Despite the ban on cough syrups containing codeine, its sellers are still in business. Daily Trust on Sunday has learnt.
In some of the medicine stores visited by our correspondent in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State, such syrups were still on display. Asked why they had not removed them from their shelves, some of the store owners feigned ignorance of the ban by the Federal Government.
"I'm not aware of any ban on the syrup. What we are selling here have genuine medical use and some patients are coming to us with medical prescription duly signed by qualified doctors," a store owner said.
It was learnt that owners of some medicine stores did not display the syrups inside their shops; rather, they kept them in other hidden stores, from where it is supplied to customers.
A medical shop owner told Daily Trust on Sunday that unless the supply chain is completely cut off, the sales will not stop because the business is lucrative.
"Ordinarily, a bottle of syrup is supposed to sell at N300, but now, it sells at N900 because of the high demand. The sellers deliberately hiked its price, bearing in mind that buyers will still patronise them," the shop owner said.
In Jigawa State, it was also observed that following the ban of Benylin de Codeine cough syrup in the country, the price of the product has jerked up by about 60 per cent. And this has affected the level of consumption of the drug in the state.
Prior to the ban, a100ml bottle of the syrup was sold at N1,000, but in the last few days, the drug went out of shelves and the price skyrocketed to N1,600 per bottle.
Following the hike in price, many people were forced to withdraw from the drug as one must take as many as three bottles to 'become high.' This means that one needs about N5,000 to get the required dosage every day; hence those who cannot live without drugs started looking for an alternative. And majority of the drug addicts are either students or the unemployed youth.
Our correspondent learnt that in Dutse, Yan-Tipper and Gindin Dinya are the most notorious drug joints. In those places, drug business does not start until 9pm or 10pm. Buying and selling take place at Yan-Tipper where chemist shops are located while consumption by youths of both sexes takes place at Gindin Dinya. There, one could see them holding bottles that contain mixtures of soft drinks and the drug.
One of the addicts, Laraba (not real name), who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday, said she decided to stop taking the drug when the price increased. She, however, said she went for an alternative because she could not stay without drugs. Asked if she was aware that the Federal Government banned the syrup, Laraba, who is a secondary school dropout, said she had not heard, adding that she kept wondering why there was a hike in the price of the product. She said she would end up spending her earnings if she continued buying the drug at the rate of N1,600 per bottle; hence she resorted to Indian hemp as an alternative.
It was further learnt that drug dealers at Yan-Tipper now sell to their customers through agents. According to our findings, they had to resort to that method because they have been having a running battle with personnel of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).
When contacted, the commander, Jigawa State command of the NDLEA, Josephine Obi, said that from the day the drug was banned in the country, the product disappeared on the shelves of chemist shops and pharmaceutical stores in the state capital. She, however, added that the dealers might have removed them from shelves in order to feel the pulse of the government over the announcement.
She said that long before the ban, her command had carried a series of campaign to educate drug users. She said that during such campaigns, secondary schools and tertiary institutions were their main targets because addicts are mainly the youth.
"When we carry out raids, in every five arrested, drug will be found on four. Unfortunately, we don't have a rehabilitation centre in Jigawa; therefore, we only engage them in counselling. And parents don't cooperate with the agency to carry out effective counselling.
"The ban is a right step in the right direction, but the fight against drug abuse needs to be given a holistic approach. The NDLEA, being the agency to enforce the ban, needs to be properly equipped," Obi said.
In Kano, Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that prior to the ban, the syrups were sold between N400 and N600 per bottle. However, as at yesterday, they became scarce and their prices skyrocketed.
A former chairman of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Kano
State chapter, Ahmad Gana said, "A friend of mine informed me that in his presence, somebody bought two bottles of cough syrup containing codeine at the rate of N14,000 on Friday.
Further findings also revealed that while the syrups are scarce in the state, dealers and hawkers of the product have changed their method of doing business by going under.
Gana, who is also the first vice chairman of the National Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria (North), however, described the ban as a mere reactionary policy.
He said, "The ban can only make impact on pharmacists as it is now, but it cannot stop circulation of codeine and Benylin syrup in the open drug markets. The addicts will now shift their attention to other drugs that are not affected by the ban since they are circulating in black markets.
"Government should make it a policy that all prescription drugs only be sold in the hospitals while Shisha be banned because addicts are taking advantage of it to consume Indian hemp and other dangerous drugs."
"Screening centres should be established in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)."
Also speaking, the commandant, NDLEA, Kano State command, Alhaji Hamza Umar, said, "There is the problem of recalling the syrups that have already been released to the market."
Umar added that from the day the ban order was pronounced till date, the command had seized over two tons of Codeine and Benylin syrups and arrested some suspects.
"Most of the addicts and dealers of the substance were ignorant of the ban; that is why we were able to arrest a number of them. But I can assure you that in the next two weeks, things will change because the syrup will be scarce, the price will skyrocket and the mode of sell will change as well," he said.
Speaking about the implications of the ban, the police public relations officer in the state, SP Magaji Musa Majia said, "I am assuring the public that the police will device a means for curtailing the trend. It is too early now to ascertain the level of their smartness, but I am sure that in the next few days, not all addicts will afford such syrups because its dealers and hawkers will conduct their business with utmost secrecy to avoid being arrested.
"However, the police have established a strong relationship with patent medicine stores association and other stakeholders in the state for effective monitoring of the circulation and sell of these syrups."
Also speaking, the director-general of Kano Hisbah Board, Dr Abba Sufi, described the ban as a welcome development. He noted that for the past five years, the Board had been calling for the ban of these cough syrups.
Another survey carried out by our correspondent in Lagos showed that despite the ban, cough syrups containing codeine were still sold to willing buyers in some of the pharmaceutical stores and chemist shops visited. In some other places, there was compliance to the directive.
At the Oko Oba area of Agege, a middle aged man who runs a pharmaceutical store at Yomi Odunuga Street told our correspondent that he was unaware of the ban on cough syrups with codeine.
Similarly, a pharmacist at Ojota, who simply identified himself as Uche said, "I am not ashamed to say it anywhere. This is a legitimate business, and as a pharmacist who is being guided by the ethics of this profession, I can tell you that if you want to buy any cough syrup with codeine, I will sell to you. The only caveat is that you must show me a recommendation, either from a doctor or pharmacist. This has been a standing rule, even before the supposed ban announced by the Ministry of Health. I think we must let the people know that there is nothing wrong with cough syrups with codeine. It is unfortunate that some unscrupulous elements are abusing and using them as illicit drugs."
In Kaduna State, our correspondent who visited some patent and pharmaceutical stores observed that cough syrups containing codeine were still being sold despite the recent ban.
Commander of the NDLEA in Kaduna State, Samuel Azige, however, said the agency was yet to receive a written clarification on it.