Nigeria’s Deadly Codeine Craze

codeine crazy Nigeria

Nigeria has been dealing with a recent spike in drug addiction through the use of over the counter cough syrup. The country placed a ban on all non-prescription cough syrups containing codeine, because many of the youth in the country use cough syrup to access the codeine present in the medicine to gain a high. Like all opioids, codeine is in the same chemical family as heroin. It is great for pain, but in the same breath can provide a euphoric high if taken in large amounts. It is highly addictive and over consumption can have a dangerous impact on the mind and body. Physical and psychological effects include hypotension, respiratory depression, memory loss and hallucinations.

The current codeine craze is creating a culture of addicts from a group that is the future of the nation. This situation is going to force the Nigerian government to assess and address how it will tackle why so many of their young people are becoming drug addicts.

Even though the government has banned non-prescription cough syrup it is still accessible through certain pharmaceutical companies supplying it to sellers on the black market. A BBC documentary on codeine addiction in Nigeria  showed an executive from a well known pharmaceutical company Emzor, cutting deals to supply the cough syrup illegally. Because of this individuals actions, Emzor was forced to suspend the distribution of codeine cough syrup. However this company suspending its distribution is not going to suppress the problem as it is still available on the black market.

The cheap price of the black market cough syrup is also a big contributor to the problem as it enables people who are addicted to support their habit. The cough syrup  sells at about 1000 naira which is $3.00 US.  This is perhaps why the demand is so high because it can be bought at a price that many can afford. Isa Mohammed who is a Kano-based pharmacist mentioned that the rampant abuse of the drug is attributed to ‘access and supply’. Selling it so cheap ensures that suppliers always have steady clients. Last October alone the Nigerian senate claimed that  around three million bottles of codeine cough syrup were consumed daily in two northern states.

This codeine craze is very popular amongst Nigeria’s youth as drug culture is often always seen as something trendy among young people. It is embraced by Nigeria’s Afro beat community where some songs  promote the use of codeine. The song Diet for example makes reference to being on a codeine diet.  The music video for the song Science Student by the Nigerian artist Olamide was banned by Nigerian media regulators due  to its risqué images of the use of codeine.  American hip hop also makes many references to the over use of codeine. The  drink ‘lean’ which is a liquid concoction whose main ingredient is codeine is represented in the music. The Youth are therefore bombarded with ideas and images of the use of codeine, which makes it seem acceptable.

The real question now is how  Nigeria will  tackle this situation effectively as members of its own society are contributing to the problem by undermining government regulation for their own self-gain. A generation of young people are at risk as they are being consumed by something that will eventually destroy them. Going forward, finding out the reasons why the youth feel the need to resort to getting high and providing rehabilitation programs will have to be included in key initiatives by the Nigerian government to save a generation from self inflicted wounds.


Featured image | cough syrup | Stickpen | wikimedia commons

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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