Editor's Comment

Keep close eye on addictive codeine

MEDICINES are an integral part of human well-being.
They are used to cure, halt, or prevent disease; ease symptoms; or help in the diagnosis of illnesses.
Advances in medications have enabled doctors to cure many diseases and save lives.
While medicines are good for human beings because of the preventive and curative benefits, if wrongly used, can have harmful effects.
This is why by law certain drugs cannot be bought over the counter except by prescription from a licensed medical doctor, dentist, optometrist or veterinarian.
This is to restrict unguided access to the drugs because of the possible harmful effects if wrongly administered.
While there is a law that restricts access to some drugs because of their harmfulness when abused, some people still find ways to obtain and abuse them.
This is why the Pharmaceutical Society of Zambia (PSZ) has called for a ban on the importation of cough syrups that contain codeine.
Codeine is found in a range of medications, including Benylin C, Myprodol and Mybulen, Syndol, AdcoDol, Tensodol, Sinutab C, and Sinumax Co amongst other products.
PSZ has noted, and rightly so, that these cough syrups are being abused and used as stimulants by those who cannot get high with alcohol.
Codeine is generally prescribed by a physician to treat mild-to-moderate levels of pain, manage a pesky cough, and occasionally treat gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea.
However, higher doses of codeine activate the reward system of the brain thereby allowing for excessive release of pleasurable hormones.
What is more worrying, as noted by PSZ president Jerome Kanyika, is that codeine products are being sold over the counter as opposed to being administered on prescription.
“People are being sold codeine without prescriptions for profit-making purposes but that is not supposed to be the case. Codeine is very addictive and can make a person crave it more all the time,” Mr Kanyika said.
He said the abuse of codeine is on the increase in Zambia especially because it makes people feel on top of the world when in fact not until it stops working.
“So when they realise that they are not what they were feeling when the medicine was working, they want to buy more thereby leading to addiction,” he said.
In Zambia, Benylin is one of the most abused cough syrups that contain codeine.
Many people and most unfortunate pupils and members of youth gangs are abusing Benylin and other products that contain codeine to derive some pleasure.
Though those who abuse codeine may get a sense of satisfaction, this is only short-lived, and most unfortunately, outlived by devastating effects.
According to medical experts, as harmless as it may be perceived, codeine is mostly the gateway drug into addiction to other substances, especially other opiates like oxycodone or morphine.
Many people don’t stop at codeine. They try to reach a better high by mixing it with other substances, including alcohol. Because codeine and alcohol are both central nervous system (CNS) depressants, combining them can lead to dangerous levels of depression in the brain and respiratory system.
If our young people, who are supposed to drive the development agenda of this country, are trapped in such conditions, it means the future of this country is doomed.
The threat posed by codeine is real and not only peculiar to Zambia but other countries like Zimbabwe, South Africa and Nigeria, among others, are grappling with the same.
Actually in Zimbabwe codeine has been banned.
While it is acknowledged that codeine poses a great danger to people’s lives when abused, it has benefits, too.
Actually all medicines are harmful if administered in a wrong way.
This is why it is important for people to restrict the use of drugs to medical prescriptions to avoid the negative effects that come along.
While banning may not be the solution for now, restricting sale of such medicines to prescriptions is the way to go.
Zambia Medicine Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA) must ensure that all pharmacies restrict the sale of medicines that contain codeine to prescriptions.
Pharmacies should not focus on the money but the devastating effects of allowing easy and unguided access to drugs that contain codeine.

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