Nigeria’s ministry of health banned the production and importing of codeine-based cough syrup Tuesday after a news investigation found teens were abusing it to get high.
The investigation by the BBC, Africa Eye and BBC Pidgin published Monday discovered how the cough syrup was creating an opioid epidemic that was “destroying lives” across West Africa. The Nigerian company Emzor Pharmaceuticals later said it would suspend all distribution of the cough syrup within Nigeria.
Although codeine is legal in Nigeria, it is against the law to sell the medicine without a doctor’s prescription. An Emzor executive who was caught selling 60 bottles of cough syrup to an undercover reporter was placed under suspension and was later dismissed following an investigation.
In Nigeria, the BBC investigation showed that up to a million cartons of the codeine cough syrup could be sold in a week on the black market.
The Nigerian Senate says that as many as 3 million bottles of codeine syrup are consumed every day in two states, Kano and Jigawa.
Young students commonly consume the codeine after mixing the syrup with soft drinks. Serious abuse of codeine cough syrup can result in kidney damage and seizures, as well as mental psychosis — including delusions, hallucinations and schizophrenia.
Emzor said in a statement Monday it would treat the BBC findings with “the utmost seriousness” and pledged to launch a “full and thorough investigation.”
“We hope the findings of the documentary will shed further light on the extent and impact of the illicit trade and consumption of codeine,” the company said. “We hope that full stakeholder engagement will result in impactful action against the abuse, smuggling and faking of drugs on the continent.”
Nigeria’s first lady Aisham Buhari said she was “deeply saddened” by widespread abuse of codeine cough syrup.
“I call on all security agencies, lawmakers, judiciary, drug manufacturers, civil society, regulators, teachers, parents, neighbors and YOU to take this as a personal war and halt the menace,” Buhari said in a statement.
The Nigerian government is directing the country’s residents to use the less-addictive Dextromethorphan as an alternative to codeine-based cough syrups, the Premium Times reported. The BBC reported stores with the last-remaining codeine cough syrups can sell the product only when customers have a prescription for it.
By Sara Shayanian