The federal government’s recent decision to ban importation and production of all codeine-related drugs in the country, in the face of its increasing abuse, is a welcome development. Beyond this however is the more critical need for the government and all stakeholders to address the underlying issues fuelling the demand for illicit drugs and why they are easily accessible, when and where they should not be.
While it is gratifying that the Nigerian government eventually acted on this endemic substance abuse problem, apparently due to the outcry that followed a BBC report showing how codeine syrups are being recklessly sold in the black market to young Nigerians who are using it to get high, it must be emphasised that government’s failure to act promptly long before now, when this issue was at a nascent stage, with concerned individuals and groups expressing concerns, was a clear demonstration of negligence and ineptitude.
Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that since the ban was announced, the wheels of government seem to have gained incredible momentum in curtailing the drug abuse problem. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has shut three companies implicated in the codeine syrup crisis: Bioraj Pharmaceutical Limited, Peace Standard Pharmaceutical Limited and Emzor Pharmaceuticals Industry Limited. NAFDAC said the companies were shut to allow for a full and comprehensive investigation, adding that their reopening is dependent on the level of cooperation shown during the investigation.
The Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) has also vowed to step up the inspection, monitoring and supervision of registered pharmaceutical premises in the country to curb the drug abuse menace. The Council also said it was ready to work with NAFDAC to recall all codeine-containing medications in the country, in compliance with the government’s directive. This is laudably advantageous.
However, beyond taking codeine off the shelves is the more fundamental need to end the chaotic drug distribution network, which allows all sorts of persons, with all sorts of intents, to be part of the drug distribution system without check or supervision. This is the primary driving force behind the rampant drug abuse challenge in the nation. Indeed, aside from codeine, other drugs are being abused and will continue to be abused until the nation decisively ends the culture of seeing and treating drugs as just another commodity of trade. The plethora of drug markets in Nigeria must be closed down, while all efforts are made to ensure that the revolutionary National Drugs Distribution Guidelines (NDDGs) concept, which has been repeatedly postponed for all sorts of reasons, is implemented. It is either this or the country continues to chase shadows in its quest for a society free of drug abuse.
It is also imperative for all agencies of government responsible for supervising how drugs are manufactured/imported and distributed to work together. NAFDAC, PCN, Customs Service and all other relevant agencies must be unanimously alive to their responsibilities of checkmating sharp practices in drug use and drug distribution. These agencies must consistently demonstrate the capacity to bark and bite. Rules are good – and the nation has many of these – but they are useless without enforcement. Nobody and no organisation, no matter how highly-placed, should go unpunished when found to have contravened the law, especially when it concerns an issue as sensitive as drugs. Until this is done, not much progress will be made.
We must also emphasise that the problem of pervasive drug abuse in Nigeria is not just a public health problem but also a socio-economic one, especially as it appears to be a recent development. This is why the government at all levels must begin to address the various conditions and malaises driving our youths to substance abuse. With the high rate of employment and lack of opportunities for youths, this nation is sitting on a keg of gun powder, as youths will devise sundry measures to alleviate their frustrations or vent their grievances. It is when government sincerely and holistically looks into these crucial issues that we can save our youth and our nation from not just drug abuse but also other social ills.