse of the drug in the country.
According to Vanguard newspaper, the Director General of NAFDAC, Mojisola Adeyeye, said officials of the agency were already mounting camps around the premises of the companies under investigation.
“As we speak, our inspection and enforcement teams are in the premises of the four pharmaceutical companies that were shown in the video. Our officials are there putting things on hold, and everything is being documented. When completed, we will prepare our report and then we will take appropriate action,” Mrs Adeyeye said.
Emzor Pharmaceuticals, one of the companies whose staff was filmed claiming he could sell “one million cartons” of the drugs in a week on the black market, has distanced itself from the saga.
According to the company in a statement on its Facebook page, the staff was acting independently contrary to “company policy.”
Emzor said it has stopped the distribution of codeine syrup and subsequently fired the sa Codeine – A Cough Syrup turned street drug
As local pharmaceutical production remained barely unchecked by government, cough syrups are being produced on a large scale with corrupt staff taking advantage of the high demand on the black market to run parallel drug syndicates.
Codeine is a pain killer but also an addictive opioid. Taken in excess, it can cause schizophrenia and organ failure among other health related defects.
The massive patronage of the illicit codeine trade largely rests on the shoulders of teenagers, young adults and surprisingly young women insatiably looking for a quick high – the current growing trend in Nigeria.
The price is pegged at between N1,000 and N1,200 per bottle, depending on the syrup mixed with the codeine. Even though it is illegal to sell codeine cough syrups without a doctor’s prescription, the drugs remain common. Its addicts mix it with soft drinks like coke.
The abuse of substances like codeine is more acute in the northern part of the country. A restriction on alcohol in the region has made youths in dire need of “highness” turn to codeine, tramadol, rephnol and other cheap opioid-based drugs.
Others even opt for more extreme options such as sniffing of gum.
Again, the high rate of unemployment and illiteracy in the region is another factor.
Last October, the Nigerian Senate raised the alarm that the 19 Northern states were under serious threat due to drug abuse, stating that over three million bottles of codeine syrup were consumed daily in Kano and Jigawa states alone.