JUST as the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has pledged to tighten control of the distribution of cough syrup with codeine in the country, the Chief Medical Director of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, Dr Richard Adebayo, has warned that if the epidemic of codeine and illicit drugs abuse persists, the country should prepare for an emerging new generation of mentally deranged people.
Detailing the consequences and ripple effects of drug abuse, Adebayo told Saturday Tribune in a phone interview that the country should prepare for a mentally unbalanced generation unless efforts are made to prevent the epidemic and rescue young people and the country from a future of mental disaster.
Describing the extent of brain and mind damage associated with prolonged intake of codeine and tramadol drugs, Adebayo, said the substances are capable of bending the mind and altering brain function.
“Codeine, like other abused drugs, are called psycho-active substances. What that means is that they are capable of bending the mind and altering the function of the brain.
“They achieve this by either stimulating or depressing the brain. Some of them stimulate the brain, like cocaine and cannabis. But if one continues to take drugs like codeine and tramadol, the brain becomes more and more depressed. The end result of using these drugs that alter the function of the brain is the abnormal function of the brain like firing the neurons, creating over-excitement in the brain.
“When a student takes these substances, his brain will not rest when it is supposed to rest. Such a student is not likely to be attentive in class. He loses concentration. This also would affect the memory and the intellectual prowess of the individual. Invariably, this individual would find it difficult to cope with real life. He begins to make avoidable mistakes, take wrong decisions, because his sense of judgement will be impaired.
“The person will gradually function less like a human being. The sense of time, of how time works, will be altered. He begins to do things that are not right. He would not be able to control his behaviour. For example, he would continue to touch women inappropriately, even those he does not have intimate relationship with.
“He begins to s3xually abuse women. He also becomes aggressive, easily provoked. His impulse goes haywire. People who take these drugs also lose their impulse control and are easily angry. They are quick to break bottle, quick to stab people and quick to kill and eventually become mad. This is why we must control this abuse or risk a generation of mentally imbalance people,” he said.
Supporting the psychiatrist’s theory, Dr Olubunmi Omojowolo, a neurologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), said the abuse of these substances escalate the propensity of the individual to commit a crime.
“The moment a person starts abusing codeine, they begin to experience brain dysfunction, leading to abnormal behaviour like psychosis and depression.
“People who are addicted to codeine also engage in other dangerous drugs and substances. In fact, the issue of drug abuse goes hand in hand with criminal activities like stealing, armed robbery and so on because they have to steal to afford the drugs,” he said.
Following a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) documentary on the abuse of codeine among Nigerian youths, the government has banned the importation and distribution of codeine, an active pharmaceutical ingredient for cough syrup manufacture in the country.
Also, NAFDAC said it had commenced the physical raiding of pharmaceutical companies and mop up of codeine products distribution in the country.
The Director General of NAFDAC, Professor Mojisola Adeyeye, expressed the readiness of the agency to rid markets of codeine.
“The companies that were caught, from our records, have a limited amount of codeine but from what the documentary showed, there is an indication that the production is more than the quantity that was approved. So, the question can be asked, was there smuggling involved?” the DG said in a newspaper report.
Meanwhile, the news of the ban of the importation of codeine has generated variegated reactions and extrapolations from among the populace.
Many described it as a pyrrhic victory, a disjointed solution to the current fight against the abuse of drugs and illicit substances in the country.
And there are those who have argued that the ban will further transform the dangerously addictive substance to a lucrative venture for drug barons, driving the trade far more underground.
Bodies like the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), who have repudiated the ban, have alternatively called for the restructuring of drug redistribution system in the country to include a unified and trackable system of monitoring all the drugs imported and sold in the country.
The National Chairman of the ACPN, Dr Albert Kelong Alkali, who made the call on behalf of the association recently, asked for a multi-sectoral approach that involves agencies such as NAFDAC, NDLEA and other drug regulatory bodies to facilitate drug tracking from makers and importers to the users.
However, these measures have been described as inadequate by social media users.
According to a twitter user, DD @doysol_, the measures will amount to nothing if “we do not work more on educating and employing the youths.”
“Codeine is nothing up north. There is still Rohyphol, Xanax, etc.,” Ibrahim Y. G, another twitter user, tweeted.
“If they ban codeine, will dey ban Colorado?” The Boy (@Amaechi_. “What of pit latrine?” Mo Wa@Oroadunni (@OroAdun).
“Those drugs are too much…They can’t succeed in controlling the abuse. Not only in Nigeria but the world at large. They can only educate youths on the dangers,” Boom Xhakalaca tweeted.
The Federal Government had on Tuesday directed NAFDAC to stop further issuance of permits for the importation of codeine as active pharmaceutical ingredient for cough preparations with immediate effect in response to the gross abuse of Codeine usage in the country.
It is a major issue —Lagos govt
Speaking at the annual Ministerial Press Briefing to mark the third anniversary of the administration of the Lagos State governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, held at the Bagauda Kaltho Press Centre in Alausa, the Commissioner for Health, Dr Jide Idris, said that it was important for serious attention to be concentrated on mental health issue and affiliated matters.
Responding to a question on what the state government was doing in that regard, Idris said the drug control unit in the ministry was very active.
“We are also operating in conjunction with NAFDAC. The ban principally is a NAFDAC initiative but as a state government, we did not wait; we are more proactive and ever since this issue came into light, the ministry has been engaging and very soon, we will come out with a more comprehensive programme.
“This is because we would not look at codeine alone; we are going to look at it under drug abuse. Codeine is just one substance out of many that are being abused. It also goes to show you the extent of the mental health situation in our country and that is why like we said some time ago that we are putting more emphasis now on mental health.
“It is a serious issue; it is one area of the health sector that people generally do not even address and that is why as a State Government we are being proactive.
“In line with this, we have updated our own mental health law as against what is happening at the federal level; we have a mental health policy and we are currently now implementing our mental health programme to cover all tiers – primary, secondary and tertiary health care systems.
“This is a comprehensive thing and there is no doubt about the fact that there is a major mental health problem in our country and this Codeine is just a tip of the iceberg,” the commissioner said.