Nigerian government shutters cough syrup manufacturers in an effort to stem an epidemic of codeine addiction

A few years back, I had a cough that was so bad that I ended up dislocating a rib from hacking away. My doctor prescribed me a cough syrup laced, heavily, with codeine. The stuff worked, easing my pain and letting me sleep. There were only two side effects from it: I felt too groovy to work for hours at a time and found it pretty hard to poop.

According to The BBC, a lot of people see the side effects of codeine laced cough syrup as a feature, rather than a problem. Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (Nafdac) was recently forced to shutter three of the country's largest pharmaceutical companies after it was discovered that the cough syrup they were producing was being sold on the black market, in massive quantities, to a growing number of codeine addicts in the African nation.

The forced closure of the companies comes as the result of a BBC investigation into the use of cough syrup containing codeine by many Nigerian youths as an easy conduit to a quick high. The crappiest part of it all is that the drug companies knew that this was the case. In an under cover interview with an executive from the Emzor pharmaceutical company, an executive was caught bragging about how he could sell one million bottles of the elixir in a week on the black market.

Codeine's a dandy painkiller, when used as prescribed by a physician. But it comes with a number of serious issues that crop up when used for long periods of time. I mentioned earlier that it can cause constipation–that's small potatoes when you compare it to the drug's ability to cause organ failure and schizophrenia in some chronic users.

Nigeria's not the only African country currently battling a cough syrup abuse epidemic. As the sauce is inexpensive and so easy to use, there's a pretty low barrier to getting started with codeine for people of all ages. According to The BBC, there's been reports of addiction in Kenya, Ghana, Niger, and Chad. Outside of Africa, it's a problem too: India banned a number of brands of codeine-laced cough syrup in 2016 as people were getting hooked on it. And don't even get me started on the face of codeine addiction in North America.

The Nigerian government states that the pharmaceutical companies it dinged were shut down because of their refusal to provide inspectors with requested documentation. Depending on whether or not they cooperate with inspectors in the future, the drug manufacturers could be up and running again, soon.

Update 5/8/18 5:20 pm pst:

Since first posting this story, there's been some contention on Twitter concerning the BBC's reporting that prolonged abuse of codeine could lead to schizophrenia. Author and health journalist, Maia Szalavitz, says there's no way that this is the case. A follower of mine, who happens to be a psychiatric nurse, mentioned that, in her experience, codeine could fit the criteria to be a trigger for the disease. After doing some research, I wasn't able to find any data that corroborated the BBC's statement on the link between codeine and schizophrenia, save a medical study, behind a paywall, that stated use of the drug over along period of time could be a triggering factor, but more research was definitely needed.

I've reached out to the BBC for a comment on the situation. So far, I've yet to hear a peep. If there's an update to share, you'll see it here.

Image: StickpenOwn work, Public Domain, Link