Codeine Ban: Action without research or consultation, By Ekene Odigwe

Posted by News Express | 9 June 2018 | 1,946 times

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•Ekene Odigwe

It was a bright morning during my university postgraduate days in 2013: a classmate returned after recess with a plastic bottle of a popular soft drink. The bottle was being passed round the class while lecture was going on. In my usual curiosity, I asked why they were sharing a bottle of soft drink. Everyone started laughing at me. Well, I wouldn’t blame them because it was obvious I was a JJC, and had no inclination of what was happening.

The same scenario played out the next day, and the following day. So on the fourth day, while it was about to pass me again, I grabbed it and drank. The next five minutes answered the question I’ve been asking these guys for the past few days: literally, I was floating!

The next week I came to class prepared to find out what was in the drink, because no one even dared to tell me the name. I came to class with an empty bottle and when it was to pass me, I poured a little quantity in my bottle and continued the lecture. At the end of the day, sitting alone in my room, I tasted it, again. Then, gradually, I began to feel the effect: dizziness, sleepy, and weakness of the bones. I woke up the next day more determined to find out what was in the drink that I took. Lo and behold! It was Codeine.

So I confronted some guys in my class with the question: Why would you drink something so powerful that it makes you lose all consciousness? Guess what was the reply? That I was missing the point; that loss of consciousness is one, but the better part is the highness. And guess what, again? Because I called it Codeine, it shows how much of a Johnny just come I am. That it is CODA, for short. That is, you have to mix it with Energy Drinks and throw in raphenol, they explained.

I have never seen these students display such brilliance anywhere before. I mean, these are the dullards of the class, but what was coming out of their mouth that day really fascinated me, as it also scared the hell out of me. Now, imagine if those students show such brilliance in all their lectures and assignments!  

On May 1, 2018, the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Health, announced the ban on any Cough Syrupcontaining Codeine or direct consumption of Codeine in its entirety. The move expectedly generated mixed reactions from the Nigerians. With keen interest, I have been following the development and, of course, will herein lend a voice.

In as much as I wish to applaud the government for what some believe to be a right decision, I would like to pitch my tent on the other side of the fence. You ask why? The reasons are simple.

First, let’s all understand how drug addiction works. If Codeine really is the new cocaine for many Nigerians, especially youths in the northern part of the country, then the announcement of the ban wouldn’t deter any addict from resorting to the use of some other substance. Of course, there are other readily-available drugs in the Nigerian market. There’s sniffing of methylated spirit, leather polish, lizard excreta, fumes from pit latrine, gasoline, tippex, and rubber solution. Others are nail polish cleaner, local concoctions called goskolo and a naturalstimulant plant called zakani. Oh, let’s not forget the refuse and dung of animals. If the government really wishes to solve a problem, it ought to find out the root cause(s): uproot it, then, get help for those already affected/addicted. We don’t even have enough facilities to cater for addicts and those in need of rehabilitation.

Even when Alhaji Ahmed Yakasai, President of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, had on several occasions called the attention of the current Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Folorunso Adewole; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon Yakubu Dogara; President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, the public and the Distinguished President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki to the chaotic nature of the drug distribution system, and the need to implement the National Drug Distribution Guidelines (NDDGs) without further delay as well as specifically address the abuse issue. There were also other calls to governors and traditional rulers that appeared to have garnered momentary efforts, but not on the scale of the #BBCAfricaEye report. His efforts were, indeed, the 'strikes' on the wall that allowed the avalanche that we now see.

In an August 3, 2017 article by Ofoyeju Mitchell, Head of Public Affairs, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), she claimed that the agency is set to construct a modern rehabilitation centre in Abuja, and some other parts of the country. In the article published in The Nation, she maintained that the decision was unveiled during the grand finale of the 2017 International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. So, if we don’t have a proper rehabilitation centre in Nigeria yet, how and where are these addicts supposed to get help? 

Well, because of the sensitivity of this issue, I called up some “supposed rehabilitation centres” in Nigeria. On my introduction, some dropped  the call and switched off their devices; other addresses are simply residential or road reconstruction  contractors.

Consequently, the ban on Codeine announcement only portrays the incompetence of the Ministry of Health and whoever advises the Federal Government on issues of health, addiction and youths. There was no consultative forum; no major stakeholder was involved, no laws or rehabilitation centres in place to help victims, or even back the pronouncement. How much of a joker could this government be?

It is reported that the Senate is currently drawing up a framework to make sure the argument holds up in our courts. One might argue: Why should they have to wait for the Senate, after a ban has been announced by the executive? But why won’t they? After all, the data generated by the Senate, which shows that 3 million bottles are consumed in the North alone, is what is still in use and being circulated. Now, multiply that with the number of youths in this most populous Black nation. If we are working with the data from the Senate, it then means the Ministry of Health has no data on the people. If this is the case, how then is it supposed to protect these addicts, rehabilitate them or even make policies that will affect their lives positively? We are discussing numbers. But these numbers are human beings, the human capital investment of a nation hoping to be drug free. There are vulnerable groups, the most affected segment of the population. In this case, the injecting, inhaling, consuming drug users constitute such a large number: a 2016 statistics show that 40 per cent of Nigerian youths engage in substance abuse

In a chat with Diane Kelechi Lawrence, the CEO of Guiding Light Foundation Pipeline, who oversees a rehabilitation centre located in a satellite village at Oyigbo, Rivers State, in the South-south region, she argued that drug addiction rehabilitation is quite expensive, and would require an average of N300,000  to start a private rehab centre. She said most addicts can’t afford this. As a result, she asked Nigerian government to work out a framework to institute a rehab centres, at least, in every local government area, to ease the situation.

Now, what changed? BBC Africa screened Sweet, Sweet Codeine, a documentary on the impact of Cough Syrupscontaining Codeine.

After the announcement, a northern state governor said that they have not received any directions in that regard? Excuse you? So, how did it happen? Ministry of Health just announced a ban: no alternative in place, major stakeholders are not consulted. And yet you wish to achieve result? Somehow, I feel this is one of those magic moment-actions a desperate government puts up to throw the scent and play on the people. Fortunately, it always works. Jonathan did it with the signing of same sex marriage (prohibition) act, in January 2014. And here we are again with a ban on codeine in 2018, to take our mind away that it was within that same period that President Buhari went for another medical checkup, after the mess at the United States. He travels and then makes one big announcement, and then comes back to his Nigeria quietly. And like a sheep led to its slaughter, Nigerians follow to their deaths.

The necessary solution to this menace constitutes, but not limited to the following: All stakeholders need to facilitate a continuous discussion on drug/substance abuse, with a view to nipping the menace in the bud. Former director-general of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof Dora Akunyili (of blessed memory) was ready to defend her stand. As a result, she set up motions, institutions and teams to help her achieve her dream. She placed Nigeria back in the good books. Prof Adewole should borrow a page out of her many books. Banning codeine without support groups, rehabilitation centres, and acknowledging the existence of victims is a sham and a ploy to shy away from the real issue.

When people say we need a holistic approach, I just smile; because, that term is beginning to lose its value same way we threw around restructuring, same away we used diversification.

It is pertinent that we also understand that “getting high” comes in different packages. And, as we say in Igbo land: Na ala adighi nma bu uru ndi nze, meaning someone else’s misfortune is another’s fortune. So who is the unfortunate one here: Nigerians or the government?

Ekene Odigwe, an OAP @coalcity929fm, advocate @afrikaYM, fellow @YALINetwork, writes from Enugu.

Source: News Express

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