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Codeine syrup: A syrup wiping out a generation of youths


Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity”- Saint Augustine.Samuel Johnson 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 youth. Codeine syrup is gradually turning the youth 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 youth, but also the parent, government, law enforcement agencies, and pharmaceutical companies, who 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 mixed concoctions of strawberry-flavoured cream soda and promethazine codeine cough syrup mixed with ice cubes. This has become a major cocktail whenever youths are socialising, 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, counsellors and mentors. An unguarded youth is a danger waiting to happen, as youths spend their time socialising and experimenting many things until they go off the tangent and boundary of sanity.

A source at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Yaba, Lagos, said 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 might 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, adding that 19 northern states of the country were under serious threat of 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. It is one of the many pharmaceuticals classified as an opiate, which is a narcotic 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, teenagers and young adults.The rampant abuse of codeine among pupils in the secondary school 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 would suspect that they are taking drugs and it has become an elusive tactics among secondary school students.According to some youths 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 always needs a higher dose 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 and 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 and inattention to the environment, even to the point of ignoring potentially harmful events.

We need to draw a battle line on this juvenile misdemeanour that has been ravaging Nigerian youths and turning them to endangered species. We need a thorough and better understanding of drug use, prevalence, trends and patterns in Nigeria.We need an 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 and policy gaps and develop an Action Plan for interventions by the National Assembly and other stakeholders.

A particular searchlight should be beamed on the 19 northern states, where women, young girls in tertiary institutions, working class ladies, married, unemployed women displaced by Boko Haram insurgency, among others, were/are 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. Organisations must make the condition of great aversion to drug abuse as their core conditions in selecting brand ambassadors.

I want to encourage a strong coalition between the Federal Ministry of Health, NAFDAC and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (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 youths, as they refuse to address pertinent issues and challenges concerning them. Parents, guardians and caregivers should be vigilant to detect early signs of drug addiction in their children/wards and seek help from appropriate quarters.

Parent should watch out for the following in their wards, as they most times indicate 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, absenteeism/truancy in school, hallucinations and paranoia.

I appeal to Nigerian youths to eschew drug abuse and addiction in all forms. No habit exists in isolation; an alcoholic will gamble and womanise, and people 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 you 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 said: “I have the same friends and the same bad habits.” I want to also encourage youths to beware of toxic relationships.

Dan Buettner 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 there is a mark similarity in the effect and structure of cocaine and codeine. While cocaine has a molecular formula 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 encourage youths to join their voices together with mine on Facebook and Twitter against this ravaging evil among them. Tweet/post on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtags- #StopCodeineB4ItStopsYou, #FightCodeineAsYouWouldFightCocaine and #SayNoToCodeineAbuse.

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