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Codeine abuse spikes in women, teens across North

Once the preserve of hardened criminals, abuse of drugs like codeine and others is on the rise, especially among married women in the North, as…

Once the preserve of hardened criminals, abuse of drugs like codeine and others is on the rise, especially among married women in the North, as well as teenagers. Daily Trust takes a look at the disturbing trend.
Fadeela, 18, is helpless. She is addicted to Tutolin, a codeine-containing cough syrup she consumes at least twice a day. Two bottles per day is what her system demands or it may just shut down. This has done great harm to her life already. She has since dropped out of school and now spends time at Mami Market in the city of Sokoto.
At Mami Market, both male and female addicts – mostly in their twenties – have found a haven where they freely indulge in using a variety of substances to get ‘high’. But Fadeela is fed-up with the control it has over her. It has estranged her family from her. “If you can help me out of this life, I will ever be grateful,” she says.
Recently, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) decried the increasing involvement of married women in drug abuse. The Assistant Superintendant in charge of exhibits at the Sokoto State Command, Ali Baba Mustapha, pointed out at the Jigawa Day celebration that women take cough syrups that contain codeine – an opiate used to treat pain – more than any segment of the society, believing erroneously that it will enhance their sexual appetite. He warned that if unchecked, the trend could lead to marital problems and even divorce. There are, also, attendant health problems.    
Daily Trust investigations revealed that the stability of some homes is already being affected by this trend. There is the case of a new bride whose husband discovered under their bed, a carton of Tutolin, usually abused to induce intoxication and supposedly boost sexual drive. It was gathered that the groom took both his wife and the drugs to her parents’ house in anger. Even before then, during the wedding, the loss of a necklace had prompted a search that led to the astonishing discovery that some of the women at the occasion, mostly housewives, had varieties of cough syrup containing codeine in their handbags.
Another incident involved a man who was said to have contacted the anti-drug agency concerning his wife’s addiction to Tutolin, after he had discovered a pile of empty bottles of the cough syrup at their backyard. He also revealed that the wife empties the bottles in cellophane bags and freezes for added potency.
The Commander of the NDLEA in Kano, Alhaji Misbahu Idris said their investigations revealed a rise in the number of women involved in drug abuse, especially housewives and female students. He said the command has been receiving complaints from parents over alleged involvement of their female children in drug abuse, but the agency could not help them due to lack of rehabilitation centres for women in the command. “Just an hour ago, a girl was brought here for counselling by her father because she is addicted to Tramadol capsules,” he said, adding that they received 10 of such cases recently.
Experts told Daily Trust that addiction to illicit drugs is causing a lot of divorces and the trend in which female students are queuing for it is worsening the situation, causing a spike in abuse by women and teenage girls. Drugs mostly abused include cough syrups with codeine, mostly abused by women and teens along with a belief that they have aphrodisiacal properties, while Rohypnol and Tramadol tablets are mostly abused by artisans, especially labourers, because it stimulates them.
From January to date the NDLEA has seized over 1, 000 kilograms of illicit drugs which include 95 kilograms of cough syrup with codeine, 561 kilograms of cannabis and 362 kilograms of Psychotropic substances, and arrested 99 suspects, including females.
Idris disclosed that children now mix soft drinks, such as Coca Cola and La Casera with codeine because doing so intoxicates them more and advised parents to be wary of this new development.
At the age of nine, Aminu Magaji Maibera was already doing drugs. Now 27, he is counting 18 years in the business he was introduced to by his late friend, Aliyu. His regular base is Church Road in Sabon Gari area of Kano. The area, like other black spots in Dan Agundi, Kofar Naisa and Zoo Road is regarded as a haven for drug addicts in the commercial city. Despite his diminutive stature, Maibera is highly respected and feared by other addicts, mainly because he is a peddler.  For this reason, many addicts in the area regard him as their means of survival.
Then there is 21-year-old Atine whose popular spot is the Mai Rabo Hotel at Aitken in Sabon Gari. Just like Maibera, she was introduced into drugs by someone close to her, but in her case it was a boyfriend. “I don’t take Indian hemp or alcohol. You know I am a Muslim, I only take Codeine. Sometimes I have difficulty buying it, but my friends always help me out. I take it to make me feel relaxed,” she said.   
Drug abuse cases are also high among youths in Kano, Daily Trust gathered. The substance is either carried in empty sachets of pure water or other means, and contains solution. Despite government efforts, the growing rate of abuse in the state remains worrisome. The Deputy Governor, Professor Hafiz Abubakar, last week at the NDLEA Command, said the state has the highest number of cases of drug abuse in the country.  He vowed that the government would not relent in its efforts to check the nefarious activities of criminals.
Former Commandant of NDLEA, Malam Garba Ahmadu, noted that going by the statistics in the command’s disposal, women’s involvement in drugs is very low in Kano, but admitted that they have heard that women take cough syrups in their homes and the agency has so far not understudied the development. “If you look at the number of people we arrested, women are not even up to ten percent,” he said, adding that the NDLEA Command has a functional committee that is addressing the drug problems in the state. He further pointed out that the same committee is helping dislodge them (drug addicts) from places like Dan Agundi, Zoo road, Kofar Naisa and other areas where such cases are rampant in the state. “The drug problem is a youth problem,” Ahmadu insisted, adding that statistics show cannabis, popularly known as Indian hemp, is mostly in use in Kano.
But it is not all about Kano or Sokoto. In Zamfara, cough syrups such as Benylin, Emzolyn, and Asad cough expectorants are commonly abused by youngsters. An owner of a medical store who craved anonymity told Daily Trust that young ladies patronise the substances, particularly students of higher institutions of learning. Their strategy is simple, he said: “They send a little boy to us because they are ashamed,” adding that some come themselves and buy what they want. This, he emphasises, even as the price of cough syrups has skyrocketed because of its excessive demand among youths. “A bottle that once went for N160 is now sold at N900.”
Another pharmacy owner said married women send children to buy such syrups for them and their husbands are mostly ignorant of what they are doing. He intimated that the drugs have genuine medical use, but are abused by consumers when they are used excessively. “Let me tell you, many of these young ladies have been coming regularly, so much that when they step in here they do not need to tell us what they need anymore,” he said, adding that there was a time a woman came, looking drowsy and speaking gibberish and he had to quickly show her out.
A resident, Sani Abubakar, explained how terrible the situation had become. “If you see young men holding a plastic bottle of soft drink, especially for a long time, there would no doubt be some cough syrup in it.”
But the whole episode turned ugly for a married woman, another resident, Kabir Abdullahi narrated, when her six-year-old-son went to the fridge and helped himself to the entire bottle of codeine-containing cough syrup while his mother chatted with friends. The boy immediately became very drowsy and slept for two days. When her husband arrived, she had tried hard to hide what actually caused the problem, knowing there would be consequences.
The head of Drug and Alcohol Treatment, Education and Research unit at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Kaduna, Dr. Ebiti Williams, said anecdotal report confirms that the use of drugs or substances is getting worse in Kaduna State. He pointed out that alongside other substances, majority of the users abuse codeine. “Usually most people that are into substance abuse in Nigeria don’t use just one,” he intimated, adding that in some countries it is common to see people who use a particular drug, like cocaine or heroin,  but this is not the case here where there are cases of multiple psycho-active substance use.
“Most of the young people we see here also use codeine and yet demand treatment, though not because they want to stop the use of the substance but because they have developed a problem, maybe a psychiatric problem and their relatives have brought them,” Williams revealed. He said that incidentally, the use of codeine-containing substances is on the increase among women and girls, particularly married women, although adolescent males also use them.
Dr. Williams explained that the trend is prevalent in the North than any other region, like the West or East where cannabis may be more popular. He added that female drug abusers are drawn to codeine simply because it does not smell like cannabis.
To intensify the already existing problem, abusers keep discovering new substances. Williams again intimated that these may not be generally out rightly seen as drugs because the users get creative and use a combination of them and keep discovering more. However, there are a lot of other drugs that are being used in countries like South Africa, such as the mixture of HIV drugs and rat poison, but this has not been recorded in Nigeria.
Williams urged government at all levels to intensify their efforts in the fight against drug abuse in the country, adding that a clampdown will not halt abuse. He called for adequate sensitization, and also early detection and treatment of users. 

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